Not too long ago I visited a friend’s church, a young church, a beautiful church, with beautiful people. It was a great time and a great celebration of our awesome God! However, as is often the divine burden of the call God has bestowed upon me by His grace, to see the Bride in full health, one thing was highlighted to me by the Spirit.
At the end of the service a young woman gave an impassioned altar call for salvation. It was stunning. I mean, she was one fire! Full of conviction, articulate, inviting, powerful… just a beautiful opportunity for people to start a journey with Jesus, I was inspired. After, as I turned to exit the room, I felt the Holy Spirit ask, “What was missing?” Almost immediately I felt my spirit respond, “Heaven. Heaven was missing.”
As close to complete as the invitation was, upon consideration it became apparent to me that while it encouraged people to start their walk with the Lord, the message was such that His involvement in our lives, this life, is the primary fulfillment of conversion. The nature of salvation in the light of eternity had been overlooked, leaving a gaping hole in the reality, reasoning, and purpose of our faith.
The Greater Church
Now, I am most certainly not pinning this oversight on the messenger of that altar call, rather it raises the alert on the message we are prioritizing as believers, and as the Church in general. In the natural it is merely human to focus on our current well-being, particularly given the financial pressures over the past years with the financial crisis, which has psychologically affected humanity in such a way of instilling a “survival mindset”, governed by the pursuit to live our best lives now for fear of the future.
This is further evidenced in commercial circles with such things as consumer debt being at an all-time high, simply put, when we doubt the future, we build our perspective on what comfort is current. It is here where we find one of the challenges of the Christian faith, to both be present in the now while living in, and from the eternal perspective.
A few months have passed since visiting that church, and yet I cannot shake that niggle of the void so apparent in the commentary of the church in general, certainly the western church. I simply cannot remember the last time I heard a message dedicated to the details of Heaven. Worse yet, is that very little exegesis seems to come from scriptures about Heaven and eternity, with verses, passages and even books like Revelation being shelved under the label of being too weird.
Perhaps the shelf should instead read “Too lazy/difficult to explore.” And still further, our invitations into the faith have in many instances diluted to mere motivation for this life here and now. The proof is in the pudding, and we do well to ask ourselves if the draw of Heaven, the stunning hope of our eternal dwelling place, is on the lips, minds, and hearts of the everyday believer?
Are we unknowingly forgetting our destiny?
When is the last time, if ever, you spent some time mediating on what’s in store for us? The Early Church lived in the reality of the hereafter, a position Paul states clearly.
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (Philippians 1:21-23)
To them, Heaven was a place to be desired, a great place, provided by a great and loving God, a place being prepared by Jesus Himself.
“I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2b-3)
Eternity in a great place, now that’s something to look forward to, even dream about, with great expectation! So why don’t we? Perhaps we tend to consider our physical here-and-now to be more real and of greater priority than the future we cannot see. Certainly the logical train of thought then is that we are seeing primarily by our physical eyes and neglecting to see in the spirit.
Jesus faced this human dilemma in His teaching too. In Matthew 22 while teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, the response of the religious leaders was to defer the conversation to the physical realm of paying taxes. What’s the point here? That there is a perspective that is greater than our physical present time, but if we forsake it then we are missing the point.
When we consider our current realm from the perspective of Heaven, then our understanding is enlarged and our engagement is from an eternal approach. When we flip that around and allow our physical perspective to lead, then heaven is made obscure and small, if considered at all. The problem then, is that when we have this the wrong way around, the Gospel we start to profess is founded in the physical realm, and is not the Gospel of Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven, but can quickly become the Gospel of self.
We lose out on the fullness of our faith, found in the hope of why we believe in the first place, not primarily for now, but for a wonderful eternity that extends beyond this short life on earth. Which gospel are we inviting people into?
:We lose out on the fullness of our faith, found in the hope of why we believe in the first place, not primarily for now, but for a wonderful eternity that extends beyond this short life on earth.”
It’s kind of like how you dream of your next upcoming vacation, you’re not there yet but you’re excited, and even sharing with others about the experiences you will surely have. Or perhaps better, it’s like having been invited to the greatest party on earth, and telling your friends about it, explaining what a great time you’re going to have, in full color!
Your anticipation actually sparks excitement in them! Then the great part comes, when you turn to them and say, “hey, you wanna come too?” Isn’t inviting someone into the faith, with that kind of anticipation such a game changer! (See what I did there, I just retold Jesus’ parable from Matthew 22. Go read it in full and you’ll see the invite, it’s kinda cool!)
Without the hope of Heaven set within us we risk understanding our faith as primarily sacrificial, and while the struggle is often real, just as Jesus explained in John 16, when our focus remains on the struggle, then we at least on a sub-subconscious level may feel reluctant to bring people into the Christian faith to face such battles, I mean, who wants to bring people into turmoil? Simply, we see Christianity are tough, so we hesitate to offer it to others. Except that there is another focus…
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
However, if we are to believe that He has overcome the world, then we are to know that we are positioned, in Him, to both overcome the world now, and journeying toward a divine destiny, to the place He has prepared for us. As we consider that, our perspective corrects. This is also why Christianity cannot be based purely on current experience but must be based in part on the future promise, so that we process through the lens of heaven and not the fallen world, never losing the spiritual dunamis of the eternal reality.
Dreaming of our destiny
You’ve possibly heard the reference to those who are “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”, speaking of those believers who seem to be so wrapped up in their faith walk, or possibly even the religion of it, that they can’t seem to relate to the world around them. While I contend for the balance of both, I have come to lean toward a correction made to that statement that says “we need to be heavenly minded so that we might be of any earthly good.”
As with any such pressing topic that peaks our interest, we tend to suddenly find resources come our way that we never considered before. One such item is a book a friend handed me, called Imagine Heaven, written by John Burke, which recounts the experiences and glimpses into the life beyond, shared by many around the world who have encountered near death experiences.
At the time of writing this I have not completed reading the book, and as such hesitate to give it a formal recommendation, but suffice to say that it is radically enlarging my thinking and meditation of Heaven, and that’s good, it’s very good! My encouragement to you is to find such a tool, alongside the Bible, and meditate regularly on Heaven.
Ask the Holy Spirit to show you, speak to you, and grow you in understanding your destiny. I’m convinced that it will grow both your faith and your relationship with our incredible God, who has an incredible place awaiting us. I can’t help but feel that there is a depth to the “hope of glory” mentioned in Colossians, and should we live with such hopeful expectation we will not only be contagious Christians, but the outworking of our faith will excel in ways not yet imagined!
“To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)
I dare you to dream of Heaven.