When I was younger, I was scared of heaven. I mean, I knew I wanted to go to heaven but it was more that I definitely knew that I didn't want the alternative than actually wanting heaven.
I remember thinking that I wasn't actually a Christian because I didn't look forward to heaven like it seemed like all "real" Christians did. I prayed to accept Christ so many times when I was younger because I thought that maybe I missed a specific word or phrase that would all of sudden make me look forward to heaven...but it never did...
I felt like I wasn't really a Christian for not looking forward to it, but honestly, when heaven is described on Sundays as a place of eternal worship...what 12 year old thinks that spending all of eternity (which is a REALLY long time if you try to think about it) in that kind of heaven appealing?
You die and go to heaven, you're given a crown that you immediately give back to Jesus, then you kneel down in front of the His throne and worship God...forever...literally...sounds appealing, doesn't it???
I even remembered hearing people going through tough times saying that they could endure whatever they were dealing with because they had the hope of heaven...I didn't understand that. I mean, I understood that heaven was better than the alternative, but beyond that, I couldn't really see what was the draw for heaven.
I'd love to say that after being diagnosed with a rare disease, my perspective immediately changed and I all of a sudden longed for heaven, but that's not the case. There ARE things about heaven that I DO look forward to. I look forward to healing. Living in a perfect body without sickness or pain, yeah, I can get on board with that! Escaping the brokenness of this world and leaving behind suffering and the bad while seeing the good the way God intended it to be, yep, THAT sounds attractive....but I'm still left with a picture of heaven that sounds more appealing to my grandma than a 12 year old trying to figure out what faith in Jesus looks like.
My journey to a better understanding of what heaven is has come slowly. The first time I remember feeling a glimmer of hope that heaven might not be as boring as I grew up believing was the summer before my senior year of college. I was working at an FCA camp held at Salisbury University in eastern Maryland. I was a huddle leader (aka counselor) for the girls playing tennis that week at camp. No, I have no tennis experience...yes, all the girls were WAY better than I was...moving on!
Anyway, one night at evening chapel, the emcee for the week spoke briefly about something...don't remember what it was about...but he made a reference to what heaven might look like, and that has stuck with me. He shared that when God said "I am making all things new" (Rev. 21:5) that meant there needed to be things for God to make new. God didn't say I am making church new or worship new. He said He is making ALL things new.
God gifts each of us with gifts to use on this earth...and that those gifts will be revealed all the more fully in heaven. Some people have the gift of leading worship; they'll be some of the people leading us in praises around the throne of God. Others are gifted in teaching; they'll be helping us understand all that makes no sense to human understanding. Some people are gifted in sports, and yes, I think they'll be present in heaven, too; they'll be the ones glorifying God with the very body He gave them. For all the children and adults living in broken bodies on this earth, heaven may be the first time they ever run or kick a ball or swim or ride a bike. And you better believe that God will be glorified in every unlimited, non-painful movement. Can you imagine the face of God as He watches His precious children take their first steps as they are finally able to discard a body broken by the weight of sin?
One of my favorite quotes from Chariots of Fire (the story of Eric Liddel) is when Eric states "God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure." God created Eric to be an incredible athlete and through that, God was glorified. When God says He makes all things new, I think that Eric's ability to glorify God will be revealed in a new, more complete way in heaven. Do I think that Eric is spending his eternity worshiping and praising God? ABSOLUTELY! Does that necessarily mean he has to be on his knees? Nope. I think Eric is running all throughout heaven glorifying God with a body that can never over-train or get injured.
Our God is a creative God. We're always told just to look at the earth and the people in it to know that there is such incredible creativity, diversity, and variety in creation. And God didn't all of a sudden run out of His creative juices by the time He got to man. He saved the best for last. We are so very different BY GOD'S DESIGN. Heaven is not a place for the very things that manifest the glory of God to all of a sudden to become cookie-cutter. Instead, heaven is a place where all our differences are highlighted so that God is glorified more fully than we could ever do on earth. The things that we enjoy or that make us tic here on are earth are desires and interests placed in our hearts by God. Going to heaven doesn't mean we lose who He created us to be; it just means that it will be manifested more fully with God at the center of all that we do.
When I first heard heaven explained this way at that FCA camp, I finally felt a small tug of longing for heaven. It wasn't immediate, and at times still feels painfully slow, but my understanding of heaven began changing that day.
DISCLAIMER: I'll be completely honest, what I wrote above, I don't have specific verses citing everything I wrote or a stamp of God's approval saying that what I just wrote is 100% true. There are more verses mentioning hell in the Bible than there are of heaven...maybe that's why I knew what to fear but not necessarily what to look forward to. Heaven is and always will be somewhat of an unknown.
That being said, though, what I wrote IS based on my growing understanding of who God is and His heart for His creation. God is a good god. He created us in His image, which I think we can all agree is so incredible we will never fully understand everything about Him until heaven. He is a creative god. He has a purpose for everyone on this earth and because of that, we all are unique in the ways that we serve and glorify Him. The talents and gifts we have here on earth were given to us by God. These things I know are true.
And as I continue to grow in my understanding of who God is and in my relationship with Him, my desire for heaven also grows. Like I have said many times before, I do believe that I will be healed one day. If that does happen here on this earth, then I look forward to being able to serve God more fully in the ways that He has gifted me and with the desires He has placed on my heart. If it's not until heaven, well that's just one more reason for me to look forward to eternity.
Hope of heaven to me now means looking forward to a closer relationship with God by living fully in the gifts and desires He has given each of us...as best as I can here on earth and then so much more fully in heaven. It means using the life I have been blessed with as best as I can in this broken world knowing that one day, all the brokenness and pain and hurt and suffering will be gone and all that will be left is what God Himself designed for us to be. Those moments that I truly feel the presence of God during times of service when I can see beyond myself to the work that God is doing...despite the brokenness of this world...How much more fully will those moments be revealed when there is no more sin to get in the way or mess things up or drag us back down or distract us? When all that is left is the beauty of God and the perfection of what He designed?
That is what I can look forward to. That is my hope of heaven.