I am concerned that, for the majority of Christians, heaven sounds quite nice, and it certainly is where we want to end up, but in spite of its saving-grace-insurance-policy resemblance, it fails the authenticity test.
There was a time when I was no exception to that belief, a fact that became obvious to me a few years ago when my friend Lael posed a question to me during one of our "girlie" chats. (FYI -- this is not a question I would recommend as a conversation starter with your boss at the annual Christmas party): "When you think of being dead, what do you see?"
Why we couldn't just exchange muffin recipes, I'll never know!
I had questions that I shared with my friend: Wouldn't it be weird to look down from heaven and see myself in a coffin? What if Dave had me buried in that gnarly chartreuse sweater that he's so fond of? Would the makeup person know to enlarge my lips by outlining them like I do? So many things to consider. Perhaps I should make notes.
I asked Lael if she had similar concerns.
Her look of terror was my first clue she didn't.
"Oh, my, no!" she exclaimed. "I just think of standing in the presence of Jesus in the twinkling of an eye."
Why she just didn't come right out and tell me I'm going to hell, I'll never know, but I'm sure my deer-in-the-headlights look let her know my next statement was a lie:
"Oh, yeah. Me, too ... I was just kidding about that coffin stuff."
My experience with Lael made me realize I obviously was not too pumped about this "after-life" stuff. The problem is the Bible doesn't give us a very clear picture of what heaven will be like. And, in all honesty, I wasn't too keen on plucking a harp in a never-ending sing-along for a kajillion years. Some people, like Lael, didn't seem bothered by that.
That conversation caused me to question my view of eternity. What prevented me from looking forward to dying? After all, isn't that the only reason we are here on earth, to determine where we spend life after this one? So why wasn't that my primary focus?
Lael's words made me realize that I was far too attentive to the here and now -- after all, it did dominate most of my waking thoughts -- than God desired. St. Paul's words reinforced my friend's sentiment: "To live is Christ; to die is gain." Short and sweet, but loaded with punch.
The wake-up call from Lael served its purpose. It resulted in me praying more, reading my Bible more, and because of that, over the last few years, I have fallen in love with Jesus more.
Not surprisingly, in so doing, I find myself getting excited about what's next. I'm not where I want to be. I still have far too many moments that are status quo focused instead of eternally directed, but now, when I think of where I'm headed I picture myself standing before Jesus, and I get excited.
And when He says "Well done, my faithful servant," I try to imagine what I will do -- scream for joy? Throw myself into His arms? Pass out?
I have no idea, but somehow I bet there's some laughter in there somewhere as I trade in that gnarly chartreuse sweater for my eternal robe of righteousness.