How often do you think of Heaven? My guess is that your answer will be in proportion to your age and your level of suffering in this life. The closer we are to our own deaths, the more we are confronted by the unavoidable reality of what we are facing. More and more of our friends and loved ones have died, our bodily suffering is intensifying and we long for relief, and the world around us increasingly assaults our sense of what is right and godly—we feel like aliens in this world. All of these tend to cause us to turn our eyes away from the temporal and towards our eternal destiny.
When I was a child it seemed like more of the worship songs we sang in church had a heaven-oriented theme than many of the contemporary songs. If they weren’t totally focused in that direction, there was often at least one verse which directed our attention heavenwards to our final goal. Occasionally on Sunday evenings our church would have a hymn request service, and the songs I remember from those events were full of longings for the world to come: We’re March to Zion, Ivory Palaces, In the Sweet By and By, O That Will Be Glory, and many more. But the selection could be because the adults of my childhood had seen hard times; wars, the Depression, and suffering were their lot, far more than in the decades of relative ease which have followed, so perhaps they had learned to turn their gaze to the world to come. As our Pastor Jay has mentioned, people under suffering and persecution often have a more Heavenward focus because the world around them has lost its ability to allure, and they desire so much to be released to the promised rest of God.
Regardless of our age or stage of suffering we would do well to be intentional in turning our eyes toward Heaven. First of all, this is because it is one of only two destinations we will all face. It is unquestionable that all but those saints who are still alive when Jesus returns will die, and it is certain that each of us will either spend eternity in His presence in Heaven, or separated from Him in Hell. With these inescapable facts looming, what are we doing to prepare? Right now, I have several bins of food and a stack of bottled water assembled in preparation for the possibility that a hurricane might hit us with the severity of disrupting power and supplies. We prepare each year for this possibility, even though we rarely need it. Death and eternal destinations, on the other hand, are certainties; how much preparation are we doing to be ready for this vital and ultimate event? It only seems prudent that we give it much more thought, planning, and intentional preparation to this inevitable event than most of us likely give it now.
Secondly, Jesus talks a lot about preparing and rewards. I’ve heard people say piously, “Just a little hovel in Heaven is all I need, just as long as I get there,” or “I’m not in it for the rewards.” While I understand the sentiment (it does seem a little less than spiritual to be rewards-oriented), it really flies in the face of what Jesus taught. Listen to some of His words:
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14).
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and evil” (Luke 6:35).
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you…But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6, 17-18).
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-21).
“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12).
This is just a sampling of the many teachings Jesus had about heaven, rewards, and being prepared or watching for His return. A study of this topic would, I believe, challenge how we live our lives from this moment on. While I have yet to hear anyone say to me, “I’m living my life to stack up heaps of treasure in heaven,” that would seem to be a response more in keeping with Jesus’ teaching. Even if we cast it all at His feet in heavenly worship and acknowledgement that all we accomplished on earth was through Him, it would be far better to have a heap of treasure to give to Him than go virtually emptyhanded (much like the parable of the three stewards).
Thirdly, orienting our hearts, minds, and spiritual goals in a heavenward direction whets our appetites to see our Savior, for He is our true Reward. If we aren’t filled with a desire to see Him, we should probably check our hearts to be sure we are really saved, or at least take our spiritual temperatures to determine how alive we are. If we have no desire for Him while we are on earth, what makes us think we will delight in Him in eternity? To be prepared for His coming and our eternity with Him we should be more intentional about anticipating That Day, when we will see Him face to face. We would do well to say often, “Lord, I will see You soon. How I long for That Day! Help me to be ready.”
It is encouraging to see contemporary songs like this one once again turning our eyes to the One who our eternity is all about. We not only were saved by Him, we were saved for Him, and He will be at the center of all we do in our forever. Let us be diligent to prepare for Him, and for that glorious day.