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Heaven, Our Real Home

Why don't we talk much about heaven? Maybe it's because all the biblical imagery sounds a bit off—streets of gold, gates of pearl, rainbow thrones, seas of glass. Unless you're really into jewelry, these descriptions don't sound too inviting. But think of it: Heaven is our life's end, our journey's goal. It is our reason for going on. It is the rich repository of every single spiritual investment we make down here on Earth. The fact is, very few of us think of our heart's home, even though ultimately it's the bottom line for why we're here.

I used to get hung up on those streets of gold and gates of pearl. It was hard to remember that, as symbols, they are pointing to a beautiful reality. We shouldn't mistake the symbols for the reality they only represent. It would be like going up to a interstate road sign that says, "Boston: 50 miles," and mistaking the sign for the wonderful reality that it only represents—a beautiful city fifty miles down the road.

After the diving accident 28 years ago in which I became paralyzed, my perspective changed about heavenly glories above. Heaven was no longer a place where I would kneel on all fours to examine whether the streets were made of 18-carat or 24-carat gold. Heaven became my heart's home, the place where I will finally belong. The place where I will get a brand new body, with hands that work and feet that walk. No other religion, no other philosophy guarantees that kind of hope.

Heaven became, most of all, a place where there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow. In the world's finale something so glorious is going to happen that it will atone for every single tear we've ever cried. God is going to give us the key that will make sense out of what now seems to be such senseless suffering. Heaven is going to be a place of no more disappointment, no more grief, but joy. Heaven's joy. The home of our heart is going to be a place of such joy. How can I describe it for you?

Heaven is visible on Earth.

We get glimpses of it down here on Earth, don't we? When your kid graduates from high school, or when your first grandchild is born. When you watch your daughter walk across the stage to receive her college diploma or you look into the eyes of the one you love, you get glimpses of that eternal joy. Heart-bursting happiness, moments that seem timeless, that kind of joy happens so rarely here on Earth. It happens in glimpses.

I have a mental snapshot of it at one of our JAF Ministries family retreats. Our organization reaches out to people with disabilities worldwide. Part of what we do is hold family retreats in centers all over the country for moms and dads of handicapped children as well as adults in wheelchairs. Wednesday night of the family retreat was "ice cream social" time. During the ice cream social, I powered my wheelchair next to little red-haired Nicole in her wheelchair. She was sitting next to Rachel, who was standing in her leg braces. The two of them were talking back and forth about the best flavors of Baskin-Robbins. After a couple of more comments about ice cream, I joined them.

Then we began a game of tag—but not just any game of tag. This was wheelchair tag. Before long, a kid in a walker joined us with his sister, and then a child with Downs syndrome and her brother. Within minutes, we were weaving in and out of the legs of the adults, giggling and screaming because our foot pedals were bumping and bouncing off each other like "dodge 'em" cars. We were having so much fun playing wheelchair tag, we lost track of time. When the ice cream began to melt, John Warren, our retreat director, tried to herd all of us back to our cabins. But we were having a blast, we kids. Finally, we got the hint, and we headed back to our cabin.

Right before my husband, Ken, and I entered the cabin, I stopped for a moment on the front porch, looked up into the starry dome above me and whispered, "Oh thank you, Jesus, for the joy and the children and the losing all sense of time." I had to smile at his answer. He impressed that portion of Scripture on my heart right from Matthew 19:14. He whispered to me, "Let the little children come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." That was a powerful thought. Heaven is a place of joy, a place where people humble themselves like little children. It's a place where, in our joy, we lose all sense of time.

In bed that night, my heart was overwhelmed with joy-effervescent, bubbling up praise to God. An ice cream social had given me a sneak preview of the coming attractions in heaven mostly because of the joy, the kind of joy that's a fruit of the Spirit, the kind of joy that has in it the essence of eternity. Happy feelings have nothing of the eternal air about them that joy has. I suppose that's because joy is a fruit of the Spirit.

Joy, in its essence, is eternal. We love Jesus, the Lord of joy, who is eternal. Those children that night taught me more about heaven's joy than all of the essays I could have read or all the sermons I could have heard or the books I could have looked through. Experiences like this happen all the time at our family retreats. If you're pushing against your limitations, if you're feeling the encroachments of your pain, if you're the parent or grandparent of a little child like Nicole or Rachel, then you know what I'm talking about. Heaven, for you, is rock solid—Gibraltar real. Heaven, for you, is the home of your heart.

Heaven is close to the suffering.

Why is heaven so near for those of us who suffer loss? When we can't conceive a child or lose the use of our arms or our legs or lose a loved one or the ability to think clearly, why is heaven the home of our hearts? For one thing, I am convinced that our hardships and our heartaches make us want to go there. Broken homes, broken bodies, and broken hearts serve to crush the illusions that Earth can ever really satisfy, that Earth can ever really keep its promises. Only the hope of heaven can truly move our passions off this planet, which God knows full well isn't going to satisfy us anyway. Only the hope of heaven can place our focus where one day we will find the glorious fulfillment of all that our heart longs for—a place of belonging.

When it finally hits you that the hopes you cherished will never come true, when it finally hits you that your loved one is gone from this life forever, that your child's disability will never change, that you'll never be as pretty or as popular or as successful as you once hoped you might be, then your sights are lifted. A broken heart leads to true contentment. We ask less of this life because we know full well that more is coming in the next!

The art of living with suffering is just the art of readjusting our expectations in the here and the now. If we stifle our complaints and if we say yes to grace and no to grumbling, then you and I have the greatest confidence of one day sharing in Christ's highest glory. Isn't that wonderful? It makes our suffering have meaning. If we can say yes to grace and no to grumbling, we're the ones who have the highest confidence of one day sharing in Christ's highest glory, just like it says in Romans 8:17. It says, "We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." His glorious joy.

That's why I wish I could take my big, old, bulky Everston-Jennings wheelchair to heaven. It's like a little Sherman tank. I'd like to park before the throne, look into the eyes of Jesus, and say, "Lord, I sat in that thing over three decades. But by sitting in that wheelchair, I learned what it must have felt like for you to be paralyzed on your cross. Oh, Lord Jesus, thank you so much for learning obedience in the midst of your suffering. Because you learned obedience, I could be obedient in mine."

Then, with my splendorous, strong, bright, beautiful body, I might sit in that Everston-Jennings wheelchair, and with my glorified fingers I'd rub the arm rests. Then I'd say, "Jesus, the weaker I was in this thing, the harder I leaned on you. But the harder I leaned on you, the stronger I discovered you to be." I think right after I say that to the Lord, the wattage on God's glory is going to turn up so much more the brighter. I'm so grateful that I'll have that privileged chance to turn up the wattage on God's glory because of a little bit of light and momentary affliction down there on Earth.

Broken necks do this. Broken hearts do this. Broken homes do this. Hardships always have a way of driving us in deeper and up higher into the heart of God. Onward and upward to our heart's home, heaven!

Heaven is for the here and now.

Yours is such a glorious future. God has placed hardship in your life to remind you that heaven is not just for the future. Heaven is for the here, and it is for the now. For this present moment, this instant, heaven is meant to bless your path today and to be a source of hope and encouragement in the midst of your headaches. If we are faithful to the Lord Jesus in our suffering down here on Earth, he's going to be so faithful in sharing his highest glory with us in heaven. We who suffer are the ones with the highest confidence of one day "entering Zion with singing," just like it says in Isaiah 35. An everlasting joy is going to crown our heads. Sorrow and sighing will flee away, and joy will overtake us. It will overwhelm us.

Therefore, we do not lose heart, as it says in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Though outwardly we are wasting away—with bodies that have Multiple Sclerosis or spinal cord injury, minds fogged with depression or chemical imbalances, bodies that won't conceive babies, husbands that leave us, homes that break up, young children who run away—don't lose heart! "Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary affliction is achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs it all. Therefore, fix your eyes on things which are … unseen and not on things which are seen; for things which are seen are only temporary, but things that are unseen they are eternal."

Heaven gives us perspective.

When the Bible says that our afflictions are light, it's not saying that we're in spiritual denial if we feel pain, if we're depressed, if we're hurting. The Bible is saying only that, in comparison to the weight of glory being accrued on your behalf, then those things are light in comparison. And those problems and pain are only momentary when you consider how fleeting, how short, how fast this life is.

When you handle your hardships gracefully down here on Earth, God is going to give you such a foretaste of glory divine. Just like that ice cream social with little Nicole and Rachel. That night, joy seemed to overflow. You've experienced it, too. Perhaps even now you sense the joy of the Lord rising within because your heart recognizes the sounds of home! This is why I'm convinced that Christians are the ones who really know how to weep for joy.

As human beings, we're so little and tiny and compact; we're just too small for how big God's joy really is. When we "enter into the joy of the Lord," it is so grand and glorious and great, it breaks the human container. It splits the seams of our finiteness because it's so infinite, and we have to cry. The overflow has to spill. I think this is why joy, like love, can break our hearts like nothing else. It overtakes us, it enraptures us. We are in ecstasy, like stepping into the back of Elijah's chariot being carried up into heaven. We rejoice in our suffering, knowing that when we grab hold of that grace and say yes to it and no to grumbling, we then have the highest confidence of one day sharing in Christ's highest glory.

Heaven takes the focus off ourselves.

I'm convinced that heaven will not be boring. In heaven, self-forgetfulness about our situation will be second nature. We can be bored only if we step outside of ourselves and stop to see how we are doing, how we are feeling, how we are performing. Such self-awareness in heaven will be totally foreign. And for that reason, absolutely nothing is going to be tedious.

Remember the movie, Beaches? Bette Midler, who was so self absorbed, so self consumed, was with her girlfriend. Finally Midler says, "Enough talk about me. Let's talk about you. Tell me, what do you think about me?" No more of that in heaven. Aren't you glad that there will be no more self-absorption, self-consciousness? We will be always and forever learning something new, grand, and glorious about our wonderful God. There are so many infinite facets of who he is and how great he is that it will take all of eternity to discover everything there is to discover about him.

I remember reading that verse in Scripture about the seraphim saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty," before the throne, day in and day out. They've been doing it the last who-knows-how-many millions of years. I remember reading that and thinking, Isn't that a little tedious? After a while it's like singing the same Scripture choruses for 759 times! You want something a little new, a little fresh.

I think the seraphim must look up and see some new facet of God and say, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty." Then they look down and contemplate what they've just seen. Then when they've slightly absorbed that, they look up, and there's something brand new about God to glorify: "I never knew that about you before. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!" God is infinite, and it will take all of eternity for us to express all of our joy.

Heaven is real.

Joy in heaven is going to have substance. Nothing abstract, nothing inert about heaven's joy. We will eat from the tree of life. We will taste hidden manna like honey. We will smell truth like a flower. We will wear righteousness like clothes. We will hold the morning star like a scepter. In short, we will enter into the joy of the Lord. There is nothing abstract or inert or passive about those verbs. Eating, tasting, smelling, wearing, holding. Everything in heaven will have more reality, more substance than we can ever imagine. It is earth that is wispy and vague and vaporous, not heaven. Heaven is real.

The joy of arriving in heaven will be more than matched by what we see and hold and taste and smell and experience when we arrive. The joy will include climbing to the top of the mountain and enjoying the view from the top. Heaven's joy is the thrill of getting there and all arriving at the same time. Like a grand story, our joy will never have any end. It will always be an enchanting beginning. Or better yet, the end and the beginning. Just like God is both Alpha and Omega, the first, the last, the beginning and the end, so too is eternity.

Our crowning joy will be losing ourselves and yet finding ourselves in Christ. Right now we are hid with Christ in God, and what we shall be is yet to appear, it says in God's Word. But one day we will no longer be hid with Christ in God. We are going to be turned inside out, face forward, to be known fully and completely in him! When I see Amy in her wheelchair in heaven, I will look at her and say: "Amy, you're a bigger, brighter, better, more wonderful than you ever were on Earth. On Earth, I saw only a hint, a whisper of what God had in store for you. On Earth you were barely budding, and I really liked you then! But now you've blossomed, and I can really see the light of the Lord Jesus shine in your life. Now your beauty is for all to see."


Can you see why I'm saying that heaven is much more than streets of gold, gates of pearl, and fancy mansions? It is the world of joy, a world of timelessness. It's a place where we will be where we belong, that home for our hearts. In light of all this, we just have to stand with joy before our great God. Down here, we turn from the trivial pursuits, the fleeting pleasures, the petty resentments, the materialism, to be caught up in the gladness of God. Let's see our sufferings down here on Earth as opportunities to be seized. Let's redeem the moment, for the moments are getting shorter and shorter and shorter. It was Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India and in bed for thirteen years, who said, "We shall have all of eternity to celebrate the victories, but we're only going to have a few hours before sunset in which to win them."

Let me share one more snapshot of heaven from our family retreat, five days of wheelchair hikes and fun and games and Bible studies and times of prayer. At the end of the week, John Wern passed around the microphone so all the families could share a couple of sentences about how meaningful, how fun the week had been. Little freckle-faced, red-haired Jeff raised his hand. We were so excited to see what Jeff would say, because Jeff had won the hearts of us all at family retreat. Jeff has Downs syndrome. He took the microphone, put it right up to his mouth, and said, "Let's go home." Later, his mother told me, "Jeff really missed his dad back home. His dad couldn't come to family retreat because he had to work." Even though Jeff had had a great time, a fun-filled week, he was ready to go home because he missed his daddy. This world is pleasant enough. But would we really want it to go on forever as a family retreat? I don't think so.

I'm with Jeff. I miss my Daddy, my Abba Father. My heart is longing to go home. Don't miss the chance down here on Earth to begin investing in eternity so that heaven can be your heart's home.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

Joni Eareckson Tada is a best-selling author of more than 50 books, an internationally-known speaker, and the Founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center. You can learn more about Joni at JoniAndFriends.org.

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Sermon Outline:


Although we don't talk of heaven much, it is our ultimate goal.

I. Heaven is visible on Earth.

II. Heaven is close to the suffering

III. Heaven is for the here and now.

IV. Heaven gives us perspective.

V. Heaven takes the focus off ourselves.

VI. Heaven is real.


Heaven is so much more than gold streets—it is a world of joy.