Looking Forward to Heaven

Exploring ideas about the salvation that lies ahead

Howard Hardegree

When I was a child, we had a wonderful backyard with peach and cherry trees, grapevines, and raspberries.

Some of my earliest memories are of grazing through the fruit. One summer morning around my 5th birthday I found a new trellis of berries.

I can still see the dew glistening off the purple-black skins and taste the tart sweetness.

I had pretty much worked my way down the row when my mother came out on the back porch. I asked what these new berries were. She said, "They're boysenberries," and added emphatically, "Leave them alone!"

But what I heard was, "They're poison berries; leave them alone!"

Well, I thought, now I'm in trouble. Mom is really going to be mad that I poisoned myself. Soon a quart of boysenberries began rumbling in my stomach, confirming my diagnosis.

So I went into an abandoned chicken coop at the back fence line and sat down to await the death angel. I remembered the preacher down at our Baptist church saying that when little kids die they all go to heaven, so I was not afraid.

It felt a little like the time we returned from our annual visit to my grandmother's farm in East Texas. I'd had a great time, but it was good to be going home.

The Promise of Heaven Matters

Of course, my 5-year-old brain held a pretty limited picture of heaven.

Yet even as I matured, my idea of heaven didn't. I thought of heaven as a nice place, a someday place, a much better version of earth. Any concept of its majesty and grandeur -- and importance -- totally eluded me. I just never thought about heaven.

Even after becoming a Christian as an adult, a comfortable life made thoughts of heaven feel unnecessary.

The whole idea seemed like some moldering leftover from a less sophisticated time; a creation of weaklings who needed something to look forward to because they could not cope with the present.

And the idea of crowns for the faithful reminded me of the Santa Claus story, having little to do with concerns of today.

The truth, of course, is quite different. The Bible teaches that heaven is God's creation for believers, a place where He will reward us and a place that should mean something to us right now.

In fact, God provides us a treatise on that in the Book of Colossians.

In Chapter 3, Paul explains that we are already co-raised with Jesus and, since He is in heaven now, we can direct our minds to heaven and live the Christ-life on earth.

A Heavenly Destination

I live within a stone's throw of the beginning of the old Santa Fe Trail. The frontier had lots of trails and roads that became irrelevant and disappeared.

Unlike those trails that went nowhere important, the Santa Fe served merchants, settlers and California gold miners in search of prosperity, and became the national road to the new Southwest territories. The destination gave it meaning.

In the same way, our lives on earth are like a road. The road is important, but it is just a journey.

The destination is the real prize. Without a valuable destination, a road is just a rut.

A heavenly destination gives meaning to our choices, our labors, our lives.

Yearning for Eternity in Heaven

And, like the pilgrims on the old trail who longed for a destination they had never seen, Christians long for an unseen, future home -- a real place.

The universal question of life after death is really a God-given yearning. Indeed, according to Philippians 3:20, my citizenship is in heaven.

Besides the many biblical passages and a confirmation of the Holy Spirit, that longing within us points to another proof of heaven's existence.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

We crave peace, we search for a reason to live, we long for meaning. And those desires can't be permanently fulfilled by anything around us.

But they can find their home when God grants us a glimpse of heaven. In his book, In Light of Eternity, Randy Alcorn explains this.

"Think about the special spiritual moments you've experienced," he writes.

"Perhaps it was during a time of prayer, in worship at church, in a conversation with a loved one, or while you were walking on the beach or in the woods. Have you ever had a sudden sense that you were moving on the edge of eternity, briefly yet truly breaking into its circle, knowing in that moment you were exactly where you belonged, taking part in what the universe must be about? That was a glimpse of eternity."

Looking Ahead to Our Heavenly Reward

My grandmother -- we called her Gammy -- lived out her final days in a nursing home. She despised being there, and in her gritty, hard-nosed way, her unhappiness spilled out on whoever happened to be nearby.

During one visit, Gammy sat in tight-lipped silence. Finally she asked me, "Do you think I'll go to heaven?" She had a rough life with plenty of failures to weigh at the end of her road.

But as we talked, she realized that she had already made a commitment to Jesus and that her road would end in heaven.

After our conversation, she seemed relieved and eventually even happy. The rest of my family wanted to know what in the world I had said to Gammy to cause such a change.

It was nothing I said, just a conviction that her longing for heaven would be satisfied.

Within a few weeks, her heart stopped. The faithful attendant in her wing of the nursing home revived her, restoring her to this life.

As soon as Gammy realized how close she had come to home, they said you could hear her cursing from all over the wing.

Gammy was 86 years old and sick. Her outburst was probably not because of what the apostle Paul wrote:

"Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:2). But Gammy did want to go.

Rather than offering an escape clause, Paul explained that the things above make the things below significant, and he challenges us to focus on those things.

It is human nature to focus on those things holding significance; that's the way we were made.

However, God placed that desire within us so we might attend to things important to Him, instead of focusing on things we deem significant. As we do, He adds the promise of heavenly reward.

The Splendor of Eternal Salvation

In the Bible's final chapter, Jesus said, "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done" (Revelation 22:12, New International Version).

I must confess that while I long for the splendor and majesty of heaven, for complete communion with Jesus, and relish the idea of perfection, my longing is tempered with a certain unease at the thought of standing for the judgment.

Will I be embarrassed? Probably. I've spent a good deal of my life on myself.

But even so, I know God.

He lovingly forgives me, and Scripture says He longs for our reunion in the place He has gone ahead to prepare for me.

In heaven, I will finally remain in His presence forever.

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