I'm listening to the Gaither Vocal Band sing "These are They" and thinking about heaven this morning. Outside the widow of the spare bedroom that I call my "writing studio," it is snowing, white flakes drifting down and piling up, prompting our church to call off services today.
Heaven is a favorite topic of mine, perhaps because I was reared in a home and church atmosphere where it was a natural part of discussion. Around the dinner table, we talked about it; in church, we sang about it, and in our joy or sorrow, it was our passion.
My childhood was rich in church and campmeeting attendance, and in those days, nothing got the saints to shouting like a message about heaven. I recall walking into an outdoor camp tabernacle on a Sunday morning, part of a gathering of families in their Sabbath finery. Little girls in dresses with sculpted bows tied in back, little boys looking uncomfortable in dress shirts and pants and mothers holding babies with cherub cheeks and wide eyes. As the service began, the morning dew would be fading and the sun would be rising in the sky, promising a scorching afternoon when the crowd would seek shade under the trees or in a cabin with a good fan (there was little air-conditioning in those days in that place). But all the focus at the moment was on the service as the musicians would lead the congregation in rousing numbers from the paperback songbooks and the people would stand and heartily sing. There would be announcements and an offering received and a couple of special musical numbers from the song evangelists (these would be delightfully mellow and harmonious, deep in spiritual sentiment and hope). Then, as mothers waved fans on paper sticks and fathers removed suit coats because of the heat, the preacher would announce his text, asking the people to stand as the Scripture was read. No doubt on this fine Sunday of campmeeting, he would talk about heaven. It was a message that fit the morning - the day was bright with sunshine, the people of God were praising Him, families were together, friends were enjoying each other's company, a delicious meal was waiting in the dining hall, hearts were filled with the realization of redemption and the joy of sins forgiven, and for that half-hour (or longer:), it seemed a small taste of the delights of heaven. He would tell us what the Bible had to say, and my small heart would thrill to hear about the streets of gold and all the things that made it seem like such a happy place. We might even stand at the end of the service and sing "What a Day That Will Be."
Over the years, I have grown into a more mature understanding of heaven (though undoubtedly limited still). My appreciation for that place has increased with every trial I have endured, with every death of someone I love, and with every parting from those I hold dear. Heaven has become even more desirable as I have gotten nearer to it.
In recent years, there has been numerous "first-hand accounts" published about heaven. The writers of these near-death experiences range from young to old, from New-Age philosophers to evangelical believers. Our fascination with the afterlife proves that there is something deep within the human psyche which was made for eternity.
To some, heaven is a place of light or peace or just a time of rest when all the fun of earth is over. But the Bible tells us that it is much more than that. The only One who can really describe heaven is He who is preparing it. And He left us with a few glimpses that persuade us of its glory. From those descriptions in John 14, I Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21- 22, we know a little of what heaven will be.
Heaven will be the absence of evil, the erasing of the fractures and smudges of sin, the total envelopment of light and rightness. It will be the triumph of goodness and holiness. It will be real and lasting health, wholeness of body and spirit that will make our best days here on earth seem pale and sickly. It will be a celebration like none other, all the best parts of holidays, vacations, family reunions, revivals and worship services, campmeetings and conventions and special events. Heaven will last forever and seem always like "today." Heaven will fill up our souls and satisfy us in every way. It will be serenity and security and tranquility, and at the same time, energy and activity and inspiration. It will be eternal rest and yet eternal creativity. It will be bright and new, and yet, like home. It will be worth every surrender of self, every trial of life, every refusal of temptation, and every sacrifice of earth.
But for the one who knows Christ as Redeemer and Friend, the best thing about heaven will be eternal togetherness with the most important One of all. Relationship is surely part of the reason for man's creation and for Jesus' death on the cross. And heaven will be unbroken relationship, with God and with others. I can't fully comprehend being in the very presence of Jesus, and yet, I look forward to it more and more. To be in the embrace of the One who sacrificed His very life for me and who loves me in spite of my failings and imperfections and who daily gives me the grace and strength to even serve Him - what a wonder that will be! Oh Jesus, I want to see you! And then I seriously look forward to spending time with the people who are in heaven, heroes I've read about in the Bible, faithful people from the past who have inspired me, and those from my own earthly family who have already made it there. Just being together in that place in His presence will be joy untold. And I think God looks forward to having all His family finally together forever. What a day that will be indeed!
It seems to me that the reality and permanence of heaven should inform every action, every decision, every goal here on earth. 2 Peter 3:11 reminds us that we should decide what kind of persons we will be in light of the fact that the earth will be destroyed and that eternity is forever. And I think we can better handle the injustices, the persecutions and and the sufferings of this world when we can hold fast to the next.
My husband once said something in a sermon about heaven that I often think about in this context. He remarked that no one would get to heaven and be surprised to be there; those who enter heaven will be expecting to be there by God's grace. They will have made a choice for Christ and followed through faithfully. Steve Green sang a song some years ago that expressed this determination:
Heaven is my passion and prize
The goal on which I firmly fix my eyes
Reward of the faithful, desire of the wise
Heaven is my passion and prize.
- "Heaven" by Jon Mohr/Randall Dennis
There have been many other wonderful songs written about heaven. I include the following link because I love the words, the hope of the message, the rise and fall of the melody and the setting in which it was sung. Like me, I hope that you have decided to be part of the "they" on that great and wonderful day.