Heaven is real

The recent warm, sunny days have lifted our spirits after the cold days of early Spring. The cloudless blue skies, awakening nature, and the quiet, warmth of longer evenings have brought joy to our hearts. The beauty of the natural world around us, with the magnolia and cherry blossoms, the daffodils and primroses, and the green of the new leaves now beginning to adorn the trees, reveals the unique splendour of planet Earth, on which we are privileged to live. At such times we might wish to be able to stop and stay in the pleasure and happiness of the moment, but it isn’t possible. The daffodils fade, the blossoms fall and the most glorious of sunsets leads only to the darkness of the night.

The deep longing to find lasting peace, joy and fulfilment is something we all experience. The joys and pleasures of this world are real, but all transient. Because we have been created by God with an eternal soul we, inevitably, long for more, for that which endures. King Solomon, who was famous for his wisdom, wrote, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” A prayer, based on words of Augustine, expresses the desires of many, “Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you; so lead us by your Spirit that in this life we may live to your glory and in the life to come enjoy you for ever.”

Today we seldom talk about heaven and the life to come, but it is fundamental to our very being. We can only make sense of the sadnesses and mysteries of this life in the light of eternity. God is passionately concerned about justice and has set a day when he will righteously judge all people. Heaven is real and is the realm where God dwells in glory, love and unending blessing. Jesus said he was the Way to heaven.

The book of Revelation beautifully describes heaven, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. The one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new! To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. I will be their God, and they will be my children.”

He has made everything beautiful in its time

The Spring and early summer is a beautiful time as nature comes alive. This year I have been struck by the beautiful colours of the flowers and blossoms as they have come one after another: pure white snowdrops, purple crocuses, yellow daffodils, majestic magnolias, delicate almond blossom, pink cherry trees, bluebells, and, now, the May blossom. The sequence of flowers and colours has been stunning and, unmistakably, reveals the hand of the Creator.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon reflected on the meaning of life and wrote, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” Solomon was famous for his wisdom and his wealth. When the Queen of Sheba visited him, and saw his palace and his court, she said, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.” Yet, when Solomon surveyed God’s creation he saw a beauty far beyond anything the human mind could create and it moved him to worship the awesome God of who created this beauty.

Solomon also saw that the beauty of creation is transient; everything is beautiful “in its time.” The flowers fade and fall; their beauty is only for a brief time. It is the same in our experience of life. Human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation. We bear the image of God and have the glorious capacity to know and love him. Yet, the various stages of our lives quickly pass: the beautiful baby, the boundless energy of childhood, the exciting potential of adolescence, the strength of early adult years, the immense possibilities of middle age, the beauty and dignity of retirement years, before our faculties decline. The inexorable movement of time defies our deep longing to find that which is lasting and totally fulfilling.

The transient nature of life’s beauty points us to the eternity that God has put in our hearts. We echo the words of the hymn, “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away; change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” There really is an eternal world, which is even more beautiful than this world. God is there, and the beauty of that world never fades.

Thoughts on being a parent

On a recent visit to Vietnam the Duke of Cambridge was interviewed on a popular English-language talk show. He was asked about being a father to Prince George and Princess Charlotte. He said, “There’s been wonderful highs and wonderful lows. But I’ve struggled at times. The alteration from being a single, independent man to going into marriage, and then having children, is life-changing. George is a right little rascal sometimes. He keeps me on my toes, but he’s a sweet boy. And Charlotte, bearing in mind I haven’t had a sister … so having a daughter is a very different dynamic!”

Since he has had children William has worried more about the future and hopes his children will inherit a better world. He said, “When you have something or someone in your life to give the future to, I think it focuses the mind more about what you are giving them. Are you happy that you have done all you can to leave the world in a good state? People are living with an enormous amount of stuff that they don’t necessarily need. I would like George and Charlotte to grow up being a little bit more simple in their aspirations and outlook and just looking after those around them and treating others as they would like to be treated themselves.”

The Duke’s concerns are shared by many parents. What kind of world will we hand on to our children and grandchildren? How can we prepare them for the future? When he first came to the throne, King Solomon asked God for wisdom and discernment so that he would be able to rule his people well. Some of the wisdom God gave him related to family life. Solomon knew the importance of teaching his children God’s truths and being an example to them.

The things Solomon taught his children provide a sure guide for the Duke of Cambridge and all parents. Solomon wrote, “My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favour with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

He liveth long who liveth well

Men and women in England are living longer, according to a report from Public Health England. Men aged over 65 can expect to live to the age of 84, and women to the age of 86. In North East England, Scotland and Wales, however, the situation is not so good where men cannot expect to live quite so long. Most deaths in England now occur when people are over 80 years old, so the report emphasised the importance of not only length of life, but also quality of life. One factor, they said, in ensuring a better quality of life is developing a healthy lifestyle.

In Psalm 90, written more than 3000 years ago, Moses says, “The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty, if we have the strength; yet the best of them is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass away, and we fly away.” All those years ago people lived a similar length of time to people today and they also experienced the troubles and sorrows of life. Like us, too, they realised that time passes so quickly. As we get older, time seems to pass even more quickly!

The challenge for us all, however old we are, is to use the days of our life well. In Psalm 90 Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” In the Bible, wisdom is not so much about intellectual ability as about practical daily living. The wise person puts the principles God teaches us, and has written in our hearts, into practice. Solomon, who was a very wise king, wrote, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.”

The wise person also thinks, not only of this world, but of the world to come. Horatius Bonar, the 19th century Scottish hymn writer, who lived to the age of 81, wrote a hymn which is not often sung today. “He liveth long who liveth well; all other life is short and vain; He liveth longest who can tell of living most for heavenly gain. He liveth long who liveth well; all else is being flung away; He liveth longest who can tell of true things truly done each day. Fill up each hour with what will last; buy up the moments as they go; The life above, when this is past, is the ripe fruit of life below.”

The Secret of a Long Life

On 14 April the oldest man in the world, Walter Breuning, died of natural causes in Great Falls Hospital, Montana, at the age of 114. Walter grew up in the early years of the 20th century in a house with no electricity or running water. People travelled by train, horse and foot. His parents split up in 1912, so he had to find a job. In 1913 he got a job with the Great Northern Railway and worked for 50 years on the railroad, working seven days a week. His father died in 1915 at the age of 50, and his mother died in 1917 at the age of 46.

Walter lived through two World Wars and the Great Depression of the 1930s. He married Agnes, in 1932. She died in 1957. They had no children. Walter said the secret to a long life is to embrace change, to eat two meals a day, work as long as you can, help others and accept death.

We are told that in the future more people will live to be 100 years old than ever before, though not many of us will live to be 114! It is important, therefore, to think carefully about how we spend our lives. The really important thing is not how long we live, but that we live as God intends us to live. King Solomon gave advice on how to live a full and meaningful life, “My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart, for they will give you a long and satisfying life. Happy is the person who finds wisdom and gains understanding. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing can compare with her. She offers you life in her right hand, and riches and honour in her left.”

Life is more than mere survival. It is so important to know God and to consciously walk in his ways. The earlier in life we do this the better. Everyone who has come to know Jesus Christ late in life wishes they had known him sooner.

The apostle Paul was not afraid to die. He said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” From the moment he became a Christian, Jesus Christ became the centre of his life. He knew that even though he would be put to death for his faith, he would go to be with Jesus forever.