If you’ve been part of the Church for very long, you’ve probably known someone, heard of someone or listened to a sermon illustration about someone who gets on their knees and prays for Jesus’ return—someone who longs to be united with Him.
And in almost every case, that person is probably 80 years old. At least.
I’ve always sort of written off these people. Not openly, mind you. (I may be cynical, but I’m not a complete brute.) But silently I’ve thought, Well, yeah, your body is shutting down, you can’t stay awake during the day and you can’t sleep through the night without getting up to pee three times, you ache all over, your best memories of this world are already distorted and fading … so no wonder you want to be united with Jesus. No wonder you’re longing for a healthy heavenly body.
OK, so maybe I am a brute.
But that isn’t the kind of prayer I hear many of my peers (or myself) uttering. And yet, when I read 2 Peter 3:11–13, I can’t help thinking that maybe my lack of longing says something disturbing about me:
“Since everything around us is going to melt away, what holy, godly lives you should be living! You should look forward to that day and hurry it along—the day when God will set the heavens on fire and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world where everyone is right with God” (NLT).
But are we? Are we looking forward to that day? Are we looking forward to the new heavens and new earth—or are we fairly content with the one we’ve got?
We can say we love Jesus. We can say we long to spend eternity in heaven worshiping Him. We can say we long for a world free of sin and corruption and death and destruction. We can say this world is not our home—but if we’re completely honest with ourselves, I think we want it to be. At least a little longer.
Heaven or Sex?
Nearly everyone who ever “saved sex for marriage” (or is striving to do so right now) has shared this thought: “Jesus, please don’t come back … until sometime after I have sex.”
Some say it openly. Others just think it. But I think the desire is fairly universal.
Is that wrong? No, probably not. Then again, maybe.
Because once we get married, don’t we just insert a new desire in that same caveat? We might not say it, but we think: Jesus, please don’t come back … until I have kids … before I get a chance to visit Italy … before I buy that car I really want … move into that new house, see my career flourish, walk my daughter down the aisle, attend my son’s graduation, spoil my grandkids, reap the benefits of the savvy financial moves that fattened my retirement account …
The truth is, most of us don’t want Jesus to return yet. We have no desire for heaven right now. Given a choice, most of us would choose to die peacefully in our 80s or 90s (in our sleep, dying simultaneously with our spouse, if possible) … and then, having experienced all the things we’d longed for on earth, we’d be perfectly content floating off to heaven.
Even though we might be willing to admit that we don’t long for heaven right now, we can still twist it to make ourselves sound altruistic. Righteous even. We justify our disinterest by saying things like, What about my friends who aren’t Christians? What about the homeless people at that shelter where I volunteer? What about the guy I’m mentoring, the example I’m setting for my coworkers, my kids, the people who see the Jesus fish on the back of my SUV…
And sure, while we’re here on this earth, we should serve Christ, love others, evangelize, build disciples and live out our faith in a way that challenges people to do the same. But shouldn’t these things be motivated by our love for Christ? And if we love Him that much, shouldn’t we—like the octogenarian with the body that’s falling apart—long to be united with Him?
And if we don’t have that longing, what does that say about us? 1 John 2:15–17 (NLT) says:
“Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world. And this world is fading away, along with everything it craves. But if you do the will of God, you will live forever.”
According to the gospel of John, shortly before Jesus was arrested He was praying for His disciples. In John 17: 15–16 (NLT), Jesus prays: “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They are not part of this world any more than I am.”
"Not part of this world any more than I am."
To be honest, that doesn’t ring true for me. It just sounds hollow. Not because Jesus is wrong. Because I am.
Jesus was not married. He had no home, no car, no retirement plan. He devoted His life to loving others, teaching about God, challenging His disciples and serving those He encountered. He didn’t seem overly concerned with … well, just about any of the things that consume my thoughts on a daily basis—my “to-do” list, finances, how my favorite football team is going to perform in the bowl game this January or the Christmas gifts I still needed to buy last week.
As we think about the gifts we gave and got, I wonder … where does heaven rank?
Is it above new shoes but below an iPad? Somewhere between a new car and new carpet? Does it even make the list?
Or have we concluded that we just don’t need it right now? We’ll save it for next year, or the year after, or the year after that … anytime after we’ve gotten all those things we really want, achieved the things for which we’ve worked so hard, visited the places we’ve longed to see, gotten married, had plenty of sex, raised healthy and happy kids, bought our dream house, built up a healthy retirement plan, cuddled, coddled and spoiled our grandkids …
I’m not suggesting those things are wrong. But this is what I want to know: What would it look like if our generation made heaven our top priority? What if we not only believed this world is not our home but we actually lived it out on a daily basis? What if we showed little to no concern for material things and instead focused on pointing to the eternal?
What message would that send to the unbelievers who long for marriage, sex, kids, cars, houses and fat retirement accounts?
What if they saw us longing to spend eternity with Jesus? And what if they saw us living it out right now, longing for Christ to return today? You know, instead of waiting until we’re 85—when it makes sense.
Those of us who don’t long for Christ’s return right now, maybe we could start praying God will fill us with that longing. Maybe that’s where the change will begin.
Or maybe we’ll just wait until next year.
Tyler Charles is a freelance writer living in Delaware, Ohio.