Prepare to Die—Part III

January 23, 2014

For the last several days, we have been considering the process of dying and death itself, trying to push through our denial of our mortality. I have been enriched by your comments and candid reflections on the topic, realizing January is a busy month and death is probably not your first-choice topic! Yesterday was an amazing day for me, with death absolutely not on my radar screen. After a lousy weekend, I was feeling so good by yesterday, I spent virtually the entire day on the phone, doing “work”! I even had energy left to go to our small group meeting last night, and felt more alive than I have in several weeks. Life is good.

Since yesterday was such a day of involved discipleship, I wanted to come back to the thesis I have been exploring this week: development as a disciple of Jesus Christ now is good preparation for dying and death later. Namely, the practices and skills one engages in now as a Christian disciple are going to be the habits of the heart that ease the transition from this life to the next and prepare us for life after death. In other words, we are plotting our path to the next life and practicing for heaven.

What are we practicing, exactly? What aspects of life on earth are going to carry forward into the next life? What are we going to be doing then that we can actually get better at now? I can think of at least three activities: Communing, Worshipping, and Reigning with Christ.

Communing. Finally, the veil will be lifted, and we will see Jesus, hear his voice, abide in his presence, and otherwise enjoy a completely unhindered life with him. We will be back to the Garden, where Adam and Eve roamed and bumped into God around every corner (figuratively speaking). Now we see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see him face to face! I can’t wait. But guess what? By the power of Christ’s Spirit, we can actually learn to recognize the voice of Jesus now and abide in his presence! Because of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, we have been given full access to the throne of grace and are invited to tarry there daily in preparation for an eternity with God.

Worshipping. I’ve had Christians tell me they are worried about eternity in heaven, that it will be boring. Citing harps and angels and insipid hymns, some folks think that heaven as a worshipping choir before the throne of grace is something less than thrilling and sustaining. I think this is more a commentary on the worship they are used to in their home church—just sayin’—but if worship is boring now, they are going to have a startling awakening in the next life! The book of Revelation is full of heavenly worship scenes, with throngs united in praise and giving glory to our Creator and the Lamb on the Throne. I guess if we are going to feel at home in that crowd, now is the time to start feeling at home with God’s people, singing and praising the Lord and uniting in one purpose to give glory to Jesus Christ. Do what you have to do, friends, to get there. You’re going to be focused on God and singing his praises in heaven. Will you have the vocabulary, the voice, and the vitality for that? If not, start practicing!

Reigning. This part of our job description in the presence of God kicks in after the mass resurrection of God’s people, at the joining of the New Heavens and the New Earth described so beautifully in the last few chapters of Revelation. Life after life after death entails reigning with God over all his creation (Revelation 5:10, 22:5). We will be stewarding everything under God’s authority, just as we did in the Garden. This will be engaging, fulfilling, joyful work. It will require us to be very acquainted with God’s economy, and our learning curve starts now as we discern how to be God’s faithful Kingdom agents even in this life. This is the grand connection between this life and the next. We are practicing stewardship now so that acting in partnership with God in heaven will be second nature to us. If we are faithful in the relatively little things God gives us to manage now, Jesus says we will be entrusted with much more responsibility later.

Practicing for heaven gives meaning and purpose to this life, even as we approach death. We know that what we are experiencing now, on our very best days and our worst, will be overshadowed by the Almighty in the world to come. But because we were faithful in our practice today, in our present circumstances, in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, our capacity to partner with God will be enhanced, and heaven will be a wonderful place for us to be. I believe this! And that vision is what makes me willing and able to face life, illness, and death in the meantime, because those are all opportunities to practice communing, worshipping, and reigning in the next life.




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