Once in a while, something happens that forever changes us – it becomes one of those epic life markers where everything we do and have done is categorized as “before ___” or “after ___.” We’ve all lived through a recent epical moment: the pandemic. My mind automatically separates memories as either before or after the events of 2020 because those months changed everything.
Not all life markers are collective. In fact, some of the most significant ones are singular. Like the season I poured over Jennie Allen’s book, Anything.1 Every Friday for months, I went to the same coffee shop with her book and a journal in hand. I took a slow walk through words that shifted my way of thinking and challenged me to release all the things that held me back from giving my all to God. Those months in that book shaped me forever.
I distinctly remember Jennie describing the way she “lives life for heaven now” – and how I drew a big question mark in my journal because I didn’t quite grasp what she meant. I wanted to know, what does it look like to live for heaven now? As I’ve sought answers to that question, I’ve realized Jennie merely connected dots that God has been putting before me all along.
The first dot derives from what Paul told the Colossians, “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 3:1-2). When we put our focus on heaven, our thinking changes – our priorities and motives shift.
However, when we remove heaven from our thinking – when our focus is on this life alone – all our priorities center on this world and this life,2 leaving us desperate and despairing. When we believe that “this life is all there is, [that] there is nothing else beyond the grave, we will live one way. But if there is another life coming, a bigger, bolder, more beautiful life than [we] can imagine, then [we] will live quite a different way.”2
J.B. Lightfoot puts it this way, “You must not only seek heaven; you must also think heaven.”
In other words, if we train our brains to “think heaven” – with all its good, all its promises, and all its glory – then we can find the kind of hope that sustains us through all our struggles. Such a focus gives us faith that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”3
As we surrender ourselves more and more to the way of living for heaven now, we’ll desire to give ourselves more fully to the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). And we’ll “serve God with a whole heart wherever He” places us because we know that what we do “counts for all eternity.”1
The Apostle Paul lived his life this way. And, he encourages us to live for heaven now, reminding us that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).
Friends, Paul knew suffering. He was flogged, stoned, shipwrecked, snake-bitten, imprisoned, and left for dead multiple times. He learned to live for heaven for all his days on earth because it not only motivated him with the love of Christ but ignited a fire within him to do all he could for Christ while he was here.
So. Living for heaven? It becomes the fuel for living by faith no matter how we feel or what we face. It becomes our focal point so that no matter our circumstances, we can overcome and have hope for what is to come (Romans 8:37).
Longing for Heaven
Sometimes our suffering actually causes us to long for heaven.
In her book, Restless, Jennie Allen uses the idea of ‘threads’ to help readers see how all the threads of life weave together to create unique masterpieces – threads like gifts, places, people, passions, and…suffering.4 When we put all our threads together, we begin to see how we’ve been made and what God is calling us to do.
But before we can launch ourselves into the world to do a good work, it is wise to examine our threads – especially those of suffering. Jennie explains that if we still have a gaping wound, we might be too raw, too fragile to share without causing more suffering. But if we’ll allow the One who suffers with us to heal us, then we can comfort others the way we’ve been comforted (2 Corinthians 1:4).
In our first year of marriage we suffered both a miscarriage and a tubal pregnancy. At the time, we told very few people; we were too broken, too wounded to talk about it. At the height of my pain, I questioned God. But as I healed, I understood that the ache left by such loss was revealing a truth to me – this was not how He intended life to be. So, rather than bitterness taking root, a longing for heaven budded.
And the more I desired heaven, the more my heart burned for Jesus. Jennie says, “The more we want heaven, the more dangerous we get on Earth”5 – because we become bolder and braver. As I healed, and in a way that only God can weave together, God put a young woman in my path who needed my bold testimony to speak Christ’s hope into her pain.
With each season of suffering, we might get pinned down for a bit, but with our focus on heaven, healing happens – and a resolve settles into our souls that says, no more! When we don’t allow suffering to have the final word, all our threads weave us into strong forces of hope for the world. And for the enemy of our souls, this is dangerous indeed.
Something else happens when we allow hope for heaven to do its healing and holy work within us – we embody the truth of heaven’s reality. And, “the more heaven gets real to us, the less this life has to work out just right.”5 Our looking to heaven grows within us a deep knowing that no matter how dark the valley is right now, we are okay. The hope of heaven emboldens us to live without fear because we believe nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38-39) – and that our present sufferings will not compare with the glory to come (Romans 8:18).
It’s why Paul could remain fierce in his faith despite all the persecution.
It’s why Peter could keep preaching the gospel despite threats of death.
It’s why Stephen could so calmly retell the story of God, looking into heaven, even as he was dying (Acts 7:55-56).
They understood that they were okay because of heaven’s promise to make all things right and good. They trusted what Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.” (Matthew 10:28 NLT). They lived by the truth that if we die with Him, we will also live with Him (2 Timothy 2:11).
A friend of mine, whose world came crashing down during one of our world’s epical moments, equates this way of living as going into the world bulletproof. Her hope in heaven and in the promises of God carried her through the absolute darkest valley she could imagine – and she emerged stronger and at peace that life could throw whatever it wanted at her. She knew she’d be okay.
This is living free of the fear of the unknown, free of the fear of being so overcome that we’ll never recover. This is the freedom that results from living with the kind of hope we’ve been searching for. And we can find it by looking to heaven and living for it.
Friends, life is hard. The pain is real. But we do not have to struggle by ourselves or without hope. In fact, as we keep looking to heaven, we’ll discover life right now is but a small blip on the radar of all time. We’ll see that God is with us and cares enough to help. AND we’ll find that the heaven He has promised us when this life is done will also equip us to keep living now. We can live free and fierce today because our hope is rooted in the most epic marker of all time – life in heaven with the One who loves us most.
Heavenly Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is heaven. We have prayed these words for most of our days, yet how often have we paused to think about heaven? Your throne room. The place where angels gather and worship You. Where Jesus has ascended and sits at your right hand – where WE are also seated at your right hand. Father, we ask that You would grant us a vision of heaven that would help us keep our thoughts on those things above and our minds anchored on what’s to come. Lord Jesus, we long for heaven, and our hope is for a life with You after this one is over. Thank You for leaving your throne in heaven to walk among us on earth, for demonstrating what it looks like to live for heaven now. Thank You for dying and resurrecting so that we can live that same reality. Holy Spirit, how we need You! Lead us in this way of living for heaven and putting our focus on things above. Build our faith so that our fears dissolve in the hope of what God is doing now, even as we look to heaven for promise and power. Teach us how to receive the healing You offer, and remind us that our suffering makes us stronger SO THAT we can go into the world and offer the comfort we’ve been given. In Jesus’ name, amen.
(Inspired by Matthew 6:9-10; Revelation 4:2, 7:11; Hebrews 1:3; Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1-2; 1 Peter 3:14; Romans 8:11; Acts 7:55; Romans 5:3-4; 2 Corinthians 1:4)
Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
- 1 – Jennie Allen’s book Anything^
- 2 – Ray Fowler’s article “Living for Heaven Now”
- 3 – St Julian of Norwich’s famous lines that are said to have been spoken by Jesus to her in a vision. In the vision, she asked her burning question about why sin would be allowed in the world – and this was Jesus’ response, “‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
- 4 – Jennie Allen’s book Restless.^ I did her Bible study by the same title, but I’ll tell you which resource pulls together the BEST of Anything and Restless — a beautiful 40-day devotional book that functions a bit like a workbook — Made for This.^ Seriously, it takes some discipline, but wow! Those threads become more obvious — God’s plan, too!
- 5 – Jennie Allen’s podcast episode “Threads of Suffering” — a great discussion on this specific thread.
- Lydia Laird’s song on our “This Hope” playlist, called “I’ll Be Okay,” gives us words of faith that we’ll be okay — no matter what — because Jesus is with us. AND, the final song on our playlist is a song by Brooke Ligertwood called “Ancient Gates.” It’s one I can listen to on repeat! Its lyrics speak into both this week’s discussion of heaven and next week’s New Heaven and New Earth. So beautiful. So full of promises that shift our focus and help us live for heaven now! “Here and now HE’S JUST AS HOLY!”
There’s a throne beneath the Name of Names
There is seated on it One who reigns
And His Kingdom now is here and getting closer
So praise Him like we’re there in glory
Here and now He’s just as holy
Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
- This spring we’re leaning into the rhythm of meditation. Unlike eastern meditation that seeks to empty the mind and self of everything, Christian meditation desires to fill our minds and beings with Christ. SO — each day, to the best of our abilities, let’s meditate on God’s Word, or as my friend JD Walt says, “ruminate on the Word just as a cow ruminates on his cud.” In other words, don’t rush. Read. Pause. Listen. Reread. Pause. Receive. Give space for the Spirit to reveal and enlighten.
- This week, let’s meditate (or ruminate) on Colossians 3:1-2. As we meditate on Paul’s words, let’s pray for a growing awareness of heaven’s reality — for our future and for right now. I’d love to hear how your time in these verses help shape your ability to live for heaven now.
- Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!
Featured Photo by Kaushik Panchal on Unsplash. Bits and Pieces photo by Aleksandra Sapozhnikova on Unsplash.
^an affiliate link with which I may earn a bit
2 thoughts on “This Hope: The Promise of Heaven”
Shelly! I look forward to your writing every time I see it in my mailbox! You always have a fresh and meaningful word that fills my soul! I just led a study called TruthFilled by Ruth Simons Chou and it is based around Colossians 3:1-2 and I was able to resinate with all the benifits of peace and healing that the Father gives regardless of the hardships we face when we keep our eyes on heaven. I am in complete agreement of how that changes the heart ❤️ I am a testimony of the Fathers work! Thank you for you incredibly gifted insight on the work of the Father and for the encouragement you extend.
Stephanie! I love this so much — how perfectly timed things are in God’s kingdom. Wow! Thank you for taking the time to share all this because it greatly encourages me. And I’m so honored and humbled to know that the words and truths God is speaking over me can pour out in meaningful ways to others!! Much love! 💜