In this series, “Promises of Scripture,” we asked Youth Ministers one simple question: “What is a scriptural promise that you burn to communicate to your students?” Read the last article in the series here.
In a culture that feels increasingly unfamiliar and unwelcoming to the believer, it is essential to remember the comfort offered to us in the promise of Heaven. It is only when one properly understands the comfort Heaven offers that they are able to find the necessary motivation to live out the call of discipleship even in the midst of the many trials that will inevitably come.
Sadly, for many people in our culture, the concept of Heaven offers little motivation. The typical notion of Heaven brings to mind nothing greater than an eternity of sitting on clouds and strumming some stringed-instrument. For most, Heaven is the stuff of naïve childish fantasies.
As I grew up in the Church, Heaven (and the promise of living there one day) fell into the former category. I knew it was my future home but, quite honestly, my easygoing childhood in the suburbs of Dallas seemed far more entertaining. I failed to really appreciate why Heaven was supposedly such a great motivation to live out my calling as a disciple here one earth.
Despite these common misconceptions of our promised home, the fact remains that our “future glory” of Heaven is essential, and offered throughout all of Scripture as a means of bringing meaning and joy in the midst of life’s darkest struggles.
Perhaps one of the most powerful examples of this promise is found in Paul’s words in Romans 8:18:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
In the verses that follow this statement, Paul discusses the effects of the Fall, the concept of hope, and eventually the truth of God’s everlasting love. While there is plenty to discuss in those verses, it is this initial statement in verse 18 that stands out to me as the most shocking and easily overlooked statement (throughout which is otherwise a very well known chapter in a very well known book).
The key to understanding why this statement is so shocking is in remembering who wrote it. If the author of this statement had come from a background similar to my own (raised by a loving Christian family in a solid church, with a relatively easy childhood) this claim would perhaps fall flat. But, of course, this is not Paul’s background. The same guy who was beaten with rods, pelted with stones, frequently imprisoned, etc. is the one who claims that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
What I failed to appreciate as a teenager (and why the promise of Heaven was never particularly attractive to me) was that Paul’s struggles weren’t alien to believers like him. From the very beginning, confessing Jesus as Lord brought persecution. The Gospel, after all, is a message that offends. This was true in Paul’s day and it is true now more than ever.
In today’s culture, it seems my students are regularly reminded that an attempt to hold true to a biblical worldview is seen as naïve, close-minded, and even mean-spirited.
In addition to religious persecution, believers and non-believers alike face the pain that simply comes with living life in a fallen world. We face disease, injuries, broken relationships, and ultimately death. Our students live in the world of 24-hour news cycles, given to them on a minute-by-minute basis through their phones. Kids today are constantly face-to-face with the real nature of this world: the latest terrorist attack, natural disaster, and any other tragic event deemed worthy to make headline news.
When you combine world-wide tragedies with the daily struggles common in the lives of teenagers, it quickly becomes clear that suffering plays a very real part in our students’ lives. It may seem counterintuitive, but I find myself grateful for this. As Paul clearly knew – only when one has a proper understanding of suffering are they able to fully appreciate the cross, and the glorious hope of Heaven we’re promised through it.
In light of suffering, then, the natural question arises: what is so great about this future glory? How could that future glory be so incredible that it’s worthy of Paul’s claim here in Romans 8:18?
When it comes to the concept of Heaven, the problem many people face is a failure to see the bigger picture. In the popular image of Heaven, the Kingdom of God is limited to a city of clouds resting behind the pearly gates – ill-imagined and cliché.
The more accurate image given throughout Scripture, however, is far more colorful, far more complete. Our heavenly home is a place where we will experience life as it was intended to be – God’s creation untouched by the Fall.
There, we escape this wounded and corrupted flesh; there, we experience the promises of Christ fulfilled, and we enter into the true rest we all so desperately desire.
Speaking of that place, Revelation 21:3-4 says:
“Behold the tabernacle of God is among men and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
One does not have to dwell on these words very long before they can start to appreciate the beauty found therein: no more death, no more mourning, no more crying. This means no more broken relationships, no more divorce, no more gossip, no more miscarriages, no more suicide attempts, no more terrorist attacks, no more school shootings, no more natural disasters. On a personal level: no more ongoing battles with our sin, and no more shame. In heaven, we will experience joy and rest as we have never known in this life; a pure, unbroken, and unhindered love for our Father.
Heaven is not simply a place where we will live. It is the place where we, for the first time, will experience true life.
This is the Heaven of Scripture and it is the hope that makes it possible for Paul and countless other suffering believers to speak those glorious words of Romans 8:18.
As I teach my students about the reality of living out our calling as disciples of Christ, I must be careful to honestly speak of Jesus’ promises regarding the trials that discipleship inevitably brings, acknowledging the suffering they face and will continue to face. These trials and sorrows are as ancient as the earth. But I must not be so shortsighted that I overlook the glories of our future reward, so commonly celebrated throughout all of Scripture. Regardless of our age, we as believers must not only remember that Heaven is for real – but that the joys it offers are so indescribably wonderful, the sting and difficulties of this life are not even worth comparing.
Join us for Rooted 2016, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore the good news that God’s grace is sufficient for our relationships: with ourselves, with others, with the world, and with God. Jesus is our reconciliation yesterday, today, and forever.