I think a lot about heaven. I suppose when you have a loved one there you wonder what every day life is like. It’s almost as if your loved one is in a foreign country and you’re waiting by the phone or at the mailbox to receive pictures of this exotic, distant land you hope to one day visit. When the pictures come, when the FaceTime call connects, when you get a glimpse of what your loved one is experiencing, you feel more tuned to her and the place she’s in. Learning more about heaven helps me feel connected to Amanda.
It’s a shame we don’t talk about heaven more in the church.
Here’s this “final resting place” we’re all hoping to wind up at one day, but we seem to never talk about it. Think about it. When was the last time you heard a message in the modern church about heaven? We spend a lot of time teaching and talking about practical tips and tricks to live the abundant life in the here and now—time management, rest, fighting temptation, finances, surviving crisis, relating with others, loving our spouse and kids, and doing work that matters. All of these are well and good—and even necessary—to discuss, but what about the life to come? What about heaven? It’s almost as if we think silence on the topic will keep our individual departure into eternity at bay.
We don’t do this with any other travel plans. Last year my family went on vacation to Seaside, FL together. We spent months before the trip looking at pictures of the house where we were staying, planning activities for the kids around the area, and noting all the dining hot spots. We couldn’t get together without talking incessantly about our excitement for getting there. For some reason I don’t feel that sort of anticipation for heaven in the church. Like we’re living out the old Kenny Chesney song, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” So instead of dreaming of it, planning for it, packing our proverbial bags for the trip, we tune it out. We distract ourselves with what’s immediately in front of us. We attend to the duties of the day and miss out on the dreams of the day to come. I wonder what would have happened if the Israelites had talked about the Promise Land a little more. Maybe they wouldn’t have stumbled around lost in the wilderness for as long as they did. After all, "without vision the people cast off restraint."
Shouldn’t what we believe about what’s to come inform our decisions in the here and now? Shouldn’t our theology of heaven be the greatest shaper for our activity here on earth?
Perhaps that’s why many of our decisions leave us feeling empty and frustrated. They lack the pointedness that will lead our lives to the destination our soul deeply longs for. Andy Stanley says in The Principle of the Path, "it’s not our intentions that get us to our destination, it’s our directional decisions". My prayer is that as you read this post and other resources I’m pointing you to on the topic of Heaven, you experience a deeper sense of belonging to and longing for heaven that lead you to wiser decisions here on earth.
Last May I went out to Montana to visit my friend, Levi Lusko. One day while I was there my buddy, Zach, and I decided to take a hike in Glacier National Park to Avalanche Lake per the suggestion of Pastor Levi’s assistant, Amanda Minatra. She and her husband are adventure seekers and had made a list of the top scenic destinations we needed to visit while we were in town. The weather that day was a cool fifty-five degrees, overcast, with some spurts of misting rain—perfect for hiking in a light rain jacket. The trail head led us on about an hour trek on a mildly trodden path, over large roots, around some bends in the forest, up a couple steep ridges, and down some slippery banks. The scent of fresh pine needles filled the air as the sounds of squirrels gathering their nuts and birds arguing with them played in my ears. I felt like I was in an REI or North Face commercial. The whole time I remember thinking how peaceful it was to get out in the crisp, fresh Montana air, disconnect from technology and the hustle and bustle of the city. For that hour the stresses of life back home in Indianapolis seemed to dissipate under this sense of adventure and the anticipation of the gorgeous landscape promised at the end of the trail. Zach and I chatted much of the hike, bantering back and forth about little trivialities.
Then, as we followed a bend in the trail, I caught a glimpse of it. Through the swaying brush at the base of the towering Mountain Ash trees I could see the the trail open up to a clearing with a large lake fed by three waterfalls descending from the cliffs. At the top of these waterfalls, ice and snow sprawled along the peaks of the mountainous terrain. We were staring at a massive glacier that was melting and emptying into a lake bed. It was magnificent. Breath-taking. I nearly sprinted to the end of the trail to see this marvelous gem of a landmark. Zach reached the beach a few steps behind me and both of us gasped as we scanned the landscape. Neither of us said a word for what seemed like hours as we inhaled the scenery. If you know Zach and I, you know our mutual silence was a miracle in and of itself.
We spent the next hour walking around the beachhead and listening to the roaring of the waterfalls in the distance as they echoed across the lake. After an hour of standing there and shaking our heads, we made the trek back to the lot where our car was parked. There was something powerful about that moment. Something ethereal about taking a small adventure to Avalanche Lake.
We felt like pioneers. Like adventurers. Lewis and Clark finding a new land. Even though others had seen Avalanche Lake, it was the first time we had discovered it for ourselves.
Both the journey and the destination were momentous—the journey for the anticipation we felt, and the destination for the awe we experienced. There was something about discovery that day that stirred my affections for Jesus and wet my appetite for more.
When we got back to the hotel that afternoon I began thinking more about it. I felt like I had just experienced a little taste of what heaven will be like. I believe that every moment of awe we experience on earth is just the appetizer for heaven. You and I could spend every waking moment of our lifetime seeking new adventure and discovering new places and never tap into the full creative expanse of God. He is a master creator, and I believe both science and scripture point us to the fact that God’s creativity is limitless. Most scientists have seceded to the evidence that the universe is ever-expanding and that there is no end to it. It reaches infinitely in all directions—at least as far as we can tell. The more of the universe we discover, the more we realize there is to discover. It’s like there is no end to God’s creative order.
If God is limitless in his power, he must be limitless in his potential to create.
And if he is limitless in his potential to create, there must be limitless opportunity for us to discover—especially once the curse of sin is broken in heaven.
I think this is really important, because I when I was younger I used to think heaven would be pretty boring! I told my mom if they didn’t have Velveeta Mac and Cheese and baseball in heaven I didn’t want to go—I mean priorities, people! What didn’t help my misunderstanding of life in heaven were things I’d hear in church: “Heaven is going to be a place where we worship for all of eternity!” Because of declarations like this this, I pictured a place where we sang the first, second and fourth stanza’s of “How Great Thou Art” over and over and over again. Nothing against "How Great Thou Art" and worship services, but doing it on repeat for all of eternity sounded more like hell to me! Remaining on earth sounded much more appealing.
I think this is one of the main tricks of the devil. If he can make earth more alluring to us than heaven, we’ll live for this world and not for the world to come.
If he can get us to focus more on the here and now and not on what’s to come, we’ll be lulled into Kingdom inactivity and therefore ineffectiveness. After all, this is truly what he wants from us. He doesn’t necessarily desire us to worship him. He just wants us to worship anything but God.
Worship according to scripture isn’t confined to a Sunday morning service. According to Paul’s letter to the Romans worship (even on earth) is supposed to take place twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We are to "offer our bodies as living sacrifices" for this is our "spiritual act of worship.” Worship isn’t a worship service. Nor is it a lip-service. It’s a lifestyle.
Our propensity as human beings is to take created things and make them ultimate above the creator. So we see Avalanche Lake and we worship it. We gawk and gaze and think there is something inherently sacred about it. We eat food (a created thing) and we worship it. We indulge and enjoy and over-eat and look to food to bring us relief and comfort from stress. We take sex (a created thing) and we worship it. We seek satisfaction and meaning and wholeness in the act of sex or in distorted deviations of it. All the while failing to realize that God created sex, food, and Avalanche Lake not for us to worship them but to point us to worship Him. God intended that when we experience His creation it causes us to well up with awe in Him, the creator. And whenever our worship terminates in the created, there our satisfaction will be stifled.
Here’s another conundrum. On earth we can get used to any “high.” When we experience the thrill of discovery, we look for a bigger fix, something newer, shinier, bigger, and grander than the last. Ironically if we pursue that new high, rather than pursuing Jesus, satisfaction will always allude us.
You know that breath-taking moment when you discover something grander? That instance where your breath is taken away and you don’t have words that would properly justify what you just experienced. That moment when I turned the bend and found myself staring at Avalanche Lake. Yeah, that moment of blissful awe and wonder. I believe Heaven will be endless cycles of that—for all of eternity. The landscape will never grow dull. The setting will never grow mundane. God’s infinite creative energies will meet us in a place of infinite awe . . . but awe that will fully and finally find it’s place in the creator.
This is why the most powerful thing about heaven is that God is there, and we’ll live with Him for all of eternity. For where He is are pleasures forevermore.
I can’t wait to get to heaven and have Amanda take me by the hand and say, “Davey! Oh my gosh! You wouldn’t believe this place! I have so much I need to show you!” And then we spend the rest of eternity exploring and discovering, and never tiring of it . . . and worshiping our Creator.
**If you want to study more about what the Bible says about Heaven, check out our Resource of the Month - Heaven by Randy Alcorn