These minor differences aside, I had the pleasure to get a tiny glimpse of heaven here on earth a couple of weeks ago when I attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. I've been walking on clouds ever since, and have only now come down from the clouds to share my view.
The first thing that struck me as utterly heavenly was the welcome upon our arrival. Friends, some of whom I'd never actually met face to face, greeted me from across the parking lot by name. We squealed in delight and dodged traffic to hug one another and share our joyful reunion.
Isn't that just like heaven?
Imagine running across the golden pavement to hug the neck of brothers and sisters in Christ we never met on this earth. The Apostle Paul. John Huss and John Calvin. William Wilberforce. Annie Armstrong. Corrie Ten Boom. C.S. Lewis. John Bunyan. Amy Carmichael. Jim Elliot and Nate Saint. Helen Keller. Joni Earickson Tada. Billy Graham.
I was humbled and moved to find that not only other conferees knew me by name, but some of the faculty remembered me. Me? Greeted ME by name, with a hug, and 'so glad you were able to come this year!'
Another glimpse of heaven.
Those heroes we've studied, read about, prayed for from across the world, and weeped over...they will greet us by name. 'So glad to see you!' 'So glad you're here!' As thrilling as it was to have Alton Gansky or Todd Starnes recognize me...imagine having Mother Teresa thank you for that mission trip you took to India. Imagine C.S. Lewis thanking you for the stories you wrote (inspired by his own work) or Billy Graham thanking you for preaching the Word.
All those whose names you know, and even those whose names you've never heard, will squeal with delight and run (fly? float? waft, perhaps?) to greet you...by name!
They are that 'great cloud of witnesses' that surrounds us in Hebrews 12:1.
Like the faculty at Blue Ridge who have reached the 'publication' milestone and are encouraging and cheering on those still reaching for that prize, so the heroes of our faith are calling out to us, praying for us, encouraging us to run the Christian race with perseverance and faith.
And then there was the worship...a room filled with brothers and sisters in Christ whose only common ground was their love for Christ and a desire to share that love with others through the written word. There were believers from all over this country and ones who had lived in many parts of the world. Believers from different ethnic and racial backgrounds and believers from various denominations. When I closed my eyes and listened to the voices raised together singing songs of praise to our God, I could almost see His face smiling at the heavenly sound of hearts fully committed to Him.
Photo by Mary Freeman Denman
I was struck not only by the power of the Holy Spirit in that place, but by the fact that it seemed novel. After all, shouldn't that be what we experience each and every week when we gather with other believers? Believers that we know much better how to pray for, how to minister to, how to share the love of Christ with? Believers we've known for years and seen God at work in their lives?
I've spent some time reflecting on this experience and praying about why it was different. And what I could do about it.
A few differences - lessons to me and I hope to you - came to mind:
1) Preparation: I had prepared for this conference, both practically and prayerfully.
Although I usually have a quiet time and pray each morning - too often on Sunday mornings I sleep in and find myself rushing to find the children's shoes, search for a missing earring, or grab a bite to eat instead of spending time really preparing to worship. Taking the time to set out everyone's clothes for church, set the alarm with time for prayer, and recognize the importance of both physical and spiritual preparation will change your Sunday morning experience.
2) Expectation: I had come to this conference expecting God to show up and to experience his presence there in a powerful way.
It is far too easy to become complacent about our freedom to meet with other believers and worship God. We can easily take for granted the fact that the Holy Spirit is there with us each time we gather together.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THERE WITH US.
THE POWER OF ALMIGHTY GOD IS AT WORK IN THAT PLACE AT THAT TIME.
He is convicting hearts of sin, comforting those suffering, encouraging others to stand firm, calling someone to ministry. Coming to worship with an expectation that God is going to do - this very day - something that only He can do will transform your church.
3) Submission: Through prayer, I had come to a place of laying my efforts on the altar and having peace with whatever God's will might be.
It is so easy for me to come to church with an agenda. I have great ideas for what the church should do about the service, the music, the budget - you name it. But until I have laid all my ideas on the altar before God and asked Him to give me instead His perspective, I'm not ready to worship. Worship isn't a time for pressing my agenda, it's a time for submitting to God's.
I'm so thankful for the glimpse of heaven I had at Blue Ridge, but I'm hungry for more. What if we could experience that same fellowship, communion, and worship each time we gather with other believers? What if we set aside all the petty differences that so easily divide us, and focused instead on the One that unites us? What if we prepared for Sunday morning (and every other gathering of believers) as if we expected God to do something miraculous among us? What if we submitted all our personal preferences, experience, and wisdom, and let God lead us into His presence?
We might all get a glimpse of Heaven.