“Everybody wanna go to heaven, but nobody wanna go now”
By Randy Frazee
Kenny Chesney’s country song, seems to encompass most people’s feelings about moving into the afterlife. The idea that at death, our spirit leaves our body and flies up to who knows where, doing who knows what, just leaves me a bit apprehensive to say the least.
Perhaps Woody Allen said it best, “I don’t mind dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Boy, can I relate!
The truth is, we like our life now! It is all we know. So, for most of us we try not to think about the next life. We are glad we have a good outcome and can avoid the alternative – Hell-- but we certainly don’t “wanna go” now!
One reason our desire for the afterlife seems lacking, may be exasperated by the fact that most of us don’t have a compelling vision for how life after death really looks. Most of us have derived our knowledge from stories we have heard or movies we have seen, like It’s a Wonderful Life. We have the idea that we will earn our wings, float around on clouds and sing worship songs forever. Is that really what God has in mind for us for all eternity?
The last two chapters of the Bible, however, give us a pretty clear vision of what is to come, and it is so much more than most of us have been told. Let me show you what I have discovered. It excites me to no end.
First of all, Jesus promised us he was leaving this earth to prepare a place for us.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)
We have a place to live.
Secondly, God is going to do what he did in Genesis 1-2 all over again. The first two chapters of the Bible read almost identically to the last two chapters. God is going to create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). We are going back to the original vision of God.
Take in the description of God’s plan from John’s vision:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. . .‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 5:1-5)
First, notice that God is not staying up there. He is coming down here to be with us like he was with Adam and Eve; to take walks with us in the cool of the day (see Genesis 3:8). Then notice our place on the new earth will have no more crying or pain. Now that’s compelling.
We also see that the garden Adam and Eve were escorted out of appears again.
John wraps up his description with a glimpse of God’s new earth and right in the middle is the restored garden –
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
Only as we discover a vision of what the new earth will be like—a real place can we begin to imagine being there.
The second thing hindering our desire to leave our life now is that we are not sure how we transition from this place to the next.
My first experience water skiing came at age twenty-four. I was quietly apprehensive. My focus was all about getting up on those skis. The first attempt abruptly ended. One tug from the motorboat, and the rope left my hands. On the second try, I got up for a brief second before face-planting and a rush of brown lake water invaded my nose. On my third attempt, I kept the tension just right and my whole body emerged, I leaned back a bit and started enjoying the ride. I did it! I was water skiing.
Then it dawned on me. I had spent all my energy on my entrance strategy and had invested zero time considering my exit strategy. I had no idea how to end this experience. Fear overtook me. Thoughts of my falling body skipping across the water like a smooth stone came to mind and elevated my blood pressure.
So, I held on for dear life. The guys on the boat began to yell out to me, “Let go of the rope!”
Let go of the rope? Are they kidding? What happens to a body that just lets go of the rope? I didn’t know; I had never experienced it before. So, I doubled down on my grip and kept skiing. My unfamiliarity with the sport made me totally unprepared to exit this event. We do the same with this life. Holding onto it with all we’ve got. We have no exit strategy.
Maybe you don’t want to go to heaven today. That’s okay. Paul tells us that the whole experience is a bit unnerving. But he got rather excited pondering what it must be like to be in the actual presence of God.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. (Philippians 1:21-23)
Paul loved his purposeful life on earth. I totally get that. But, he came to the place where he saw being with God as “better by far.” How? He took the focus off himself and focused on being with Christ in this life to prepare him for the next.
We can do the same. As we grow in our relationship with God, learning his promises about what is to come after this life, we also can begin to desire to be in the actual presence of God. Intimacy with God is simply the most important and effective pursuit to prepare you for the next chapter.
Well, I finally did it! Let go of the rope. My body slowly sank into the water, and the life jacket kept me afloat. Everything was fine.
Death is a sting, but it’s only temporary. Then, you are left with eternity in the presence of God. Spend time pondering that as Paul did. Learn God’s promises and claim them for yourself. Then whenever it is time for you to let go of the rope of life, you will discover everything will be just fine. No, not fine…better than ever.