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Why I'm a student of heaven

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, reportedly said of his time there that he looked and looked but did not see God. (Of course, if he had taken off his helmet for a few seconds, he certainly would have seen God.)

While Gagarin obviously didn’t see it, heaven is indeed a real place. It is for real people who do real things. The Bible is very clear in pointing out that heaven is a city. It also describes heaven as a country, a garden, a paradise and a place. It is where we will be reunited with loved ones who have preceded us. Heaven is a place of activity, building, eating, worshiping and much more. And the Bible teaches that one day, heaven will come to earth. One day, heaven and earth will become one.

We think a lot about the afterlife, and so we should. But maybe we don’t think enough about it. We need to give a lot of thought to what will happen later, as it will affect us in the lives we are living now. Our belief in the afterlife has everything to do with how we live in the before life.

“What does it matter what happens in heaven?” some might ask. “Isn’t that a long time from now?”

We don’t know that. That is why we want to think deeply about it.

I am a student of heaven. I am certainly not an expert on the topic, but I have become more of a student of heaven in recent years, for obvious reasons. My son went to be with the Lord in 2008. I often find myself thinking about heaven, trying to imagine heaven and trying to wrap my mind around heaven. It is a fun thing to do, but it is not an easy thing to do.

A lot of books have been published on the topic of heaven, many of them written by people who have claimed to have been there and returned. To be frank, I don’t immediately believe someone when he or she claims to have been to heaven and back. The only way I know of finding out what heaven is like is by going to an authoritative source.

I know of only one who has been to heaven and has told us about it, and that is Jesus Christ. He said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). He is the expert on heaven. I, on the other hand, am a student of heaven, and I preach a lot of sermons about heaven.

Some people have been described as being so heavenly minded, they are no earthly good. But my greater concern is being so earthly minded that I would be of no heavenly good. Our belief in heaven should affect us while we live on earth. I think our belief in the afterlife has a lot to say about how we live in the before life, how we live in the here and now. The way we view the by-and-by affects us in the here-and-now.

As theologian Warren Wiersbe put it, “Jesus saw heaven as a motivation and not just a destination.”

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We should think about what heaven will be like and about its effect on us today. In fact, I believe that those who think the most about the next life do the most in this life. Why would that be? Because they know that life goes on; it doesn’t just stop here. They know there is a future reward waiting for the followers of Jesus Christ. They also know there is a final judgment, a final court of arbitration. They know that every sin they have committed ultimately would be revealed if it were not forgiven by Jesus Christ.

So you see, our belief in the afterlife affects us in this life – in the way that we live and in the things that we do. Heaven and earth are connected. I don’t determine the date of my birth, and I don’t determine the date of my death, but I have everything to say about what happens between those two dates.

Everyone lives for something. Everyone has something that gets them out of bed in the morning. Everyone has something that gets their blood pumping, something they are passionate about. But let me just say that living for pleasure is one of the least pleasurable things a person can do.

The purpose of the universe is God’s glory, not our personal happiness. This will come as a surprise to those who think the world should revolve around them, those who want to rule their own private universe and be the main character in their own novel. But then suffering and pain interrupt their plans, and they don’t understand why.

As Randy Alcorn wrote, “If we come to see the purpose of the universe as God’s long-term glory rather than our short-term happiness, then we will undergo a critical paradigm shift in tackling the problem of evil and suffering.”

The psalmist David wrote, “Happy are the people whose God is the LORD!” (Psalm 144:15 NKJV) and “in [God’s] presence is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). When you seek to fulfill the purpose you were created for, which is to know, glorify and worship God, then you will find the happiness you have been seeking in life – not from seeking happiness but from seeking him.