When we think about Heaven, being face to face with God Almighty in a new creation surrounded by our brothers and sisters, it cannot just be a dreamy, comforting, distant image. The reality of it must change how we live every mundane this oh-so-solid earth.
We are often tempted to trudge along in the Christian life, exhausted by battles with inward sin and the world and waiting for the day when we can rest. Sometimes we can even become accustomed to this temporary world and chase after everything it offers — reputation, financial stability, relationships, etc.
But is this how we should live in the knowledge of life after this world? Sometimes we may not think a heavenward gaze is practical. After all, right now we work on this earth. Shouldn’t our focus be on the here and now?
A Glorified Perspective
Fixing our eyes on things above and living as citizens of Heaven is both joyful and practical. It is the best approach for the here and now. This is how Paul instructs us to live every day: “Walk by faith, not by sight…”; “Set your minds on things that are above…”; “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is…” (2 Corinthians 5:7, Colossians 3:2, Colossians 3:1).
The thought of Heaven ought to spur us on to race hard after Christ and Christlikeness (Hebrews 11 and 12). It ought to cause us to desire more of the Savior who gave us eternal life and to be more like Him. It supports us and emboldens in our constant battle against sin. We know the outcome of this war, and we know we shall soon rest with Christ.
The reality of eternal life also keeps Christians from conforming to this world (Romans 12). If Heaven is our eternal home, we should act as citizens of that country, not as citizens of the world. Our holiness, hope, and peace distinguish us from this sin-hardened earth. Living with “a single eye and an upright aim” (John Newton) ought to cause us to reflect the One who has gone before to prepare a place for us.
A focus on Heaven not only encourages us towards a vigorous pursuit of Christlikeness and a wariness of this world, but it also comforts us and carries us through our sufferings. The thought keeps us “in perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3). Afflictions will end. Sin will cease. Death will die. Our Savior will reign visibly over everything.
However, while Jesus constantly warned against being attached to the world (Matthew 6:19-20, Luke 12:33), we should not be morosely preoccupied with heaven to the point that we become apathetic about this life. Think of the Apostle Paul. When he wrote the letter to the Philippians, he was old, scarred, and in prison. He thought of Heaven and said he was “hard-pressed” between his desire to be with the Lord and his ministry on earth. But his thoughts of Heaven did not discourage his work. On the contrary, Paul prayed, preached to his guards, and wrote letters to the churches with “full courage” and “eager expectation” (Philippians 1:20). For Paul, to live was Christ and to die was gain, so he continued his work vigorously as he approached the end.
A Transformed Mindset
Perhaps fellow believers can understand the emotions I have felt over the past weeks as I attempted to study Heaven — the excitement, the overwhelming gratitude, the joy-filled hopefulness, the strange longing. I have been brought to tears by the love of God, and I have shuddered with amazement at the thought of the new heavens and a new earth.
Before attempting a careful study on Heaven, I never really thought of Heaven as a place. I saw life after death was a hazy, dreamlike state, despite biblical teaching. The reality of a physical, tangible Heaven has dawned on me over the past few weeks. We won’t be floating around in some golden atmosphere in ghostlike states, full of worshipful and happy feelings. Believers will live on a new earth that, I believe, will resemble creation before the Fall. We will experience that world much like we experience this one, through touch and sight and hearing. We will stand on solid ground, see the new creation and the Omnipotent Creator with glorified eyes, and worship Him with our physical voices and bodies. The more I think on it, the more my awe for the love of God grows.
I am thankful for those feelings, for the joy and gratitude I have felt. But, oh I pray that it leads to a different life! How often have we been stirred during one of the many wonderful hymns describing Immanuel’s Land, only to leave our church to be selfish, to worry, and to act like this earth is the end-all?
I cannot think of a happier way to live than to study and focus on “things above.” We turn our hearts to the perfections of Jesus Christ, seeing Him in the Heaven He bought for us, thinking on worshipping Him with our fellow believers without sin in a perfect new world. We look ahead through the eyes of faith, and joyful, grateful obedience will flow naturally. It is not easy to walk “seeing the unseen” in a world that begs for our attention and our devotion. It requires that we turn in faith to God and renew our minds day after day.
John Newton ended one of his many letters with this benediction:
“May the cheering contemplation of the glorious hope set before us—support and animate us to improve our short interval on earth, and fill us with a holy ambition of shining as lights in this evil world, to the praise and glory of His grace—who has called us out of darkness, into His glorious light!”
We live with our eyes fixed ahead, our hearts filled with hope, striving towards the upward call of Christ Jesus until we see Him face to face. (Philippians 3:14)