If I had to name a single theme that has dominated my life in the past decade and a half, or a lesson that keeps coming to the surface, it would be this:
That this life and everything in it are temporary. The only things that last are God, His Word, and heaven.
The Lord has reminded me of these truths time and time again, through countless circumstances and experiences.
Being a renter and never a homeowner is one such circumstance. Moving ten times in the same city, and making two transatlantic moves have also cemented these realities into the forefront of my mind.
Remembering that this life is not all there is can be so encouraging. It also puts things into a proper perspective, and helps me to relax when I’m tempted to get worked up about a small, insignificant thing.
When material items break, I’m disappointed, but I try to remember that I’m not taking them with me to heaven anyway — so I really shouldn’t stress.
Having the mindset that this life is temporary also challenges me to make relationships count. To make each encounter, each exchange matter. Souls are eternal — bodies are not.
How can we increase our appetite for this promised “inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade”?
If they could live on the beach, they’d be happy forever, these kids of mine. On Labor Day weekend, they taunted the churning waves and rode the swell on borrowed boogie boards — one last hurrah as summer lets out her final sigh and exhales into hibernation until next year.
The lure of the waiting sand drew them in, and they started to dig. They gravitated toward two pools of water that had collected from overambitious waves, and they began to construct a channeling system that would cause the water to move from one body to the next.
After a while, the group of friends we were with had dissipated and gone back to the beach house, until only two of my kids and I were left on the sand. I reluctantly told them it was almost time to go, but promised I would wait until they had finished digging the final channel of water.
My daughter immediately said, “Well, we won’t get to enjoy it, but maybe the next people who come will be able to!” She then proceeded to etch into the sand with her fingertips, a message at the entrance to their sand compound:
“For your joy.”
I wished I’d brought my camera.
As I looked at the sand-carved letters, it struck me right away that she didn’t write, “For your enjoyment,” but rather, “For your joy.”
And I thought about how the Lord has done the very same thing.
He has constructed an intricate, elaborate creation for our joy.
Have you ever thought about that?
And He didn’t stop there. Not only did He create this universe for our joy, but He has prepared an even greater place, eternity itself, for the forever joy of those who love Him.
“But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 33:9b-10).
God worked to create for our enjoyment, and for His glory. He worked and suffered on the cross that we might know everlasting joy. And He is working even now, sustaining and redeeming His creation (John 5:17).
My kids took pride in their creation on the beach, and found satisfaction in the fact that others might be able to enjoy it after they left. How much more does the Lord delight in His creation?
The best part is, the place He has prepared for His children in glory won’t be washed away by even the strongest of waves.
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” ~ Zephaniah 3:17, ESV
A month ago at this time, I was breathing in the intoxicating grandeur of the Rocky Mountains.
We were in Vail, Colorado for a family wedding, and it was pure bliss. The weekend was spent hiking, dining and dancing the night away, and passed altogether too quickly.
When it was time to say goodbye, we all felt like this:
We didn’t want to go home.
In fact, I could’ve stayed there forever, in spite of the waves of altitude sickness that assaulted all of us at some point, irrespective of age or gender.
I was reminded of my daughter, a year and a half earlier, who had been sledding for the first time.
On one of the first occasions that my African-born children ever experienced the exhilarating rush of a sledding hill, my seven-year-old daughter let the adrenaline get to her head. In a moment of boldness, she dove headfirst onto her circular plastic disc, soared down the snow-covered hill, and biffed, chin skidding across the ice. A howl could be heard from the bottom of the hill to the top, and the best I could do was to dab her bloody chin with a used tissue. Over the decibels of her wailing, I asked, “Do you want to go home?”
“Nooo!” she exclaimed adamantly between sobs.
Of course she didn’t want to go home. Why would she?
In comparison to a perfect (albeit slightly bloodied) sledding hill, home was a dull and boring second-class pick.
If you’re a parent, it’s quite likely that when you’ve gone to pick up your kids from a playdate at a friend’s house, you’ve been welcomed with the infamous whine: “I don’t wanna go home!”
I was throwing that same internal tantrum when it was time to leave Vail.
Often, even with bloody chins from sledding hills or sudden nausea from the altitude of the mountains, we would rather stay in the places we’re having fun than to go back home to the daily grind of the normal routine.
And if we’re honest, don’t we sometimes have the same view of heaven, in comparison to the pleasures on earth?
In his book, The Glory of Heaven, John MacArthur writes this:
“I have actually heard Christians say they don’t want to go to heaven until they’ve enjoyed all that the world can deliver. When all earthly pursuits are exhausted, or when age and sickness hamper their enjoyment, then they believe they’ll be ready for heaven. ‘Please God, don’t take me to heaven yet,’ they pray. ‘I haven’t even been to Hawaii!’”
Maybe for you it’s not Hawaii, but there’s likely something on earth that is tempting each of us to stay behind.
Maybe your view of heaven is tainted, and, like Matt Chandler once believed, you think heaven is going to be dull and boring after a while.
In his book, The Explicit Gospel, Chandler recalls his former feelings toward this verse of the song, Amazing Grace:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.
“The picture painted by this great hymn is of an eternal session of praise music. I remember being a bit mortified by this idea after my conversion. Although I loved the Lord, the concept of just singing to the Lord for trillions of years was more than my mind could fathom. I thought, ‘Surely we’d get bored with that.’ Even the most amazing things on earth get a little boring after a while. So how is it that billions of trillions of years from now, I’m still going to be plucking my harp, sitting on my cloud in perfect contentment? … The image is conjured of robe-wearing, harp-playing, eternal song-singing Tom and Jerry heaven. Is that really what heaven will be like?”
If you’ve trusted in Christ for your salvation, then there is a home waiting for you in glory. Jesus himself promised that he has gone ahead to prepare a place for you.
As Christians, are we living as though we’re excited about spending eternity with our Lord?
Or are we pouting and dragging our feet, wishing we didn’t have to leave all that we enjoy here on earth?
Don’t get me wrong .. There is astounding beauty to be found here, and God put it here for our enjoyment.
But it’s temporary.
Not only is it temporary, but it’s only a shadow of things to come. Even the best sledding hill and the most breathtaking mountain range on earth don’t compare to the glory that will be found in heaven for those who love Him.
So let me ask you this:
When the time comes for the Father to call you Home, how will you respond?
Since I’ve done so much reading and research about the topic, I found that this particular book had a lot of overlap with topics and issues I’ve addressed in my own writing, including heaven as our home and heaven as our hope.
Pastor Steve Berger’s main premise could basically be summed up by what Jesus named as the greatest commandments — to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Through loving God and loving other people, Berger says, we will “have our hearts in heaven, and our hands in the harvest.”
The most powerful aspect of this work, to me, was the personal testimony of the author himself.
Steve Berger and his wife have lived through a profound and heart-wrenching tragedy in the death of their son, who died on his nineteenth birthday from injuries sustained in a one-person car crash.
Learning the details of their agonizing experience and then reading how their passion for heaven and eternity has been renewed and invigorated is inspirational. It would be easy for people in that situation to turn their backs on God as a result of deep anger and resentment. However, through the grace of God, the Berger family has been enabled to increase their praise, giving glory to God for His sacrifice in Christ, and for the hope of heaven.
In his book, Berger writes about the believer’s tension between desiring to be with Christ in glory, and the desire to remain on earth to continue His work. He urges believing readers to see that when one’s heart is truly wrapped up in heaven, one’s hands will be active in the harvest, serving and proclaiming the gospel to a lost and needy world.
Berger addresses the question, “What are some factors that keep us from effectively having our ‘hand in the harvest’?”
Some hindrances addressed by the author in response to this question are: a lack of vision and compassion, procrastination, discomfort, mistaken priorities, selfishness, and fear.
He also accurately assesses, “…there is a shortage of laborers because we’re not seeing the real spiritual condition of the multitudes.” (p. 125)
He then goes on to emphasize that if we’re going to make an impact with our hands in the harvest, we need to be prepared, just as Phillip was prepared in his response to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts chapter 8.
“When we’re going to serve with our hands in the harvest, we need to be equipped — we need the Word in us and we need to be in the Word”(p. 137). In other words, “We can’t give away what we don’t know” (p. 144).
Berger urges readers to spend time delving into the Scriptures and hiding God’s Word in our hearts, as His truth is the tool that will equip us to respond and minister to the harvest.
Two chapters which I did not entirely agree with were Chapter 6, ‘What Will We Do in Heaven?’ and Chapter 9, ‘The Power of the Holy Spirit.’ For further explanation, please feel free to contact me.
The chapter that resonated with me most was Chapter 7, ‘Heaven is for Healing.’ It always brings me joy and comfort to be reminded that there will be no more aching in heaven.
If I had to rate this book, I would probably give it three out of five stars. While the content was orderly and understandable, I found the style of writing to be somewhat lackluster and repetitive for my personal taste.
However, after writing this post, a friend directed me to a radio interview with the author, aired on Moody Radio. I listened and found the show to be very encouraging, particularly Steve Berger’s expressed passion for eternity and for others to desire it as well. This does come across in the book, but hearing his voice made the emphasis even more evident than the typed lines on the page.
Overall, this book is written with clarity and I trust that it will be an encouragement to many.