Becoming Heavenly-Minded, Again

When was the last time that you thought about heaven?  In fact, is thinking about heaven even something that you think is beneficial or advisable for a Christian to do?

There was a time when Christians were clearly told that they were pilgrims in this world, just sojourners passing through. Philippians 3:20 used to be routinely quoted in Christian circles – “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  And the New Testament tells Christians to “seek the things above,” to “set their minds on the things above, not on the things on earth” (Colossians 3:12 – Lexham), and to begin to “look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). 

Christians used to understand that life was short, death was certain, and that being with God for eternity was the goal towards which we have to press.   But it would be hard to show that this is still how we think today.  As Stephen Travis observes, if Christians are still pilgrims who are just passing through, then they have become “the best disguised set of pilgrims that the world has ever seen.”  So, what happened?

A.J. Conyers began his book The Eclipse of Heaven (IVP 1992) with this observation –

        We live in a world no longer under heaven.  At least in most people’s minds

        and imaginations that vision of reality has become little more than a

        caricature, conjuring up the saints and angels of baroque frescoes.  And in

        the church only a hint remains of the power it once exercised in the hearts

        of believers. (11)

And corroborating evidence of this “eclipse of heaven” is as close as our hymnal.  Think back to all of the wonderful old hymns and Gospel Songs that were once regularly sung about heaven in church.

_______________________________

When all my labors and trials are o’er,
And I am safe on that beautiful shore,
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore,
Will through the ages be glory for me.                                                                                                       

 O that will be glory for me,
Glory for me, glory for me,
When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me

_____________________________________________

When I can read my title clear to mansions in the skies,
I bid farewell to every fear, and wipe my weeping eyes.
And wipe my weeping eyes, and wipe my weeping eyes
I bid farewell to every fear, and wipe my weeping eyes.

______________________________

On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.                                                                                                                                    

I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land;
Oh who will come and go with me?
I am bound for the promised land.

______________________________

I have heard of a land on the faraway strand,
’Tis a beautiful home of the soul;
Built by Jesus on high, where we never shall die,
’Tis a land where we never grow old.                                                                                        

 Never grow old, never grow old,
In a land where we’ll never grow old;
Never grow old, never grow old,
In a land where we’ll never grow old

__________________________________

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?                                                                                                        

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

_______________________________

Then I bid farewell to the way of the world,
To walk in it never more;
For the Lord says, “Come,” and I seek my home,
Where He waits at the open door.                                                                                                      

The way of the cross leads home,
The way of the cross leads home,
It is sweet to know as I onward go,
The way of the cross leads home

_____________________________________

Far away the noise of strife upon my ear is falling.
Then I know the sins of earth beset on every hand.
Doubt and fear and things of earth in vain to me are calling.
None of these shall move me from Beulah Land.                                                                               

I’m living on the mountain, underneath a cloudless sky.
I’m drinking at the fountain that never shall run dry.
O yes! I’m feasting on the manna from a bountiful supply,
For I am dwelling in Beulah Land.

___________________________________________

There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.                                                                                                  

In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore.

________________________________

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace.
In the mansions bright and blessèd
He’ll prepare for us a place                                                                                                         

When we all get to Heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

________________________________

When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound,                                                                                          

 and time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.                                                                                 

When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.

___________________________________                                                                                     

I am a poor wayfaring stranger,
While traveling through this world of woe.
Yet there’s no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright world to which I go.
I’m going there to see my Father;
I’m going there no more to roam.                                                                                                      

I’m only going over Jordan,
I’m only going over home.

__________________________________

I have heard of a land on the far away strand,
’Tis a beautiful home of the soul;
Built by Jesus on high, where we never shall die,
’Tis a land where we never grow old.                                                                             

Never grow old, never grow old,
In a land where we’ll never grow old;
Never grow old, never grow old,
In a land where we’ll never grow old.

______________________________________

O the land of cloudless day,
O the land of an unclouded day,
O they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise,
O they tell me of an unclouded day.

O they tell me of a home where my friends have gone,
O they tell me of that land far away,
Where the tree of life in eternal bloom
Sheds its fragrance through the unclouded day

______________________________________________

So what happened to these great old songs of our faith?  And the answer is that they are the casualties of the “eclipse of heaven.”  Most of these familiar hymns and beloved Gospel songs are not even in our hymnal anymore.  We “outgrew” them.  But we still want them sung at our funerals!  And that’s telling.

Eugene Peterson tells a story about when he was once in the hospital for some minor surgery.  In the course of getting acquainted with his roommate, Eugenelet it be known that he was a pastor, and that set his roommate off.  He mocked, ridiculed and dismissed Eugeneunmercifully.  He had no time and even less patience for ministers, and he had no hesitation in telling Eugeneall about it.  But that night, after the roommate had had his surgery and was back in the hospital room from recovery, in pain and disoriented from the medication, the roommate panicked.  In great agitation he cried out to Eugenefor help.  “You’re a minister, pray for me” he begged.  “I’m dying here,” he pled, “please help me!”  And when the medical staff intervened and things calmed down, Eugene observed that when everything was “normal” in this young man’s life, he had no time for the things of God and no use for a minister.  But the minute things went south, he couldn’t get to a minister fast enough and seek some help from above.  And I suspect that this is the way to explain why the hymns about heaven that we don’t want in our hymnals are the hymns we want to hear at our funerals.  When we are strong and well, thinking that we will live forever, talk of heaven can be easily dismissed.  But when we have collided with the boundary situation and have experienced our limitations profoundly, personally and painfully, then we just can’t get enough heaven, and it seems to me that we are in an era of knowing our limits and so I expect there to be revival of interest in heaven.  Can a church with very few hymns about heaven in its hymnal anymore speak meaningfully and hopefully about God’s future? 

Samuel Gerber, a Mennonite from Europe, wrote the spiritually wisest book on death and dying that I’ve ever read.  Learning to Die (Herald Press 1984) is a book addressed to Christians that tells us how to die practically and spiritually, helpfully and hopefully.  The last chapter in the book is about heaven and the need for Christians to get oriented towards it in this life.  Samuel Gerber wrote –

        Why are we so reluctant to gather information about heaven?  If we really believe

        that someday we are going to land there, why do we know so little about what to

        expect there? …The Biblical descriptions about heaven [may be] difficult to

        interpret. [But] it is necessary to persevere in learning to understand Biblical

        language. (99-100)

Randy Alcorn wrote a book about heaven back in 2004 (Heaven – Tyndale) that is as comprehensive a study on what the Bible tells us about heaven as any book that’s out there.  And as a part of his work, Randy came up with these 27 questions that he believes are on the hearts of people, and that the Bible addresses –

  1. Is Heaven a realm for disembodied spirits, or a physical place where we’ll have bodies?
  2. Is there a difference between the Heaven we go to when we die and the Heaven we’ll live in after the resurrection?
  3. What is the new earth? Will it be like Eden? Will it have natural wonders? Will some of the same places of this earth be on the new earth?
  4. Won’t it get boring? What will we do? Will we work? Rest? Play?
  5. What will it be like to see God’s face and worship him? How will our relationship with God change?
  6. Will we be the same people? With the same personalities and emotions? Will we become angels?
  7. What will we look like? What age will we be?
  8. Will we eat and drink?
  9. Will there be a continuity between our past lives and our future ones? Will we remember our old lives, family and friends?
  10. Will we be conscious immediately after death, or will we sleep until the resurrection?
  11. Will we know everything? Will we learn? Will there be books and libraries?
  12. Will there be races? Nations? Earthly civilizations?
  13. Will there be culture? Art? Music? Sports? Entertainment? Technology?
  14. Will we laugh, celebrate and have fun?
  15. What will it mean to reign with Christ?
  16. What kind of rewards will there be? If some have greater rewards than others, will they be happier?
  17. Will there be animals? Might our pets be there?
  18. Will we have our own places to live?
  19. Will we travel? Explore? Journey to other planets? Go back in time?
  20. Do people in Heaven know what’s presently happening on earth? Do they pray for those on earth?
  21. Will we be married and have families? Will we have sex?
  22. Do babies who die go to Heaven? Will they remain babies in Heaven, or will they be “grown up”?
  23. Will we grieve over loved ones not there?
  24. Will there be time?
  25. Will we be capable of sinning? Could there be another fall?
  26. Will we be able to meet and talk with past historical figures and Bible characters?
  27. Who will be in Heaven? Can we be sure we’re going there?

The older we get, and the more difficult life becomes socially, politically, economically and environmentally, the more urgent will become the need for a sure foundation for hope, and Biblically that means the church and Christians are going to have to become more conversant about and more confident in the promises that the Scriptures make.  Are we ready?

                                                                                                              DBS+

 

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  1. Pingback: Becoming Heavenly Minded | Northway Christian Church Blog

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