Three Reasons to Study Heaven
1. Our misconceptions are crippling us.
Most of us carry around some distorted views and false thinking about Heaven. We tend to believe we really can’t know much about it. Certainly there are things about Heaven we won’t know until we get there. But the Bible provides far more information about Heaven than most of us realize. And the Bible’s description of Heaven is radically different than our Hollywood-infused images that we carry around in our minds.
Another misconception we carry around is that Heaven is an otherworldly experience, totally disconnected and different than anything we experience here in this life. We picture disembodied spirits that float around and play harps all day. And maybe like Clarence from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, you think we are going to be earning our wings. Or maybe from some other movie, you think Heaven has no buildings or structures or furniture. Heaven is filled with wispy clouds, and apparently colors aren’t allowed there, because everyone is wearing white. And obviously in Heaven there is no fashion because everyone wears a loose- fitting white robe. There are no belts, scarves, earrings, bracelets, vests, sweaters, or pants in Heaven. And Heaven must have a mega fog machine, because as you may have noticed in the movies, you never see anyone’s feet in Heaven—the floor of Heaven is always covered with a layer of fog. I think these otherworldly portrayals of Heaven cause us to dismiss any serious consideration of it.
Another misconception held by many Christians is that Heaven is one really long church service. I’m a pastor, and as much as I enjoy great sermons and great worship music, the thought of Heaven being a really long church service sounds terribly boring. No wonder so many Christians don’t seem all that interested in Heaven.
As I’ve spoken to students about Jesus coming again and the prospects of Heaven, some of them have said to me, “I don’t want Jesus to come back until I get married and have sex.”
I’ve also talked with an older couple who were planning a trip to Hawaii who said, “I don’t want Jesus to come back until after our Hawaii trip.”
We don’t really know what Heaven is like, but we are pretty sure it can’t be better than marriage, sex, or Hawaii.
When we carry these misconceptions around in our mind, the results are very predictable. We tend to live with a very temporal perspective rather than an eternal one. We unconsciously fix our energy on the here and now. We live for today and focus on the life we’ve been given here. This is in stark contrast to how most Christians lived in the first 2,000 years of the church’s existence. Heaven was a central topic of teaching and discussion. It was also a central theme of Christian songs and worship music. But that has radically shifted in the last hundred years.
As strange as it sounds, one of the barriers we have to maintaining an eternal perspective is that we have it pretty good in this life. As we have gotten more comfortable with life “here” (earth), we have less desire for life “there” (Heaven). We can tend to live as though we believe this life is all there is and that it will go on forever. We know that’s not true intellectually, but under the pressures and demands of this world, I find that we lose sight of the next. When my dad died and when my wife won her battle with breast cancer, I was powerfully reminded that everything about this life is fragile, vulnerable, and temporal.
No one knows the future. We could be days away from the next recession, terrorist attack, or natural disaster. The stock market could take a great dip or your company could downsize tomorrow. Car accidents, heart attacks, and cancer seem to be no respecter of persons. There is so much in this life that you and I simply can’t control.
But when life comes unraveled and I am confronted with my mortality, all of a sudden the topic of Heaven becomes very relevant. When my secure and stable life intersects with crisis and tragedy, it can be a jarring experience. It is a sobering reminder that I am not guaranteed tomorrow. When you meet people who have cancer, or you talk with people who have debilitating diseases, or you travel to third world countries where people live in abject poverty, you discover that they think about Heaven a lot more than we do.
Since life is pretty stable for most of us, our view of Heaven is some version of a vague, mystical, boring place that we don’t tend to think about much and have rarely studied. I have never taken a formal survey, but from my thirty years as a pastor, I can tell you that apart from some crisis, most North American Christians in general are not excited about or longing for Heaven. My hope is that this book will spark something deep inside you that turns your thoughts and desires toward Heaven like never before.
You know that feeling you have when you come home after a long trip? You’re exhausted from all the travel and from sleeping in hotel beds. Then you pull into your driveway, walk in the front door, drop your suitcase, and think to yourself, It is so good to be home. Your body relaxes and you can feel the stress melt away. Coming home brings a sense of relief and joy and relaxation and peace. Like Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”3 Well, multiply that a million times and you begin to get a glimmer of what Heaven will really be like.
Unfortunately, if we don’t understand this and continue to carry around misconceptions about Heaven, we will have little interest in it. The result is tragic. If my ultimate hope is not in Heaven, then I begin to ask this world and the people in it to come through for me in ways that will never happen. Frustration and disappointment with God, marriage, family, friends, and my job are inevitable. That’s why the Scripture commands us to think accurately and clearly about Heaven.
2. We are commanded to think about Heaven. It’s not just a good suggestion or a nice idea.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Notice that the apostle Paul gives us two different commands in this short passage. We are commanded to set our hearts on “things above” and we are commanded to set our minds on “things above.” God’s commands are always for our benefit, and when we obey them, we receive grace and experience His peace. A command requires us to willfully choose to do something. For most of us, our minds and hearts are set on the things of this life. The world’s pressures and enticements dominate our hearts and minds. As a result, we are preoccupied with things that are temporal.
Last week I had breakfast with a forty-three-year-old executive at Google. He’s strong and athletic, has a great wife and four kids, and just learned he has stage 3 cancer. I had been sick for two weeks, was behind on my message preparation, working on this book, and had a less-than-positive attitude . . . until I heard that word “cancer.” My petty issues and pressures evaporated almost instantly as I stepped into his world and what really matters.
Much of our anxiety and lack of peace and struggle in this life is the result of not having a clear understanding of Heaven and an eternal perspective that comes from our hope in the life to come. Studying Heaven has practical implications for my life here and now. A clear understanding of Heaven results in a longing for Heaven, which empowers me to make wise decisions about my priorities in this life.
The third reason we should study Heaven is the most sobering reason of all.
3. A faulty view of Heaven destines us to a wasted life on Earth.
If that statement is true, then our study of Heaven becomes even more critical. To help you understand this, I want to take you to the book of John. Jesus is spending His last night with the disciples before He will be betrayed and ultimately crucified. He has spent the last three years preparing these men to take over when He is gone. In John 13 Jesus has now washed the feet of the disciples and they have shared the Lord’s Supper together. Judas is now en route to betray Jesus. Jesus is sitting there with eleven ordinary men who will transform the world. So, what would He say to them? If you were Jesus and this was your last chance to address the troops, what would you talk about? Would you share the strategic plan for kingdom impact? Would you talk about the organizational chart for the disciples and who is to be in charge? Would you talk about the church and the priorities the church should have? What would you say if you were Jesus?
He knows what lies ahead for these men. He knows they are going to be rejected and persecuted. He knows every one of them except one would be martyred for their faith. He knows they are going to take the message of Christ into areas that are hostile to the gospel. He knows that it will be hard on their families. In light of that reality, what words would Jesus leave them with?
We don’t have to wonder. We know exactly what Jesus told them in that moment:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1–3)
[Editor’s Note: Excerpted from The Real Heaven: What the Bible Actually Says by Chip Ingram with Lance Witt. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2016. Used with permission. http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/.]
Chip Ingram is the senior pastor of Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos, California, and teaching pastor and CEO of Living on the Edge, an international teaching and discipleship ministry. A pastor for over thirty years, Chip has a unique ability to communicate truth and challenge people to live out their faith. Chip is author of many books, including God: As He Longs for You to See Him; The Invisible War; and Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships. Chip and his wife, Theresa, have four grown children and ten grandchildren and live in California.
Lance Witt is the founder of Replenish ministries, the author of Replenish the book, and is often referred to as a pastor’s pastor. Before launching Replenish, Lance served twenty years as a senior pastor and six years as an executive/teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. Lance and his wife, Connie, have two grown children and four granddaughters.
Publication date: March 1, 2016