It’s the “dog days of summer” now, and though baseball is making it’s way to the playoffs, most other professional sports are on hiatus. In the (American) football world, the CFL just recently hit the regular season, while the NFL just started its preseason. The NHL and NBA are on their off-season, while the WNBA is getting going again. There is talk of drafts, free agents, trades, contracts . . .
But what is the goal of every game, every player transaction, every contract and every move? To win a championship. In the world of sports, it is easy to identify the prize, and equally obvious what it means to keep your eyes on the prize.
We as Christians also have a “prize.” There is a goal that we should be living for. That prize is Heaven.
I asked two questions at the end of the last segment. Let’s take just a little time to examine these.
1. How would you define Heaven?
Did you take the time to answer this question for yourself? If you did, let me take a few guesses as to where you might have drudged up that definition.
- The um-teen-thousand sermons you’ve heard in your life.
- Different portions of the Bible.
- Your own concepts of what “paradise” might look like, feel like, and be filled with.
- Looking at the world around you and knowing what shouldn’t be there.
How did you define Heaven? Was it pearly gates and streets of gold? Was it a giant hill with a city and mansions on it? Did you remember the river of life, or the lack of tears and sorrow and pain? These are, of course, some of the bits and pieces the Bible gives us about Heaven.
Why ask this question? Well, I believe that our view of Heaven determines the answer to the next question.
2. Do you wish you were in Heaven? Why or why not?
If Heaven is so great, and this world so awful, do you really wish that you were there instead of here? Does the image you’ve either been given or created for yourself stir up a deep desire, a perpetual longing for that place?
While writing this series, I happened to receive an interesting illustration in e-newsletter.
After dying in a car crash, three friends go to Heaven for orientation. All are asked the same question: “When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning over you, what would you like to hear them say about you?”
The first guy immediately responds, “I would like to hear them say that I was one of the great doctors of my time, and a great family man.”
The second guy says, “I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher who made a huge difference in the lives of children.”
The last guy thinks a minute and replies, “I would like to hear them say: LOOK, HE’S MOVING!”
Does the last man’s response reveal your current perspective about Heaven? It would be nice to be there, but I’d rather be here on earth.
To be honest, I’ve only learned what it means to long for Heaven in the past few years. I served with a pastor for three years in Massachusetts. One of the cries of his heart was to be with his Savior in Heaven. The more he made mention of it, the more I was forced to examine my own desire for the afterlife.
After all, I just turned thirty, I’m married with two beautiful little girls, and my ministry is finally gaining a little momentum. Would I really want to leave this?
This is, perhaps, why people wonder about whether those who commit suicide go to Heaven. The argument is that they are, after all, only speeding on the fulfillment of their desire for Heaven. But God gives us so much while we are here. To take our own life, though on the surface seems to release us to our place of longing, actually cuts us off from our place of preparation and fulfillment of God’s destiny for us. This is where the words of Paul come in to play.
…I know that what is happening will be for the good of my own soul…It all accords with my own earnest wishes and hopes, which are that I should never be in any way ashamed, but that now, as always, I should honor Christ with the utmost boldness by the way I live, whether that means I am to face death or to go on living. For living to me means simply “Christ,” and if I die I should merely gain more of Him. I realize, of course, that the work which I have started may make it necessary for me to go on living in this world. I should find it very hard to make a choice. I am torn in two directions – on the one hand, I long to leave this world and live with Christ, and that is obviously the best thing for me. Yet, on the other, it is probably more necessary for you that I should stay here on earth. That is why I feel pretty well convinced that I shall not leave this world yet, but shall be able to stand by you, to help you forward in Christian living and to find increasing joy in your faith.
Philippians 1:19-25 (Phillips)
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t want to be used by God on this earth, to live our families and friends and enjoy the life God has given to us. But if you read the words of Paul, his first thought was not for those to whom he ministered. In this rare act of selfishness, Paul instead thought first of what benefit it would be for him to be with Christ in eternity.
How have we come to the place where this temporal, fallen world comes to the forefront in our hearts and minds, far before that of a glorious, untarnished, never-ending, Christ-filled eternity?
I have tried to help unveil a few of the aspects that are sometimes left out of our more common examinations of eternity. Our loves really do have eternal consequences, and we will be judged for what we have (or have not) done with eternity in mind. We are in a state of preparation for roles and tasks that God has appointed unto us for eternity.
But I cannot birth within you a desire for eternity. That is something each of us must be willing to reach for on our own, and allow God to place within us. It is part of that everyday battle to surrender our wills for His, as we crucify the old nature and give life and sustenance to the new.