It turns out my word of the year, dwell, has a few meanings, so for this series we’ll focus on one of them: inhabit. The Hebrew word most used to mean inhabit is yashab, defined as to sit, remain, or dwell–as in to have one’s abode. Translated as dwell over 400 times in Scripture, yashab can be found in many of the early stories. The Israelites inhabit the Promised Land. Adam and Eve inhabit the Garden of Eden. But even before that, there’s God. He inhabits heaven. So, that’s where we’ll start.
God dwells in Heaven–a place we actually know little about and, yet, assume we know much. For most of us, I suspect what we know about heaven has been more influenced by Hollywood than the Bible. For instance, George Burns’ Oh God, Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait, and one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams, have given us the idea that heaven is run by a kindly old man, that we earn angel wings when we get to heaven by doing good deeds, and that, well, heaven is in the middle of a cornfield in Iowa. This is not a commentary on movies–this is my realization that none of these capture the heaven of Scripture.
God in Heaven
From the opening line of our Bible, we’re given some notion of there being a heaven. Genesis 1:1 says God created heaven and earth, which in the Hebrew means “heights” (heaven–shamayim) and “land” (earth–erets), Used together, however, heaven and earth imply the entire universe.
But, the idea is planted. There is something up high, beyond where we are, that God has created. Moses helps us understand that heaven is God’s home, “Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel” (Deuteronomy 26:15, NIV).
The Psalms contain references to God living in this lofty place:
“The Lord looks down from heaven;Psalm 33:13-14, ESV
he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
on all the inhabitants of the earth”
The prophets describe God’s dwelling place with similar language:
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place….’”Isaiah 57:15, ESV
Christianity’s first martyr, Stephen, delivers a speech moments before he is stoned to death, giving us a glimpse of the place he will soon occupy:
“…the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,Acts 7:47-49, ESV
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.’”
And, the book of Hebrews describes God’s home as “Mount Zion…the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22, NLT).
Throughout Scripture the picture is consistent. God dwells in heaven. He resides in the heights.
Heaven Matters Now
On the chance this feels frivolous, it’s important for us to take the time to investigate God and His dwelling place because heaven is core to our faith. Jesus leaves His home in heaven to come to earth (John 6:32-35)–to live and die, to resurrect and ascend to heaven. A place. The place God inhabits. In His resurrected body, Jesus sits at the right hand of God–in heaven (1 Peter 3:21b-22).
It’s from heaven that Jesus awaits the day of His return to earth (Hebrews 9:13). It’s in heaven that Jesus intercedes for us night and day (Romans 8:34).
Picturing heaven is seeing our Lord’s home. And that gives us a location to look forward to inhabiting one day. It is our future hope! One we cling to as we lose loved ones and face hardships that are unfair and overwhelming (1 Corinthians 15:58).
And, as I’m learning, heaven can give us a different perspective while we live on earth. We can look to heaven for vision and purpose in our lives:
“Since 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.”Colossians 3:1-3, NIV
To set our hearts on things of heaven is to seek first the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 6:33). Seeking Jesus and His kingdom–those things of heaven–means we’re making heavenly priorities our own, doing our best to live as Jesus does. When we press onward toward the heavenly prize, we’re living with heaven in our sights today (Philippians 3:12-14).
To set our minds on things above is a shift of focus. To live for heaven now is to see as God sees, which shapes our thoughts and feelings, our actions and reactions. Instead of allowing the circumstances of life to swallow us whole, we redirect our eyes and focus on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). And when we, like Peter, move our eyes off the waves and onto our Savior, everything within us changes (Matthew 14:22-33).
Having heaven in our sights helps us live with Jesus’ priorities and perseverance. It helps us put our eyes on Him so we can be like Him. Here and now.
When Heaven Meets Earth
When we set our hearts and minds on heaven, our spiritual lives flourish–because in our heavenly-mindedness, we hunger for Scripture, immerse ourselves in worship, and pray with greater expectancy. We have encounters with the holy, and they move us to tears, quiet our souls, and quicken our hearts. We discover in those more-heaven-than-earth spaces that we are in the presence of God.
And, friends, that’s where we want to dwell. Heaven gives us a vision of where we want to be–not just in eternity but in the present. Our spirits long for those moments when heaven meets earth. Barbara Brown Taylor describes “the membrane between heaven and earth” as being “so thin you can almost see through it” (Home by Another Way, 20). The ancient Celtic tradition calls it the thin place. Richard Rohr terms it as the edge. A liminal space. A holy place. The very place Stephen stood as he was dying:
“Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”Acts 7:55-56, NIV
Old hymns and current worship songs describe this place as the veil, as in the Holy of Holies where God’s glory dwells. This is the veil that tears in two as Jesus dies–so that by His blood we can now enter that holy space.
When I think about what it means to dwell, this space where heaven and earth meet is what I want to inhabit. I think it’s this desire that has propelled me to investigate and understand all that it means to dwell.
And it all starts with God in heaven. We can never forget the One who dwells on high because it’s when we put our eyes on Him and align our hearts with His that we can inhabit this earth in holy, lovely ways.
- What other thoughts do you have about heaven as God’s dwelling place? Or about how we can live for heaven now? Comment and/or spend some time in your journal processing all this with God. Writing this post helped me grow in my understanding of both, so I encourage you to think on it a while, too.
- I’d also love to hear your thoughts about that thin place where heaven meets earth!
- Oh, the songs. I’ve spent weeks curating our Dwell Playlist because there are sooooo many great songs about DWELLING. I suspect this is not the finished product, but it does represent many of the places we’ll go this year as we seek to dwell with God more.
- Except for the opening song, the first several songs contain allusions and imagery of heaven. I’ve loved leaning into their lyrics and learning more about the place God inhabits and how we’re invited to dwell with Him there–for eternity, yes, but also in the now.
- Here’s something I didn’t realize. The modern song, “Cornerstone,” is basically the hymn “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less.” I knew I loved that line “my anchor holds within the veil” for a reason! I found a chapel version of “Cornerstone” that makes for a great modern hymn.
- Feel free to share the Playlist link with friends. Music goes a long way in helping our hearts enter into that sacred space with God.
- Speaking of friends–invite friends to join us on this journey of learning to dwell. It’s good for us to have companions walk with us. We can shape and challenge one another. Plus, it’s more fun!