We understand through the Word of God and through the evidence that daily surrounds us that God’s love for each one is the same and that His love for all of mankind is personal. God’s love is not some lofty principle, some immutable cosmic power that envelops the masses of humanity in its inexorable process. God loves each person as an individual and calls all who will respond to His love. He longs to bestow not just blessings but Himself upon all who genuinely seek Him. And He weeps with deep sorrow over those who reject Him and His love. At the same time, He is allowing Satan to gather disciples and to set up his false kingdom, while giving to men the freedom to choose whom they will serve.
It would be wrong, however, for us to imagine that because God weeps and longs for our love, that in any way He has need of us. Here again we have a difference between the God of the Bible and the false gods of the world’s religions. Islam’s Allah is a single entity, who was therefore alone and could not know love or fellowship or communion until he had created other beings. Hinduism’s Brahman, who is the “All,” cannot love or fellowship because it is impersonal and all encompassing. Thus there can be no I-thou relationship. In contrast, the God of Israel consistently reveals Himself throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, as one God comprising a unity of three persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always fellowshipped, loved, and communed with one another in perfect completeness, and thus had no need to bring any creatures into that existence.
We are the ones who have need, and our problem comes in giving priority to lesser or even false needs. If we love God because we need His protection and care, then we have missed the joy of loving Him for Himself. Indeed, our great need is for God alone. All else is added blessing. Even Christian leaders have been deceived by accepting the “hierarchy of needs” invented by Abraham Maslow, a godless humanist and one of the fathers of the New Age movement. He declared that man’s lesser needs for food, clothing, shelter, etc., had to be met first, and only then could there be any appreciation of the higher ethical and spiritual values. This claim contradicts Scripture (“Seek ye first the kingdom of God. . . .”) and interferes with the love relationship we ought to have with Christ. Yet Maslow’s teaching has infected the church along with much more of psychology’s poison.
Think about what you want from the person you love. Not things, not gifts, but closer communion, more love, more intimate fellowship. Thus it is that we are moved to give ourselves in our desire to please the One whom we now love with a passion. We are told that God will give us crowns and rewards in heaven. It isn’t possible for us to understand what that means because we have such a dim perception of what heaven will be like. Whatever the rewards may be, however, we know that each is an expression of His approval, a declaration that we have in some small way, as He has given grace, pleased Him. Knowing that fact alone is all the reward we could ever desire and will give us joy for eternity. Its anticipation should give us great joy here and now!
It isn’t unusual for Christians to feel discouraged and even depressed. At such times it seems impossible to believe (knowing there is no reason in us for Him to love us) that He could ever be pleased with us. Surely eternity will bring sorrow rather than reward for our miserable failure. We long to hear His “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew:25:23), but we fear that it could never be so. Such humility of soul, because it reflects the simple truth of our situation except for His grace, is becoming of a Christian—but at such times we do well to remember the amazing and comforting statement of Scripture:
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God. (1 Corinthians:4:5)
Would not such praise give us cause to be pleased with ourselves and thus to imagine that there was something of value in us after all? If so, that attitude would dim the glory of God and rob us of the real joy of heaven. What is that joy? It is not to become something in and of ourselves so that we deserve praise. It is to ever be in a state of wonder and amazement and gratitude that He would take us and make of us a joy to His heart.
We will never be worthy of heaven or of His love. A sense of self-worth would ruin everything by turning some of the attention and glory to ourselves. We will always be sinners saved by grace and bought with His blood, and He will ever be our glorious Savior. Because He has filled us with His love, our passion for eternity will ever be to see Him exalted and praised and to love Him with all the capacity He supplies. His eternal joy will be to bless us with Himself.
Such will be the wonder of heaven. That He should be pleased with us will bring joy beyond the possibility of present comprehension. The fact that every man will receive praise of God does not mean that each will be praised in the same way or to the same degree. Every cup will overflow with joy, but some cups will no doubt be deeper than others. There will be no need for us to recognize such differences, however, even if they were apparent, for such comparisons would be meaningless in heaven’s bliss. All that He is, the full infinitude of His person, will be equally available to all.
David, who knew the Lord very well, tells us the secret of that intimate relationship that he enjoyed: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple” (Psalm:27:4). There can be no doubt that knowing God and experiencing the wonder of His love was the continual and intense longing of David’s heart, as so many of his psalms attest: “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee . . .” is the way Psalm 63 begins, and this same passion is expressed in so many others.
In spite of the rejection he experienced by family and friends during so much of his life, David’s heart was filled with the joy of the Lord—a joy that strengthened him for the many trials he endured. He also had a deep understanding of heaven and knew that the joy he experienced in part during this brief life of faith would be realized in its fullness there. It is the anticipation of the heavenly joy and, yes, the intense pleasure of God’s presence that raises our hopes from this earth to heaven. In another psalm, David had written: “Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm:16:11).
The apostle Paul indicated that in the last days men would be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy:3:4). What an indictment! How it challenges us to reexamine our priorities. How ashamed we will be one day that the pitiful pleasures of this world could ever have blinded us to the infinite and eternal pleasures God has “prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians:2:9). What a bad bargain to exchange the heavenly for the earthly!
The hope of Christ’s return has a purifying effect upon those who are looking for it. There is a purity of heart that is required if we are to see God (Matthew:5:8). Jesus seemed to drive that point home when He warned, “But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, ‘My lord delayeth his coming . . .’” (Matthew:24:48). It is significant that our Lord associates wickedness with rejoicing in the thought that His return will be delayed—while righteousness is produced by loving His appearing.
Surely He is showing us the importance of holding the hope of His imminent return, the reward for which, Paul tells us, will be “a crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy:4:8). Again the implication is that not to love His appearing leaves an opening for evil to invade our lives. It shows a lack of love for our Lord and a love of our own selfish ambitions that would be interfered with by His return. We must ask the Lord to examine our hearts on this point.
Are there things we want to accomplish, places we want to go, even victories we want to “win for God” that are more important to us than being caught up by our Lord into His eternal presence? It is the attitude of our heart that counts. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ,” declared Paul, “we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians:15:19). The joyful Christian has put his hope in heaven. He is not living for this world and makes sacrifices in this life to please his Lord and to be assured of hearing His “well done” in heaven. The Bible is full of examples of those who, in order to please God, turned their backs on earthly rewards and honors. They will rejoice through eternity for that decision.
Such is the message of Hebrews 11, where we are given a list of some of the heroes and heroines of the faith and are told of their exploits. The outstanding characteristic of everyone on that roll of honor was the fact that their ultimate hope was in heaven. Confronted by a choice between this world and the one to come, they chose the latter.
God is no man’s debtor. The idea that many people have of suffering for Christ and missing out on so much in order to please God is a caricature concocted by Satan. It is certain that no one, when it comes time to die, regrets having missed out on worldly pleasures or treasure or honors as a result of serving God. And how can even those who have lost position and possessions, have been tortured, imprisoned, or killed because of their faith, hold any regret that an eternal reward awaits them? Paul reminds us:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (Romans:8:18; 2 Corinthians:4:17)
We know that as His bride we ought to long to be with Christ, and we are sorry that we don’t love His appearing as we should. How can we awaken our love for Him? First of all, we need to remember that love is not merely a sentiment that sweeps over us and is beyond our control. Marriages are breaking up among Christians who claim to no longer love the other and often have “fallen in love” with someone else. This is not love at all but Hollywood-inspired counterfeit.
Love involves unshakable commitment of oneself to another—thus it involves not just emotions but an act of the will. Christ is our example, and husbands are to love their wives as He loved the church. A Christ-like marriage may well involve one’s suffering hatred and abuse and misunderstanding—and giving love in return. That is what Christ did, and that is the kind of love husbands are to have for their wives.
Not only does love require a faithful commitment, but it is a commitment in response to God’s command: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke:10:27). Love does indeed involve deep emotion, but it is first of all obedience to God’s command. We can love our husband or wife or parent or mother-in-law and even our enemy, no matter how much evil we think they have done to us. It simply takes the willingness to let God pour out His love through us.
Christ has committed Himself to us for eternity, and He expects us to make the same commitment to Him. That commitment involves loving others if we truly love Him—for a lack of love for our brother is, according to Scripture, proof that we really do not love God (1 John:4:20-21). How much more is the insistence that we cannot love wife or husband or parent a betrayal of the fact that our love for God, no matter how loudly we profess it, is not genuine at all.
There’s another motive for loving Christ’s appearing. It isn’t only that we long to see Him for ourselves, but we also want to see Him glorified on this earth where He has been rejected for so long. What a tragedy that “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John:1:10). The hearts of those who love Christ are grieved that this world, blinded by pride, goes about its business building its plastic utopia in complete disregard for the One who longs to rescue it from an eternity of horror that it is bringing upon itself.
If we love our Lord, then we will want to see Him revealed to the world and made known for who He is. We want to see Him honored and praised where He was rejected. We long to see Him rule, whose right it is to rule, and we want to be at His side, singing His praises, pointing men to Him who is the Lover of our souls.
Our relationship with Christ and with God through Him will forever be one of perfect love. When we see Him, faith and hope will have given place to sight. But love, the greatest gift of all, will endure forever.
He desires to have us in His presence even more than we could ever desire to be there. He loves us with a love that will never let us go. And because He has captured our affection, we will be eternally bound by love to Him—a love that not only flows to us from God but which redeemed hearts will return to Him with a purity and joy that will be His eternal gift.
The signs that His return are near are in the world today as never before. The sleeping church may soon be shaken with that cry of which Christ spoke in a parable that is difficult to understand but which could well be fulfilled in our day:
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him!” (Matthew:25:5-6)
Excerpted from Whatever Happened to Heaven? first published in 1988.