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As I’ve reflected back on my church upbringing, I realized I grew up singing a lot of hymns about heaven.

  • There’s a land that is fairer than day …
  • Oh they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise …
  • When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!
  • How beautiful heaven must be, sweet home of the happy and free …
  • When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there …

As a child, I didn’t really understand what was meant by the “sweet by and by”, but anything that involved sweets couldn’t be all that bad.

Over the years, I’ve grown even fonder of the hymns that speak about the future and what God has done to secure it. The reason is simple: I’m only getting older and the number of family and friends awaiting on the other side is growing. In fact, it is impossible for me to sing a hymn about heaven and not think of my mom and dad.

I’m going there to see my father
I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I’m going there to see my mother
She said she’d meet me when I come
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

(Wayfaring Stranger)

I’m sure there will be some skeptics who hear all this talk of heaven as an attempt to escape reality. Some will accuse Christians of being “so heavenly-minded they are no earthly good.”

Some Christ-followers do live with their head in the clouds — avoiding any redemptive interaction with their neighbors, community, or culture. They forget how Jesus taught his followers to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

But to find hope by focusing on heaven, is not avoidance at all.

Throughout church history, men and women have endured all sorts of trials and hardships by clinging to one simple truth: this life is not all there is and death does not get the final word.

Here in the United States, some of the most hopeful hymns were written by slaves. Singing about heaven was not escaping their reality; it was about redeeming their reality by holding on to hope. A hope that would transcend the grave. A hope that no other human being could take away from them.

When I come to die
When I come to die
Oh, when I come to die
Give me Jesus

Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus

For a long time, many evangelicals have used the term “born again” to refer to themselves. President Jimmy Carter referred to himself as a “born again” Christian. It’s a biblical term that Jesus and the New Testament writers used to describe a person who has spiritually gone from death to life.

There may be another term that goes even further, connecting new birth with eternal hope. It’s what N.T. Wright and others call the “resurrection life” (here’s a short article entitled, “Living in God’s Future – Now” by N.T. Wright).

Listen to the promise of Jesus in John 6 …

39 “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” — John 6:39-40

Speaking of those the Father gives him, twice Jesus promises to “raise them up at the last day.” It is a clear and unequivocal promise of a future hope.

Yet, this resurrection is both here and now and to come. By the grace of God, a spiritually dead person can come to life — filled with a new Spirit and new purpose. In a sense, heaven has begun. C.S. Lewis would say that the line between heaven and earth has become very thin.

A person who is conscious about living the resurrection life knows two things: they are no longer the same and things will not stay the same forever.

These are powerful truths.

When faced with a temptation or moment of weakness, the resurrected person reminds themselves that the old person was buried. Even more important — they remind themselves that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is living inside of them. They, too, have been raised from the dead!

Too many Christians live a defeated, discouraging life because they fail to appreciate the resurrection that has already happened within them.

In the same way, it’s easy to lose hope when challenges and difficulties won’t go away. When there seems to be never-ending opposition, the sweet by and by can seem pretty far and not very practical.

But if our hope is dependent on circumstances going our way, we will never have a secure hope. If I look to the stock market to secure my future, we all know how that works out.

But if our hope is fixed on the trustworthiness of Jesus, then circumstances can come and go but Jesus will never change. If I believe Jesus, truly believe Jesus, then these words matter:

“I will raise them up at the last day.”