“Is it true that what we will be doing for eternity is worshiping God?” he asked. “Well,” I said, “that seems to be what the Bible teaches,” briefly referring to Revelation 4-5. “Hmm,” he said, “that sounds boring to me.”
That conversation happened 11-plus years ago and still echoes loudly in my soul. I was thrilled he was thinking about heaven. But he revealed more than personal contemplations about the afterlife. In fact, he was really saying more about the church than his own doctrine of heaven. His was not an uncommon sentiment.
He was right however to see the inviolable and mysterious connection between the two ages. Our frame of reference for heavenly worship is and should be the church’s earthly worship. This brother assumed if he had to spend eternity doing/experiencing what he did each Sunday morning then he would be eternally bored.
He was on to something. If we view Revelation 4-5 through the lens of our typical congregational worship it leaves little to be desired. In comparison, our jobs seem exciting, vacations refreshing, Little League fulfilling, and gadgets enthusing. The church’s worship? Yawn. Seeing Grandma again excites us, but singing to Jesus everyday? Where’s the remote?
Do we leave the church’s public worship longing for the Christ-filled heaven or the office, first tee, backyard or TV? Does congregational worship leave an aftertaste of Revelation 4-5 in our mouths or an aftertaste of cough syrup (helpful, but not delightful)?
It might help to take our worship “cues” from John’s vision so we’re not confused when we get there. Do we love singing and praying together as a church? Is the crescendo of our week the Lord’s Supper with the church? After all, we do worship the same precious Jesus as the heavenly saints (Heb 12.22-24).
This does not assume congregational worship need be loud, fast-paced, heart-racing, visually stimulating, knee-slapping, comedic or “exciting” to mirror heaven. It need not be unnecessarily somber or lamentable, either (though we could use more of that these days). It just need be, well, Christian. Everything should be dripping with God’s grace as we apply the gospel to the full spectrum of the Christian life.
The Christian life is not always exciting. Nor is it always somber. It is always Christ and we want to help one another to him. God is just as, if not more in this life, glorified when we cry with brothers and sisters in prayerful silence as in applause and shouting. We are exiles on a painful and joyful journey home.
The New Testament lends itself to simple elements (prayer, reading, singing, preaching, sacraments). And God displays his power and salvation through those elements so as to fit his children for heaven. Through them God increases our appetite for Jesus and then whets that appetite for more. We must be extremely careful of worshiping worship but there is no heaven without worshiping Christ.
A.T. Pierson preached at Metropolitan Tabernacle one week after Charles Spurgeon’s death (January 31, 1892). That congregation had known the likes of Benjamin Keach, John Gill and John Rippon as pastors. And now their pastor of 38 years had been with Jesus a mere week. Pierson preached from Revelation 4.1 and said:
“The central object, and the central glory in the vision of heaven, is God; and if we have not learned to think of heaven as, first of all, not the place where our departed friends, however dear, are gathered, but, first of all, as the place where God dwells, we lack the fundamental conception of heaven. The first thing that John saw, and the first thing to be seen, was the throne of God. The light and glory of that divine presence makes every star grow dim, and fills the whole horizon of heaven and the whole vision of the redeemed” (From the Pulpit to the Palm Branch: 77).
“Let us stop to consider a moment, that, if you do not love worship, you never can enter heaven. If you do not love worship, you are unfitted for the main activity and ecstasy of heaven, which is endless ascription of glory and praise to God and the Lamb!” (p81)
Heaven is indeed the “endless ascription of glory and praise to God and the Lamb” (Rev 5.11-14). We need help preparing for that reality. We need hope preparing for that reality. We don’t want any part of heaven to be unfamiliar. Rather, when we see “Him who sits on the throne” we will joyfully say, “We were made for this.”