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An Eternal Sunday Afternoon Nap?

An Eternal Sunday Afternoon Nap?
Image: Cyndi Monaghan / Getty´╗┐

My Dear Shepherds,

Eastertide has led me to consider some of the sparkling facets of our bejeweled hope of heaven. One of those is rest, which we often take to mean relief from the weariness of this life. The Christian writer, Joseph Bayly, described how he imagined his arrival in heaven.

I’ll say, “Hello, Lord. I’m tired.”

And he’ll say, “Rest, because I have work for you to do.”

“Rest?”

“Yes, remember that I myself rested on the seventh day of creation.”

“And work?”

“Of course. Did you think heaven would be an eternal Sunday afternoon nap? My people serve me in heaven. I have work for you to do.”

Our everlasting life in the new heavens and new earth will wrap rest and work in the cloak of worship. To begin with, the most important thing about our rest will not be relief from earthly labors.

The Puritan Richard Baxter faced a total collapse when he was only 35. Thinking he was soon to die he began to meditate on heaven which prompted him to write the classic, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. His central text was Hebrews 4:9, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.”

Baxter observed that it was harder for God to persuade Israel to enjoy his “Sabbaths of rest, in a land of rest” than it was for God to actually overcome their enemies and procure the land for them. Likewise, he said, it is difficult to teach believers “to look for a further rest, which indeed is their happiness.”

Baxter identified those “things contained in heavenly rest,” the first being “a ceasing from means of grace,” like prayer, fasting and weeping, preaching and ordinances. “When we have obtained the haven,” he writes, “we have done sailing.” He then describes other aspects of our final Sabbath: “a perfect freedom from all evils; personal perfection, both of body and soul; [and] the nearest enjoyment of God … by all the powers of the soul and body.”

The intriguing paradox is that we will both rest and work.

The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. … And they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 22:3, 5; cf. 7:15)

“Serve” here specifically means the priestly service of God; also translated “worship.” In heaven, our worship and work are one and the same thing. What’s more, our Christ-hearted service will involve reigning! The twenty-four elders in Revelation 5:10 proclaim, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Jesus’ parables picture faithful servants entrusted with “all his possessions” and “ten cities.” What!?

I admit that my imagination falls off the ledge at this point! But pastors should walk our people as near as we can to the vistas of heaven’s rest and service.

I love a story told by Jack Hayford, long-tome pastor of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California. He visited a godly man named Carl who had only hours left to live. Carl was an experienced and respected lighting director at CBS. When Jack asked how he was feeling Carl replied, “Pastor Jack, you know when you’re in my business, it’s the combination of lights, the skill at blending things together in order to create special effects, that’s what this job is about. This morning I woke up and in the quiet of my heart, Jesus spoke to me and he said, ‘Carl, how would you like to direct a sunset?’”

Be ye glad!

Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.

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