No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.
– 1 Corinthians 2:9
Several months ago, when my husband and I received an invitation to his cousin’s wedding at a beautiful hotel by the ocean and made note of the fact that the wedding would be three days after our anniversary, we had a conversation. Although we always celebrate our anniversary in some way, like with dinner out or with cards and flowers, we never really make big plans or exchange expensive gifts. This year, we reasoned that since this was our 25th year of marriage and we’d been through a lot the past few years and we were going to the wedding there anyway, maybe it warranted a little splurging.
It felt odd. Out of our element. We never do this. It was something other people do. People who travel. People who have better-paying jobs. People who treat themselves. Even when we go away on vacation, we visit a family cabin; our only real expenses are gas and groceries. Things like fancy hotels always seem out of reach to people like us.
But we made a reservation for the night of the wedding, thereby promising ourselves the gift of time together in a pricey place. Because we never treat ourselves like this, we looked forward to it for months, like children waiting for Christmas. In the weeks leading up to our getaway, when we grew weary of work or chores, we reminded each other of the light on the horizon, saying things like: I can’t wait until we go. And just think, pretty soon we’ll be enjoying time by the sea.
Of course, we did not sail into the weekend without a hitch. Right before we left, my husband took his truck to the mechanic for repairs. The bill was substantial. We stopped and paid it on our way to the hotel. It was an expensive day, and even though we vowed we wouldn’t fret about finances and disrupt the serenity of our getaway weekend, that was the very thing we did for almost the whole hour it took to get to our destination. How would we stretch this paycheck until the next one? We could do it, but it was going to be tight. Plus, it was too late to cancel our reservation. We took a deep breath and kept driving, trying to be our vacation-self for each other and leave our everyday cares behind.
When we arrived, we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the place. It was right on the ocean. Our spacious room on the third floor had pocket French doors that opened onto a sunny deck that overlooked the water. The room contained a king-size sleigh bed and all the usual furniture, in addition to a flat-screen television above an electric fireplace. The tan tiled bathroom was expansive and contained a whirlpool bath, double shower, and gleaming gold-tone fixtures. The whole package was a picture out of a brochure. We immediately agreed we would try to come every year for our anniversary. We’d put a little money away out of every paycheck and give ourselves something to look forward to.
When it dawned on me that I was indeed staying in a place usually reserved only for the elite, it brought heaven to mind. It reminded me of the extravagant love of God which is not solely offered to a select class, but to all who love him. He is able to offer us the free gift of his grace not as a result of anything we have done, but as a result of his work of salvation on the cross in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Eternal, extraordinary, extravagant life. For free. For all.
I’ll admit, I get so caught up in the race I forget about the grace. I forget about the finish line. I don’t think much about heaven. Maybe I should. That’s the direction I’m headed, after all, that’s the goal. It’s like the hotel with its gleaming gold fixtures, valet service, and breathtaking view. It’s your every whim already anticipated by your host. Only it’s infinitely greater than that because “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived” what’s in store for us. And we don’t have to work for it. Even though we’ll only see heaven when our time on earth has come to a close, we can get glimpses of it while were here. Like a peek at the grand hotel just up ahead as we round the bend.
Once we get a handle on the concept of God’s free gift of grace, the next thing we have to do is make it personal. I look at those two verses and zero in on just to whom this gift is offered: “for those who love him” and “whoever believes in him.” If I love God and I believe in him, that’s me. And why not me? Just as I think of a five-star hotel as a place for richer folk, I think of God’s extravagance as a blessing for the poor. I hear a song about Jesus rescuing someone from the pit of despair, and I think about the many who had an epiphany, recovered from an extreme crisis like addiction or depression, and went on to bless so many others, helping them out of their own pit.
But I seldom see myself on the receiving end of God’s extravagance. Although I am forever contemplating his hand of provision, I rarely meditate on his whispers of love in the moment and intentionally, as Brother Lawrence did, practice the presence of God. I’m so busy fretting over how to pay the bills, keep the kids healthy, not to mention taking the dog out for whatever she requires at the moment. Taking care of everyone else, I lose sight of God’s ultimate plan for me. But that promise in Corinthians is for me, too. In fact, I can place myself in that verse. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived the riches God has prepared for me, for Amy. What peace I feel when I say this aloud. Try it.
No matter if I fill that jar with the big bucks for the hotel by the end of the year or not, I have something greater waiting for me at the finish line: the promise of God’s kingdom. I don’t have to earn it. I don’t have to work for it. All it takes is faith in Jesus. Life is not an emergency. Open the doors and enjoy the view. While you’re there, see that shining city on the horizon? God prepared it for you. That’s definitely something to look forward to.
Amy Nicholson hopes to encourage and inspire others through her writing. She has been published in Country Woman, the Old Schoolhouse, the Lookout, and other publications. In addition to writing and discovering grace in ordinary places, Amy substitute teaches. Find more of her work at her website here.