I was living in Southern California when I received the phone call from my mother that my grandfather was dying. I drove four hours to sit at his bedside and wept inconsolably. I was not a believer at the time, but my grandfather had lived a life that honored God. Despite my rebellion toward God at the time, my grandfather remained my hero and mentor. Truly a man of prayer, he was the only Christian in our family, which was wrought with false doctrine and dysfunction.
Grandfather and I had such a special bond that I would later name my son after him. As I buried my head in his chest that day, weeping, he gently stroked my hair and promised me he’d see me again in heaven, praying that God’s will would be done in my life. While I did not understand salvation or its relation to heaven at the time, my grandfather’s words penetrated my soul, gave me hope, and ultimately proved to be instrumental in my conversion years later.
Scripture portrays heaven as a place where Christians will one day live in the presence of the Lord forever. It is also described as a place without sorrow, darkness, or any kind of sin (Revelation 21:1-7). According to 1 Thessalonians 3:16-17, believers who are alive when Jesus Christ comes again will be reunited with the believers who have already died. That same passage says that we will meet the Lord in the air — a thought we can hold on to and encourage each other with until that time.
Those who have lost a loved one know what it means to yearn for the presence of someone they love. At the time of my grandfather’s death, and even now, 14 years later, I long for his presence and the love he showered on me every time we were together. I would love to sit with him and share how my life has changed through Christ! I’d tell him how his godly wisdom makes sense now, how his touch on my head inspired me, and how his words encouraged me to become a better person. I want to laugh with him again like we once did when I was a child, as he chased me around the yard, calling me his “sunshine.” I want to crawl up on his lap and bask in the warmth of his love. Yes, I know what it’s like to long for the presence of someone who is gone. But where does God and heaven fit into all of this?
The tie that binds these concepts together is love. The love I have for my grandfather, and the joy I will feel at being with him again, is nothing compared to the pure love of God that I will experience in heaven. It is hard for you and me to comprehend pure love because of the world we live in, and the kind of love we have known. Love is said to be the most powerful force in man, a deep-seated passion that burns into the recesses of the human heart. Man has been known to risk life and worldly acclaim to acquire it. Depending on whom you ask, it is either the curse or cure for humanity’s problems. It is most often defined by one’s perspective and experience, and labeled as either a pleasant sensation or an emotional high to which a person succumbs.
Love is an intentional act or choice expressed through sacrifice. When most people think about love they think in terms of being loved — as the recipient of an action. They don’t usually think about their own ability to love another. They ponder over how to be loved or how to be more lovable. They think the concept of love is elementary, but finding the right person to love — or to be loved by — is the problem.
In the process of pursuing Mr. Right or Miss Right, many individuals chase after situations that bring emotional ruin to themselves or people they care about. In a desperate attempt to capture love, many fall into sexual immorality. This contradicts God’s ordained covenant for marriage, and cannot secure or maintain love. In our unrelenting search for infatuation and romance, which we require as proof of love, we lay the groundwork for our own discontent. As a result, adultery, divorce, sexually transmitted diseases and parentless children are prominent in our society.
To truly understand the meaning of love, as well as the longing for another, we must look to God — the God who offers us His love in this life, and is preparing heaven for us so that we can truly experience His love for eternity. Perfect love is sacrificial. Our heavenly Father displayed His longing for us through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. We reciprocate by choosing to accept this magnificent gift. We love Him because he first loved us. In response, we give up our own idea of what is right for us, and look to God for His direction for our lives.
Living how God wants us to live includes refraining from sin as He defines it. When we do sin, we must actively bridge the gap between ourselves and God, which is accomplished through the act of repentance — telling God what we’ve done, and committing to stop doing it. Only when we are in a pattern of turning to God in every situation can we attempt to truly love others.
In order to experience this kind of love, we must develop a dependence upon our Father in heaven. A baby, reliant upon its mother for milk, is comforted by her presence; her touch, her smell, and her voice. Unlike an infant, however, Christians will never reach a place where we don’t need to depend on God’s presence in our lives. We need to feel His healing touch, the sweet aroma of His Spirit, and His tender voice whispering to our hearts. When we pursue God through the Bible, through spending time with other believers, through praise and worship, and through prayer, we are creating a loving relationship with our Creator, which will inevitably instill in us a longing to be with Him even more — a longing which will be ultimately fulfilled in heaven.
Through nine years of committing my life to Him, accepting His sacrificial love, and walking beside Him in good times and bad, my love for God has only grown. I will see my grandfather in heaven. And as much as I love him and long for his presence, I seek even more my Heavenly Father. Until then, I can only imagine the true depth of pure Love and eternity in His presence.
Copyright © 2002 Leslie Armstrong. Used with Permission. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.