HOPE OF HEAVEN

Christ-following, Discipleship, Worship

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying;

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to com.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits o the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Revelation 4:1-11

 

A few days ago, I marked the anniversary of my life in Christ: 40 years. I was nine years old when I first prayed to be born again in response to an invitation given at a children’s Halloween costume party. I knew nothing from the scripture except for the basic details from the Christmas story. Needless to say, my understanding of God and His creation were unformed or fictitious. Over time, I read the Word and received revelation and understanding from the Holy Spirit. One concept that underwent major renovation was my understanding and anticipation of heaven. All I had gleaned from books and the kids on the playground who had been taught more than me turned out to be radically different from what I read in scripture. My childish picture of heaven was a place where one experienced a better version of all the best parts of this life. It was a happy, fun, and rather self-indulgent place where I would get to endlessly do all the things I liked best with all my favorite people and pets.

I tried to wrap my imagination around the descriptions recorded by Isaiah and the Apostle John, but their versions seemed so foreign to mine. First and foremost, they make it clear that God is the center of attention and no one seems to be preoccupied with themselves or their long-lost loved ones. Secondly, the scenes they recount include beings that are obviously hard to describe because they were so different from anything known on the earth. Finally, the activity of heaven is so emphatically focused on worship. “Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy…’”

Here comes my childish confession that remained true beyond my childish years: I could not imagine an eternity of perpetually repeated worship. I’ve been in church services where the worship leader repeated a song or a chorus a few times too many and I found my heart growing cool. I have served as a worship leader and I have observed the same problem in others. We do not seem to have the passion or the attention span to keep repeating “Holy, holy, holy” and not revert to autopilot. I was confronted, in honest moments of prayer and reflection, with the possibility that I wasn’t suited for heaven. What a devastating admission! What hope is there if that which is promised is undesirable!

But our God is merciful and compassionate. “He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalms 103:14) When we honestly confess the truth, He meets us with redemption. When I asked for help with the pitiful condition of my soul, He gave revelation and insight.

About this time, a friend of mine visited Yosemite National Park for the first time and recounted her experience to me. She told me about a jaw-dropping vista she saw and how all she could say was, “Wow!” Then she hiked a bit further along the trail, turned a corner and was confronted with a whole new view of beauty. Again, all that came out of her mouth was, “Wow!” The next bend in the trail, new scenery, “Wow!” She told me that she spoke little else that day beyond a steady repetition of “Wow!” She said that she was sure she could have continued hiking for a week or more and never come to the end of uniquely beautiful scenes, each one eliciting another “Wow!” Recounted to a third party, her monologue would sound boring quickly. But for her, each “Wow!” was not a repetition but a fresh, spontaneous expression of wonder and awe at each new revelation of glory.

When I heard this story, I started crying for joy. I understood Revelation 4 with a clarity of insight that forever changed me. God is infinite in all of His attributes. All that is created is not. Though the four living creatures before the throne seem quite exalted beyond you or me, they, too, are created and therefore are not infinite. Heaven is the opportunity to come before the Uncreated and know Him better…and there is no end to Him. Created beings stand before His infinite glory, receiving revelation after revelation and responding with fresh, spontaneous expressions of wonder and awe. Day and night they never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy…” This is the living creatures version of my friend’s “Wow!” No auto-pilot. No wandering attention. Perpetual, jaw-dropping, breathtaking awe for ever and ever. Who would want anything else?

I am forty years in Christ. Later this month I will turn fifty. My anticipation of heaven grows year by year and I find my spirit longing to be before Him. All that I know of Him stirs longing to know Him better. I cannot think of anything better than to receive more of him for eternity. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” Wow!

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