At the Moran household, the Christmas season started earlier than usual this year. When we found out Caroline is allergic to nearly every pollen God made, we decided to scrap our tradition of going to cut down a real Christmas tree. We had to grieve the change. All of us like the look, feel, and smell of a real tree. And, we have always made great memories hunting for one. Alas, wisdom told us that holding onto our tradition was not worth sacrificing our child’s health, so we made the switch. Looking on the bright side, we don’t have to worry about how long this tree will last, so we put it up on the day after Thanksgiving, blasted the Christmas carols, lit the “Christmas wreath” candle (I’ve got to have the smell somehow!) and got to enjoying the holidays.
Both of our girls have taken our cue by really jumping into the celebration. Caroline has been taking piano lessons for a few short months, but she is pounding out the melodies of her favorite carols. I love finding her practicing when no one is watching. She has also led our family in lighting the advent wreath at the dinner table, looking up corresponding Scriptures, and singing together. Having big kids is fun. Last night, we watched “The Nativity Story”. It is a non-animated version of the Biblical account of Christmas. I enjoyed the thoughtful questions that my children interjected as we watched. Some days I cannot believe what they already understand. It blows my mind.
But, it was what occurred after the movie was over that really got me thinking. Our movie discussion led to a dialogue about Heaven. Conversations in our household often do. I told my girls about a book I read last week titled, “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo. It is a pastor’s story of his four-year-old son’s trip to Heaven and back. Sounds far-fetched, but after checking references and reading the book critically, I am confident it lines up with Scripture and that it is entirely probable it is true. Caroline and Mary Claire’s eyes lit up as I told them about little Colton’s story. They begged me to show them the book and read from it. As they nestled themselves in bed, I read aloud some of my favorite passages. Caroline asked me to let her take the book to school so that she could read it during her free time. I was struck by the passion she expressed when she said to me, “Oh, Mommy, I want to go to Heaven so badly! I want to see it! I want to be there!” After I put her to bed, I thought to myself, “What eight-year-old kid says stuff like that?” And, I praised God for making a life-altering change in my family.
If this was the only time my children had said they want to go to Heaven, I would not blink, really. But, they talk about it ALL the time. Seriously. We played a game at the dinner table one night called “Would You Rather”. We took turns giving each other questions like, “Would you rather play in the snow or go to the beach?” And we threw in a couple of dilemmas like, “Would you rather lick an elephant or kiss a lizard?” It was silly fun. Then, Mary Claire piped up, “Would you rather live forever or …?” I honestly don’t remember the second part of her question, but I do remember Caroline’s response. “Well, Mary Claire, I want to go to Heaven, so I don’t really want to live forever.” Mary Claire clarified, “That’s what I mean. You will live forever in Heaven.” “Oh,” Caroline replied matter-of-factly, “Then, I want to live forever, of course!”
You know the Scripture in Deuteronomy (6:7) where we are instructed to talk about God, “when we sit in our house, when we walk along the road, when we lie down, and when we get up”? Well, we do. And, in the last three years, invariably, when we have talked about God, our conversation has turned toward the eternal. Since we lost Audrey, life is different. Not just bad different. Good different, too.
Can I ask you an honest question? Do you want to go to Heaven? No one is looking at you, so just get real and acknowledge the truth in your heart. What is your gut reaction when you hear the question? Let’s try one more. Do you want Jesus to come back?
I have discovered that the answer to these two questions is an excellent diagnostic test for the health and maturity of our faith. Less than three years ago, my answer to both questions was “no.” You might think that was because I was not too interested in spiritual things or didn’t spend time studying my Bible or talking with God. And, you would be dead wrong. I was passionate about my relationship with God. Why, then, did I not want Jesus to come back? Why didn’t I desire Heaven? Two reasons, I think: 1) A wrong view of the present world, and 2) A wrong view of Heaven. In short, I had an improper perspective. I didn’t see myself and my life in light of God’s bigger plan.
I was really attached to this world, even if that meant overlooking how many things are wrong here. In some ways, I thought I was invincible. I remember thinking not too long ago that I didn’t want Jesus to come back before I got married and had children. With each passing phase of life, that list just got longer and longer. There was so much I wanted to live for—and that was not bad in and of itself. But, suffering has lifted the veil from my eyes. I am no longer under the impression that this world (in its present state) is a good place to live. My eyes have been opened to the impact of sin—the rampant destruction it causes. And, I have tasted the bitterness of death. Once that happened, my perspective was broadened. I started paying attention to suffering in other parts of the world and to suffering throughout history. I stopped living blindly in my relatively wealthy and comfortable existence. God showed me why we need a Savior and why He simply must come back to redeem His people and this place we call home.
One of the verses of “Joy to the World” reads, “No more let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.” That last phrase makes an impression on me. We don’t often take the time to think about how far-reaching the curse really is. Some evidence? This is the verse most often cut out when people want to shorten the hymn. I have a version printed from the internet which doesn’t even include the verse. My awesome Casting Crowns Christmas CD has a version of Joy to the World that also leaves out this verse. We sing “He rules the world”, but we don’t understand how far reaching His rule will be and how much will change when He returns. The curse extends over people, but it also extends over the earth. God’s Word says He intends to redeem it all.
Once we change our perspective on this world, though, it is imperative that we increase our understanding of Heaven. If we understand the impact of sin and death on earth and we do not have a clear Biblical picture of where we are going from here, we risk despair. Opening our eyes to the reality of the world as it is can be quite depressing without seeing it through the lens of eternity. Just turn on the news. I didn’t watch it for 2 years straight because I couldn’t handle how sad it was. Once I began to study Heaven—really mull it around in my mind, dream about it, imagine it—I obtained a sense of purpose I never had before. Rather than making me want to leave this sorry place, it made me want to stay and do what God made me to do until I get to go home. Isn’t that interesting? That is why I want my little girls to have a love for Heaven—not just so that they can see their sister again, but so that they will live out the rest of their days here with purpose, joy, and hope.
I used to shut out sad stories, try not to think about other people’s pain for too long, and I avoided the news like the plague. Now, I watch it a little every day. I don’t have to pretend that evil and suffering don’t exist. I don’t have to put them out of sight so that they will be out of mind. In fact, I embrace them because they give me a greater compassion for others, a greater thankfulness for my own blessings, a deeper longing for Christ’s return, and a more urgent motivation to share the gospel with boldness.
Here’s something worth noting: I didn’t get my new perspective by osmosis. You know, we joked about it in school…we wished we could just sleep with our books under our pillows and wake up ready for the test! Ah, but reality is that anything worth knowing requires study. It requires intentionality. I have pursued a knowledge of Heaven, I have asked God to reveal more about His plan to me, and I have made a concerted effort to change the way I think about—well, about almost everything. This new perspective was hard-earned. It was a result of chasing after God in the midst of the refiner’s fire. And, He is not done with me yet.
So, I ask you: What was your answer to the question? Do you want to go to Heaven? Note that I am not asking, “Do you want to go to Heaven when you die?”. I am asking, “Do you desire Heaven?” If your answer is no (or any shade of “yes, but…”), then let me issue you a challenge. Start by praying. Ask God to show you why you don’t desire Heaven. Ask Him to increase your desire for it. Ask Him to loosen your grip on this world. Ask Him to show you how thinking about eternity could improve your here and now. Then, Christian sister or brother, study! Devour Scripture. Eat it up like you need it to survive. Seek out books about Heaven. I guarantee that as you do, road blocks to your personal spiritual growth will come crashing down. We simply cannot enjoy the abundant life without having a clear picture of where we are going.
Finally, make it part of your worship as you contemplate Christmas and Jesus’ birth. As you celebrate, ask God to draw you a picture of the fullness of His plan. Christ was born. Christ died. Christ arose. Christ will come again. The writers of our beloved Christmas carols knew the secret. They knew that the world is under a curse, they longed for a “better and enduring possession” (Hebrews 10:34), and they looked for Jesus’ return. They knew that God’s redemptive work did not stop at the cross or even at the empty tomb. Consider the message from a few of my favorites:
From “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”
“O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
From “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”
“For lo, the days are hastening on, by prophet bards foretold, when with the ever circling years come round the age of gold, when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.”
From “Angels From the Realm of Glory”
“Saints before the alter bending, watching long in hope and fear; Suddenly the Lord descending, in His temple shall appear. Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King.”
May your Christmas worship and celebration be full of the hope of Heaven!