On a bad day the quotes I just posted have the potential to create despair in me. My Christian life is an utter failure. Perhaps I have just sinned in some very obvious way or perhaps I have not slept for a week and all perspective has fled. Reading then about the need for holiness to enjoy heaven seems like an impossible burden. How do I deal with that?
Firstly I need to recognise that I do fall short, and that I need help, that I cannot make myself into a person fit for heaven. The event celebrated today helps here. Christ is not only risen, he is ascended. In him we are raised, and on us he pours out gifts – especially the gift of his Spirit to help us live the here and now. For us he is seated at the right hand of the Father, always ready with his grace and mercy (Hebrews 4) –
Hebrews 4:14-16 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Draw near. Remember that he is the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy. We can’t live this life. He can. Fix your eyes upon your faithful friend who will uphold you.
And secondly remember that you do not see the whole story. Not even of your own life, and certainly not of anyone elses. Character and discipleship are not mainly about achievements or targets, they are about direction and desire. Failure, not even spectacular failure is not final, and it is not the whole story. The quotes I posted should, like the warning passages in Hebrews prompt serious self reflection, and if our lives are not measuring up, perhaps even fear.
The question then is how we deal with the fear and the concern raised in our hearts. We have an enemy who seeks to drive us to despair, but what Christ wants us to do is to look up to him. To look to him and know our sin is dealt with, and look to him for an outpouring of his Spirit that will enable us to love and enjoy him to our maximum capacity for ever.
Ultimately that it is what it is all about. Life now is training. CS Lewis likens it to learning a language – we have to practise our verbs, learn our vocab – and that is arduous and dull (although slightly better if you can see the North Shore mountains as you do it), but the reward comes in being able to read and talk in that new language with all the new horizons that brings. As we practise the Christian life here and now, we are preparing ourselves for the maximum possible enjoyment of God, for being taken up into the eternal life of the Trinue God. The God who thinks this of us (a final Dallas Willard quote):
“We must understand that God does not ‘love’ us without liking us – through gritted teeth – as ‘Christian’ love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core – which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word ‘love’.”