For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. – Philippians 1:23
I think we are too earthly minded sometimes. Most of our thoughts are centered around what we are doing now, or if they are on the future, they are on the future things of earth, not of heaven. Heaven is a real place. The bible gives us some glimpses of what that place is like, but we don’t bring it to mind often enough. Why do I say that? I say that because our attitudes would be completely different if our minds were a little more heavenly.
We are supposed to be heavenly minded. Look what Apostle Paul says:
Set your mind on things above, not of the things of the earth. – Colossians 3:2
In this passage Paul gives us two instructions: 1. think on heavenly things 2. don’t think on earthly things. Why does he tell us to do this? It’s because the more you think about something, the more of a reality it is to your own mind. Things that you don’t think about very often become distant, and soon vanish away – even if they are things that are very real.
What’s in your mind is your reality. Hopefully your reality corresponds with truth. If it doesn’t then you are living in a fantasy world. Fantasy worlds seem great, but when your fantasy world has a collision with the real world (which it eventually will), then you will be in for BIG disappointment.
Thankfully we have truth! God’s word is truth. Jesus is the truth. The more we set our mind on the truth, the more our minds with be filled with the truth.
And the truth is that this world is not our final destination. Heaven is a real place. Paul was so aware of this, that he wrote of how his desire was to depart to be with Christ, which he described as FAR BETTER than staying here on earth. FAR BETTER. Did you get that?
The early Christians were very aware of this. They were willing to suffer greatly because of this truth. The writer of the book of Hebrews asked his readers to call to mind the days in which they were first saved. During those days they suffered great persecutions. They were treated very harshly, made fun of, called stupid, beaten and jailed, and even killed. But look at the attitude that they had throughout all this:
For you…joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. – Hebrews 10:34
During this difficult time these Christians were joyfully ready to give until it hurt. Why? Because they knew that they had something so much more in heaven. The things of earth were pale in comparison to the glories that awaited them in heaven.
If you noticed, the word ‘better’ is used again in this passage in Hebrews 10. This is the best way to describe heaven. It’s better – far better. Just think about anything on earth. Think about how good it is. Heaven is better. Think about ice cream. Think about your favorite meal. Think about your favorite thing that you like to do. Think about the friendships you have here. They may be good, but heaven is better – far better. Heaven is like earth, except without any of the bad things, and better good things.
Paul had such a clear understanding of heaven that he could hardly wait to get there. He had been there once before. He got a taste of it, and wanted more. I’ve heard many stories of people who have died, gone to heaven, and came back. All of them have a one thing in common – they didn’t want to come back. It’s so much better that coming back to earth seems repulsive. It’s kind of like an orphan being picked up from his home in the trash dump, put up in a palace for a while, and then told that he has to go back home. Oh course he wouldn’t want to go back!
Paul went up to heaven once. He couldn’t tell if he was in his body or not, but he was caught up to heaven. He describes the place as ‘paradise’ and says that he heard words that are impossible to even say (2 Cor 12:2-4)! Think about that. This place is so beyond the normal human experience that some of their words aren’t even possible for human lips to say!
Paul wasn’t the only one to get a glimpse of heaven. The apostle John, during a vision, heard these words from heaven: “Come up here!” (Rev 4:1). He was brought in the spirit to the throne room of God Almighty. He saw God sitting there, glowing in power with a red-sort-of color. Over the throne was a rainbow that sparkled like an emerald. Such energy was proceeding out of God so that loud sounds, and lightning and thunder came out of Him, similar to the way the sun continually oozes with power. He also got a glimpse of that golden city. The walls were clear, but emitted a beautiful red color. The city was gold, so pure that it was translucent. The river of life was crystal clear, not a spot of filth anywhere near it. The gates of the city were carved out of one gigantic, beautiful pearl. The people were dressed in luxurious white robes, and suffered none of the ills of this world. The tree of life is there, two of them actually. The tree that Adam and Eve were driven away from because of their sin, you and I will be able to eat from when we cross over to the other side. It is a place of absolute perfection.
The bible says that in that place, “God Himself will be with them and be their God.” God will be with us. He won’t just be the “God in Heaven” but He’ll be the “God with us.” That’s awesome. We will forever be in His presence, and:
In Your presence is the fullness of joy, at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore – Ps 16:11
Fullness of joy. Another way to say it would be, “abundance of happiness.” There is no sorrow in heaven, no death, no crying, and no pain (Rev 21:4). Think of your happiest day on earth. Heaven will be like that everyday, but better. You won’t have a body that’s tired or sick. Any ailments or disfiguration will be left on earth; you’ll be perfect in heaven. You won’t need glasses or allergy medicine. You won’t have a stuffed nose or achy muscles. All the imperfections of the earth will be a thing of the past. Everything will be good. Everything will be absolutely perfect, the way God intended it to be from the beginning.
But better than any of that is the fact that you will ‘be with Christ,’ as Paul said. When he wrote Phil 1:23, Paul could have said, “I have a desire to depart and be at rest,” or, “I have a desire to depart and go to the golden city,” or, “I have a desire to depart and be with my family that has gone before me.” But no, he didn’t say any of that. He said that he desired to be with Christ. That was what he desired more than anything. He longed to see Him once again. He longed to see the embodiment of perfect love. He wanted to walk and talk with the one who so graciously saved him from the dark path that he was on. He wanted to dine with the one that gave him life and purpose and destiny. He wanted to see him with unveiled eyes, to know Him even as he was known (1 Co 13:12). This was the thing that Paul described as ‘far better.’
When you get to heaven, the walls will be impressive, the gold will be remarkable, and river of life will be beautiful, but you’ll run past them all to get a glimpse of Jesus. You’ll want to hear him preach. You’ll want to see Him seated next to the Father. You’ll want to sit down with Him to dine. Of all the awesome things you’ll do in heaven, being with Jesus will always be the highlight.
You don’t want to miss this. Unfortunately, heaven is not for everyone. Since it is perfection, only those that are perfect may enter. Yet all of us fall woefully short of that perfection. We have all sinned against God, we all have disregarded His commandments. Each one of us have soiled our own souls, making ourselves unfit to be among those who are clothed in white. What can we do?
Fortunately, God has made a way for us all. Although we are plenty deserving of God’s eternal judgement, He sent Jesus to take that judgement for us. He was punished on the cross in our place. And now, for those that put their trust in Him, acknowledge their sin, and declare Him as Master of their lives, they are cleansed from all the filthiness of evil. None of our evil deeds are remembered any more, nor are any held against us. We are washed to complete perfection. And if we continue to cling to Jesus, to trust in Him, heaven will one day greet us with a hearty welcome. Glory to God!
So let’s keep these things in mind. This earth is just a blink in the scope of all eternity, yet this blink shapes our eternity. When we keep heaven in the scope of our minds, it will be easier to endure the hardships of this life. When we keep heaven before our eyes, it will push us to continue to labor in the work of God. When heaven is in our hearts, we will no longer be angry at those that sin, but saddened; our hearts will break for the souls of those that continue in their blind rebellion against God. They will miss out on the beauty of what God has prepared.