In the summer I am going to be coordinating a Discipleship Programme in Norway on the subject of Heaven. We are calling it “One Day: All things New” and we are going to try and envision eternity with Jesus. I am therefore currently thinking much about this subject and I must say that it is hugely helpful to do so. If you are like me then you will know how easy it is to get caught up with matters of the present, to be focused not on eternity but on the here and now. All of that of course has its place, but the hope we have in Christ is primarily rooted in eternity. Take a look at what Paul prays for the Ephesians;
17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe… Ephesians 1:17-19a
It is an extraordinary prayer which as we will see is firmly rooted in an eternal perspective. My subtitle for this article comes from these verses and you will notice that Paul uses this turn of phrase as he asks God to open or enlighten the eyes of the Ephesians hearts, and by implication our hearts too. The really interesting thing however is what he says next! He makes it clear that he is asking God to enlighten our hearts so that we may know the hope to which God has called us. Moreover Paul goes even further as he says that this hope to which we have been called is the “riches of His glorious inheritance” and his “incomparably great power”. Paul wants us to see the unseen reality of our hope which is firmly rooted in the character of God and all that He has in store for us in eternity.
When I look at around there is often little to encourage and plenty to discourage. The eyes of my heart find it difficult to see what is really true. That which is seen appears to be more real than that which is unseen. Yet the Bible makes it clear that what is seen is no less real than the unseen. Take a look at Paul’s reflection in 2 Corinthians where he encourages the Christians in Corinth not to lose heart. In that context there was every reason to lose heart, outwardly he says they were wasting away and experiencing some kind of trouble. And yet Paul’s eternal perspective helps him to see the unseen reality that inwardly they were actually being renewed and that these troubles were achieving for them an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
It is all too easy to focus on that which is seen but ultimately those things are temporary. Instead Paul urges us to focus on the unseen, which Paul says is eternal.
There is a great example of this principle in the book of 2 Kings. The Arameans were at war with Israel but every time they attacked God would reveal their plans to Israel through his prophet Elisha. When Aram’s king learned this he targeted Elisha and sent an army to capture him. One morning Elisha’s servant woke up and found that he and Elisha were surrounded by enemy troops. Understandably he was scared and he ran back to Elisha and asked, “What are we going to do?” Elisha however is not so worried and calmly tells him “Don’t worry. The people on our side far outnumber those against us.” Its quite a surprising statement given the situation that they were in! Thinking only of what could beseen, it was clear that the two of them were significantly outnumbered…
15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. ‘Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?’ the servant asked. 16 ‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ 17 And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha. 2 Kings 6:15-17
Elisha prays “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” God answers him and the unseen reality of the situation was revealed, his servant saw the vast army of angels on the hills outside ready to protect them from the army of Aram. Our natural inclination is always to look to what is seen but even when the odds seem completely against us we need to look not to what is seen but to what is unseen!
The same is true of our perspective of heaven. We need God to open the eyes of our hearts in order that we may know the hope to which God has called us which Paul says is the “riches of his glorious inheritance” and “his incomparably great power for us who believe.” We have a truly incredible hope for the future which makes such a difference here in the present. Even if life feels pretty tough right now the unseen reality of all that God has for us (both now and in eternity) far outweighs it all. That is why Paul is able to describe the troubles he was facing as light and momentary. That is also why he is able to see that they were achieving for him an eternal glory that far outweighs all these troubles. As it was for Paul this is no less true for us. I pray that this Easter God would open the eyes of each of our hearts so that we can find this hope that God has called us to and allow it to transform us.