Written for The Body Builder, the church newsletter of Highland Park Church. Used by permission.
We have recently seen a number of our dear folks promoted to glory. It is hard to say “goodbye” to loved ones, even if we know they know the Lord and are happier than they have ever been.
Believers in heaven are rejoicing before the throne of God, serving Him night and day. Revelation 7:13-17 describes a scene in heaven, perhaps referring mainly to believers who will be martyred during the coming seven-year Tribulation:
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
’Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (NIV 2011)
The act of serving
The one line of continuity between the heavenly saints and us earthly saints is found in the realm of serving (latreo) God. Like Paul, we are to serve God with our whole hearts (Rom. 1:9). We are to give ourselves to God as a living sacrifice (Rom.12:1-2).
In heaven, we will not be detoured from serving God, for we will have no temptation to do otherwise. But on earth, it is easy for the believer to become distracted and diverted—and despondent and disgruntled. We may find it easy to offer outward religion in place of wholehearted dedication. As 1 Samuel 15:22 puts it, “to obey is better than sacrifice.”
Back in 2001, I wrote a Body Builder editorial entitled, “Things We Can Do Now.” The article addressed the continuity of believers on earth and heaven (worshiping the One true God) and the difference. The point was that God has given us many opportunities to honor Him on earth, opportunities we will not have in heaven. The rest of today’s article is adapted from the 2001 editorial.
Things we can do now
On one hand, we can (to some degree) worship God while on earth, grow in Kingdom leadership skill, and learn about the grace of God. In eternity, we will excel in these areas. On the other hand, we can do some things on earth, in the here and now, that we will not be able to do in heaven. Consider a few of these with me.
On earth, we can evangelize. Whether people reject or accept Christ, God is glorified (2 Cor. 2:15) through the process. We can be a bulwark for missions, helping fulfill the Great Commission. We will have no opportunity to reach people for Christ in heaven. The Great Commission will be history. None of our peers will be called to the mission field from the city of golden streets. We will have no lost neighbors with whom we can share the Good News.
On earth we can edify others, building them up in their faith. We can stimulate others to good works, use our abilities and gifts to strengthen the Body of Christ, and experience spiritual growth. We can progress toward holiness and spiritual maturity. In heaven, we will have no sin to overcome, nor will we be able to help others win their battles. Spiritual gifts will be unnecessary, and edification will be a thing of the past.
On earth, we can intercede for others in prayer. We can do battle with Satan, putting on the armor of God. We can be strong soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ. In heaven, we will but remember the victories and lay our laurels at his feet. But we will be unable to add to our list of victories.
No one will need mercy in heaven. There will be no sick to visit, no moms with new babies for whom we can bring meals, no need to baby-sit a sick neighbor’s child. But now, on earth, we hardly know where to begin. We can glorify God by being careful to do good works.
In heaven, there will be no children to train (though many children will inhabit heaven, probably appearing as adults). There will be no need to help strengthen marriages and no counseling ministries. We will be like angels, neither marrying nor giving in marriage. In contrast, the possibilities to serve the Lord now by ministering to children and youth, by mentoring marriages, or by counseling adults seem infinite.
In heaven, there will be no riches to earn, no sacrifices to make. They will not pass the offering plate in glory. Financial secretaries and church treasurers will be distant memories. But on earth, we can store up treasures in heaven. Jesus could not have been more clear in telling us so (Matt. 6:20).
In heaven, we will not need to worry about doctrine, since we’ll finally all agree up there. There will be no error to fight, no heresies to guard against, no need for shepherds to guard the sheep. On earth, we have so much to keep abreast of. Theological dangers can be found a little to the left or right of the straight and narrow, and many sheep are so gullible.
In heaven, there will be no example to set, and no light will be needed to shine on a hill. This little light of ours will pale in contrast to the light of God’s presence. There will be no family to rear, no marriages to show the world the relationship of Christ and the Church, no need to work at loving our neighbor. On earth, these responsibilities are weighty ones indeed.
You see, there are many tasks God has for us during our stay on earth. We can do things for the Lord now that we will not be able to do in eternity. We are able to glorify God in ways now that will not be relevant in heaven. So appreciate your life on earth. It can be an investment in eternity. Do the things on earth now that you won’t be able to do in heaven.