Philippians 1:21-26(NASB): 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.
In this passage from Philippians, we find Paul longing for heaven but knowing in his heart that he still had more of God’s work to carry out on this earth. Paul is looking forward to that day when his body will be made new and glorious and he will be in the presence of God. But for now, Paul is convinced that God still has plenty for him to do on this earth: “I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.”
As I grow older, I often just get quiet before God and wonder what heaven will be like. I guess I owe that to my grandfather who would many times wonder out loud about heaven. We would often sit on his front porch and we would talk about heaven and what we imagined heaven to be like. For my grandfather, he longed to see many of his family who had gone on before him and he would describe to me what he thought that reunion would be like. But more importantly, he longed to be at home with the Lord and in the presence of God.
My grandfather would describe to me what he thought heaven might look like and the beauty that he described remains with me to this day. However, he would always caution me that, while it’s natural to imagine what heaven will be like, God expects us to continue on with the work he has given us on this earth, until the time comes when he calls us home. Paul is at this very place in his ministry, longing to be with Christ, but realizing that he still has plenty of work to do on this earth. Paul calls this “fruitful labor.”
I was thinking about my grandfather the other day and our many conversations about heaven. Those frequent talks have remained with me throughout my life and have given me hope during difficult times. One of my fondest memories is of me playing hymns on the piano and my grandfather singing along. One of his favorite hymns was, “Shall we gather at the river.” To this day, I can hear him singing along as I played this old hymn. After singing this hymn, he would often talk about his image of that beautiful river that flowed by the throne of God. I am so grateful that God put this man in my life in order to teach me about God and how to live a life that exists only to glorify God in all things.
God expects his followers to be “fruitful” in our labors for his kingdom. We must continue to be the hands and feet of Christ to a lost and dying world. But we also need to take a little time to just close our eyes and imagine what our eternal reward will be like; we need to take the time to imagine the beauty of heaven. It is moments like these that give us hope and encouragement to continue on in this world, until that day when we shall “gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.”