All Christians go to heaven. But some leap and stride into paradise from their deathbeds — peaceful, confident, and happy. Others limp and shuffle — clinging, denying, and frightened. Why the difference?
In my experience, it’s what they know (or don’t know) about what’s coming next. Jesus has guaranteed his people a glorious future. But have they fully grasped what he has fully secured? Those who haven’t will likely die clinging to a broken present rather than a perfect future. An unsavored heaven may seem second-best even to ragged breathing in a hospital bed. Dying well requires a passion for the life of heaven.
Settling and Seizing
And the same is true for living well. A tasted, treasured, future new creation is a God-ordained means of God-pleasing living. By breeding in God’s people a restless patience, love for God’s future saves us from the pitfalls of settling or seizing.
Far too many Christians live gray lives. Beaten down by disappointments, missed opportunities, or broken dreams, they’ve retreated into low-grade dissatisfaction, sustaining themselves with the crumbs of small pleasures. They’ve settled for a future the size of this coming weekend, or a television screen, or more Twitter followers. Others, rejecting the way of settling, have seized all they can get in this life, restlessly dialing up the color of their lives. Seizing what they shouldn’t have (a car they can’t afford, a wife not theirs), they walk away from Jesus and the beautiful future he offers.
Restless and Patient
The problem with both settling and seizing is that, in both, God’s future new creation — the greatest, most magnificent reality we’ve ever heard of — has dropped out of view. Settlers live flat-footed, minus any restless yearning for God’s future. Seizers try to have it all now, not content to wait for what God promises then.
Buying into promises and dreams of health and wealth, they fall flat on their faces when it doesn’t pan out. If we’re honest, all of us must admit to being some combination of “settler” and “seizer.” Therefore, we all need help to become more restless for God’s future and more patient in waiting for it.
The Bible provides exactly the help we need. Just read Romans 8:23–25 and see how Christian hope produces a paradoxical life of eager groaning (restlessness) and patient waiting. Christian hope, the cast-iron confidence that an incredibly good future is certainly ours, simultaneously and paradoxically heightens desire and lengthens patience.
Most of us understand from experience how this works. When I became engaged to my wife in October 2005, I immediately grew more restless for my married future. Knowing that marriage would be amazing and was now certain, I began breaking from some of my more slovenly bachelor ways, searching for an apartment for two, and dreaming about raising a family. But, paradoxically, engagement also made me more patient for marriage. Knowing the wedding day would certainly come, I could wait for it, leaving for marriage what God intended only for marriage.
The Future Described
A single-hearted longing for God’s gorgeous new creation will affect our lives in a million beautiful ways. The pure light of God’s future will diffuse into a rainbow spectrum of God-pleasing attitudes, thoughts, and actions. With a guaranteed future as wide as the new creation, we won’t load down our spouse, our kids, our job, our day off, or our vacation, with the weight of paradise. When they don’t fully deliver (and they never will), we won’t be crushed.
Our great big, certain future will undergird a robust, self-sacrificing, thrilling, and risk-taking present. Those who believe they have a better possession and an abiding one can joyfully accept the loss of their property (Hebrews 10:34). Because they know their better possession is coming, they don’t need it now. They can wait, even as they yearn.
Here’s a simple fact we don’t ponder enough: God has not only secured a perfect future for his people, he has vividly described that future for us in the pages of the Bible. Why? Because he’s not content with the timid, fragile living produced by a wimpy vision of the future. God wants his people longing for the new creation, up on tiptoe, living toward it. He wants us restlessly patient for the future so that we’re incredibly productive in the present. That’s why he’s told us how good it’s going to be.