Sometime back I read Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. The questions and issues Rob raises about heaven and hell and the eternal fate of people were challenging, thought provoking and stimulating. In all honesty, it was a refreshing contrast to the more canned, and rather boring, rehashes of Christian theology I have read.
God’s Kingdom on earth is to be and increasing reality now as well as a fulfilled reality in the age to come.
One particular truth I was struck with in a fresh way is the whole idea of heaven on earth both now and in the age to come. When Jesus instructed his followers to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, he was revealing the heart of God for manifesting the reality of heaven on earth now. This really is an amazing thought. Heaven was not intended by God simply to be somewhere else for sometime else. God intended heaven to invade this planet in such a way that his explicit purpose and will is done here as in heaven. He intended for heaven to come to earth through an increasing manifestation of his Kingdom. God’s Kingdom on earth is to be an increasing reality now as well as a fulfilled reality in the age to come.
Jesus calls disciples in order to teach us how to be and what to be.
Bell makes this statement, “How we think about heaven, then, directly affects how we understand what we do with our days and energies now, in this age. Jesus teaches us how to live now in such a way that what we create, who we give our efforts to, and how we spend our time will all endure in the new world”. He goes on to say, “Jesus called disciples – students of life – to learn from him how to live in God’s world God’s way. Constantly learning and growing and evolving and absorbing…..Jesus calls disciples in order to teach us how to be and what to be; his intention is for us to be growing progressively in generosity, forgiveness, honesty, courage, truth telling, and responsibility, so that as these take over our lives we are taking part more and more and more in life in the age to come, now”.
Jesus not only instructed us to pray this divine purpose into reality, he expected his followers to actually bring it about by the way they live their lives. The primary way those early followers of Christ understood how to do that was by imitating the ways Jesus went about loving and saving the world. They became his students and he became the subject they studied. What we so often miss here is that their capacity to do what he did rested in their becoming like him.
We get trained by Jesus and the result is we become like him.
So, how do we increasingly become the kind of people who are bringing heaven to earth? If heaven is a place filled with goodness, justice, love, peace, joy, righteousness, beauty, freedom, harmony, unity, brotherhood, grace, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, health and wholeness, how do we become partners with God in creating this atmosphere of heaven now, in expectation that this is where God is taking us in the age to come? We do this from the role of a disciple – from a position of learning from Jesus. We get trained by Christ and the result of this training is we become like him. (See Luke 6:40) We become the kind of people who naturally bring the goodness and beauty of heaven into the relationships and circumstances of our life, just as Jesus did, by means of being transformed at the very core of who we are.
We become like Christ in our heart – at the deep places of our beliefs, identity, desires, needs, and motivations. The importance of this process of transformation, now, in this life, is well articulated by Bell. He writes, “It’s very common to hear talk about heaven framed in terms of who “gets in” or how to “get in”. What we find Jesus teaching, over and over and over again, is that he’s interested in our hearts being transformed, so that we can actually handle heaven. To portray heaven as bliss, peace, and endless joy is a beautiful picture, but raises the question: How many of us could handle it, as we are today? How would we each do in a reality that had no capacity for cynicism or slander or worry or pride?”
This process requires we face the deep issues of our own hearts.
This process requires we face the deep issues of our own hearts. The reality is we have all contributed to the opposite reality of heaven on earth. To be transformed requires bringing the deep things of our heart to the light and allowing God to mend and conform it to reflect his. We must recognize our tendency to hide, cover up and provide excuses. God’s love and grace provides a safe place for us to be authentic, transparent and real with ourselves, with God, and with others. It provides us the freedom to feel deeply and to live fully.
A number of months ago, on one of my morning walks, this prayer arose from my heart to God. “Father, as your son may my heart be captured with your heart and in turn reflect your heart in every situation and circumstance of life I encounter. May I capture and reflect your heart for every relationship I currently have and for every individual I may meet along the way. As I increasingly become the kind of person who naturally reflects Christ may I bring a little more of heaven into the atmosphere of that part of earth you have destined for me to occupy”.
As followers of Jesus we are undergoing training…the shaping and forming of our heart.
As followers of Jesus we have begun a journey of spiritual transformation. We are undergoing training, not training of the body or just training of the mind. This training has to do with the shaping and forming of our heart. It is a process of coming fully alive from deep within which is the result of an ever growing experience with the heart of God…his heart for us, for others, for this planet, his passion for life and beauty and everything that makes us who he intended we be. We are being progressively transformed so that more of the beauty of Christ will be seen in us and brought into the world we inhabit. As we submit to the yoke (teaching) of Jesus and learn from him (literally “learn him”) we will move from glory to glory in becoming the kind of people who bring more of heaven to earth.
What in your world needs a greater manifestation of heaven?
How might God want to bring that about through you?
What does God need to touch and transform in you to make that happen?
“Christ in you, the hope of glory.”