Do you ache for heaven?
Most of the time I’m aching for a lot of things–more sleep, the casserole’s timer to go off so I can eat, time to read a novel, relational connections with my friends and husband, my son to stop whining and eat the lunch I made for him.
These aches can pull us down, making us feel ungrateful and trapped in the responsibilities of life. That’s why it’s essential that we take time to meditate on the root of the ache–the heaven-shaped hole in each of our hearts.
Why it’s okay to look ridiculous
If you’ve chosen to follow Christ and have asked for His forgiveness, believing in His death on the cross as payment for your sins, you have a hope that no one else can claim. But it’s so easy to get distracted. . .
Your friend’s kid made it on to MasterChef Junior while yours can barely manage a piece of toast?
Your boss seems to relish your mistakes?
You can’t seem to get off the ground financially?
It can be so easy to compare myself to others who seem to have better lives now, instead of seeing this life as preparation for a glory-filled eternity.
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15 why this might look ridiculous to those who don’t follow Jesus.
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. . . 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
How to jump off the treadmill
How can we keep running in the joy of Christ if we aren’t focusing on the finish line?
When we forget about the eternal reward that’s being momentarily delayed, life can start to feel more like a treadmill.
Dr. Randy Alcorn, a former pastor and Bible teacher who has devoted decades of his life to studying Scriptures regarding heaven said that, “following Christ is not a call to abstain from gratification but to delay gratification. It’s finding our joy in Christ rather than seeking joy in the things of this world. Heaven–our assurance of eternal gratification and fulfillment–should be our North Star, reminding us where we are and which direction to go.” (Heaven, p. 455)
But how can we look forward to something we know so little about?
How can we picture a place when the images in Revelation seem so different from our everyday lives?
In my theology class in college, we studied about heaven in Millard J. Erickson’s book “Introducing Christian Doctrine.” It was the beginning of my heaven meditations as I was reminded that not only will we be worshiping God, but there will also be meaningful work and rest.
But what really started to put meat to the bones of my understanding was Randy Alcorn’s book, “Heaven.”
He explained that not only do we have heaven to look forward to when we die, but Jesus is coming back to create a New Earth where all of His followers will live for eternity.
Revelation 21:1-4 says:
21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
It was a whole lot easier to picture a future like earth, with all the incredible blessings it contains.
Everything is spiritual
Alcorn says, “When we think of Heaven as unearthly, our present lives seem unspiritual, like they don’t matter. When we grasp the reality of the New Earth, our present, earthly lives suddenly matter. Conversations with loved ones matter. The taste of food matters. Work, leisure, creativity and intellectual stimulation matter. Rivers and trees and flowers matter. Laughter matters. Service matters. Why? Because they are eternal.” (p. 443)
It won’t be one unending church service, like Tom Sawyer pictured, but communion with Christ in everything we do. Randy Alcorn says it beautifully:
“In liberating us from sin and all its consequences, the resurrection will free us to live with God, gaze on him, and enjoy his uninterrupted fellowship forever, with no threat that anything will ever again come between us and him.” (Heaven, p. 304)
All the barriers to our intimacy with the Father will be removed. He will never feel distant again.
We’ve always been God’s image-bearers (Genesis 1:27), but that image that was marred by sin will be perfectly restored. The beauty and goodness that we experience now give us glimpses of what that will be like.
As I’ve gone through Alcorn’s book on Heaven, here are a few things that I can’t wait to experience as I worship God.
1. Discovering new things.
God is the author of all knowledge and creativity, and none of it will be tainted by sin as we pursue it. I’m actually kind of hoping I can learn to play the cello.
Hebrews 4:11 encourages us to enter God’s rest through Sabbath, but in heaven, we will get to experience true soul rest, a rest that Jesus gives us tastes of now as we come to him with our weariness (Matthew 11:28)
Would it help my eating habits now if I was able to save some of my appetite for the Great Wedding Feast of the Lamb? What other kinds of delectable morsels might we get to try?
Alcorn reminds us that “Work wasn’t part of the curse. God himself is a worker. He didn’t create the world and then retire (Heaven p. 329). Just imagine all the enjoyment and fulfillment you’ve gotten from aspects of your work and take away the nasty bosses, tiring hours, and boredom!
5. Marriage to Christ
Earthly marriage is a shadow, a copy, an echo of the true and ultimate marriage. (Heaven p. 336) Everything good and tingly and fun and seemingly perfect about marriage will be even more soul-satisfying in our marriage to Christ. When we struggle to fight selfishness and work through miscommunication in our marriages, we can be reminded of how complete and satisfying relational intimacy will be on the New Earth.
But what about sex?
Alcorn says that since the intimacy and pleasure of sex was designed by God, “I don’t expect him to discard it without replacing it with something better.” (p. 338)
If questions about heaven have been keeping you from focusing on the finish line, the second half of Randy Alcorn’s book is filled with about 200 pages answering questions people have raised. It’s called “Heaven” and you can get it here.
Exercising our imagination
We have so much more than the good feelings people get from practicing gratefulness. Not only can remembering our blessings lead us to thank the Giver of everything good, but we can let each smile, kind word, tasty meal, and intimate conversation carry our imagination heavenward.
And as Alcorn says, “With the Lord we love and with the friends we cherish, we’ll embark together on the ultimate adventure, in a spectacular new universe awaiting our exploration and dominion. Jesus will be at the center of all things, and joy will be the air we breathe. And right when we think ‘it doesn’t get any better than this’–it will.”