“And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the lamb.”
The world and all who inhabit it are waiting for the earth to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. They are waiting for heaven on earth. As I have pointed out a few times throughout this book, our thinking shifts dramatically when we understand that heaven is not simply a future reality, but an eternal one, which includes the present. It is the eternal reality upon which Paul instructed us to “set [our] minds,” or in the King James Version, “set [our] affection” (Col. 3:2). We are to train our desires to love and long for that superior reality, for our desire is the fuel that drives us to become the “violent” ones who “take [the kingdom of heaven] by force” and bring it to earth (Matt. 11:12).
Training our minds and affections on heaven involves training our imaginations. This is no easy task, for technically it is beyond our conception, as life outside the womb is beyond the conception of a fetus. As Scripture says, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be” (1 John 3:2). To begin to imagine how unimaginable heaven is just try explaining to a caveman the wonders of modern transport or even to Ansel Adams the world of digital photography. I myself have found religious teaching that takes the Bible’s descriptions literally and paints heaven as a cathedral in the sky less than inviting. But in studying the nature of glory, my imagination has been freed. As I have looked back at the Bible’s descriptions of heaven, knowing that all I’ve learned of glory derives from that reality, these accounts have opened up to me in a new way.
For example, John’s visions describe heaven as a city made of crystal, gold, and precious stones (see Revelation 4; 21). This image finally made sense when I learned about the reflective nature of glory, for all of those materials either reflect (crystal and gold) or refract (precious stones). This is a beautiful image of the principle we saw in the last chapter, that everything in the universe, particularly the human race made in His image, is made to reflect God. Refraction is multiplied reflection, another aspect seen in all of creation but especially in the human race, for we were commanded to multiply and fill the earth with the glorious image of God.
When the images of gold, jewels and crystal made sense to me, then the meaning of another image also became clear. The picture of the four living creatures covered in eyes around the throne crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” (see Revelation 4:8) used to strike me as mindless repetition. But then I began to imagine what it would mean for all the glorious things I have begun to describe in this book to exist in a realm where everything is designed to reflect and refract that glory, endlessly magnifying and multiplying all that we only have the barest glimpse of here—the love, relationships, goodness, joy, beauty, creativity and wisdom. Every nanosecond, there is a fresh unveiling of glory. No wonder the cry is “Holy, Holy, Holy!” Those watching will surely gasp and bow as another scene is unveiled. It is also no wonder that the living creatures have eyes everywhere. They will need them to glimpse all that is being unfurled, both without and within.
Probably the most powerful image of heaven is the image of the wedding feast, the great family reunion at the restoration of all things. This image is significant because, now that I see the glory in the best of what I have tasted here on earth, I know it can only be a hint of what we will experience in heaven. It was a family reunion that prompted the happiest two words I had ever heard in my home, the words my son Luke shouted at the top of his voice at 6:30 one Saturday morning in May, 2005: “NO WAY!!” (I say “had heard” because our daughter-in-law Amy may have stolen the happiest words award when she announced that she was pregnant.)
In order to put these exuberant words in context, I must go back and tell the story that led up to them, the story that began four years earlier, when Sue, Luke, and I left England and our eldest son James just four days after September 11, 2001. We were due to fly on Thursday, September 13, but the attack on the World Trade Center caused all flights to be cancelled. We were reissued tickets for three weeks later. We had our visas to live in America for a year, had sold our house, and I had left my work as a prison governor (warden) on a five-year career break. We were ready and wanting to go, though we were also conscious that others had more urgent and compassionate reasons to be on the first planes to leave for America. Despite that, Sue was relentless in contacting the airline to get the most up-to-date information on an almost hour-by-hour basis. On September 15th, she was informed that a window in the closed skies between London and San Francisco had opened. Without the notice that our original plans had allowed, we bundled into my son’s car and hurriedly left for Heathrow Airport, not knowing if we would get on a plane that day or spend days camped out at the airport. To this day, we do not know how we managed to say goodbye to James at the side of the road at Heathrow, or how he had the courage to pursue his future while his parents and brother followed a call to go to America. (Thank you so much, James, for your sacrifice in letting us go, and more than that, for your constant encouragement.) It was truthfully an experience of God’s empowering presence, which has for a long time been my favorite description of God’s grace. Miraculously, we did get on the only plane that flew from Heathrow to San Francisco that day, and so began our new life in the United States of America.
Since then, we have learned to live several thousand miles away from our eldest son, and now away from his wife and our first grandson. We have learned to use and be daily grateful for the modern-day miracle of email and instant messaging, and for this reminder that we only live apart, and have not lost our son, as some of our dear friends have. Nonetheless, there is an absence in our home, a separation that reminds us of the price of pursuing God’s call. I myself made my first commitment to that call when I was aged 18, in the words of Dr. David Livingstone:
Send me anywhere Lord,
Only go with me
Lay any burden upon me
Only sustain me
Sever any tie that binds
Save that which binds my heart
To thyself and thy gospel.
Little did I know how fully I would live out that prayer. But I do know fully that God has kept His part of the prayer.
James visited us many times in Redding after we moved there, but in May 2005 I had the opportunity of arranging a surprise visit. It was great fun to plan this with him and to talk to him on the phone as he sat in a plane at Heathrow telling his mother he was going to visit London during his school vacation. With complex subterfuge, I brought Sue to meet James at the Sacramento airport, where she had a wonderful surprise reunion. But far more fun was the reunion with his brother Luke. That night, Luke was at a “sobergrad” party as the guest of a graduate, which I had not planned. This meant that he spent the whole night out and returned home early in the morning. At 6:30 a.m., we heard the garage door open and a tired young man stagger into his bedroom, only to be greeted by his brother, who had slept in his bed. The joy was evident for us—and perhaps the neighbors! It was a moment of absolute joy as Luke shouted, “NO WAY!”
This event made me aware of how God the Father has planned for all eternity to bring His family back together. If I, as a sinful earthly father, would delight in preparing such a reunion, how much more does our heavenly Father? It is easy to read the story of the Fall as the story of Adam and Eve losing relationship with God in the Garden. But God’s pursuit of Adam shows us that God lost something when man first sinned. If we can begin to understand what God lost then we can begin to understand the lengths to which He has gone to restore His family, actions that culminated in the sending of and sacrificial separation from His Son Jesus.In His great prayer in John 17, Jesus makes it clear that He was in heaven with His Father before the world was created. For me, this evokes an image of God the Father having to say goodbye to His Son. In some way, the repeated experience I have had saying goodbye to James at San Francisco Airport has given me a minute glimpse of what He must have felt being separated from Christ at the cross: “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). But the answer to this cry is that God wants His kids back. He knew that the separation was worth the price to create a great heavenly reunion, a wedding celebration for His Son. And heaven is designed for this glorious reunion. We will forever cry “Holy, Holy, Holy!”—or perhaps, “NO WAY!”
Students of Glory
When we allow our imaginations to wander through these heavenly pictures, it is easy to wonder if we are merely indulging in fantasies and daydreams. The truth is that training our imaginations and desires to see and long for heaven is one of the most practical things we can do, for the reality our hearts’ affections are attached to is the reality we will create around us. As C. S. Lewis stated in Mere Christianity:
…a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.[i]
This book represents my journey to “occupy my mind with heaven” and anchor my heart in the reality and nature of glory so that I can be effective in this life and in eternity. Significantly, this was not a journey I initiated. The subject of glory was not my idea. It happened to me, pursued me, and before I knew it, I found myself on a great adventure. Clues enticed me and demanded answers, and people encouraged my studies with their own stories and revelations.
My favorite moment in writing this book was the morning that I sat and read all of Moses’ trips up and down the mountain. In my investigative style, I drew a chart of the trips. I had always thought that it was being in the physical presence of God that made Moses’ face shine. Imagine my delight as I saw that it was when he was hidden in the cleft of a rock and heard God describe how good He was. Then I read on to Moses’ fourth trip when he blessed those who would enter the Promised Land. I had always felt sorry for Moses. After all his boldness, faith and commitment, one act of disobedience kept him from his destination. Yet he stood courageously and passed the baton of revival to the next generation, declaring that they would go further and have greater victories than he had. And then I saw for the first time (I am sure many others have seen this) that Moses did make it to the Promised Land. On the Mount of Transfiguration, he joined Elijah in representing the Old Testament and met with Jesus, who would fulfill what they began and establish the New Covenant. That was his fifth trip up the mountain. For those who study numbers and their meaning, five often means grace. And that is exactly what that trip was—an act of grace by God. Moses was privileged not only to make it to the Promised Land, but also to experience one of the pinnacle moments (literally) of the New Testament. He got to see Christ glorified, the ultimate answer to his audacious request! This is such a great encouragement to all of us, especially those who perhaps have felt that they have gone around the mountain too many times. God is fully committed to finishing the glorious work He has begun in each one of us, to fulfill what He has put in our hearts and make it a blessing to the generations behind and before us, no matter how long it takes.
Recently, a man prayed for me. In his prayer, he used the word “resign,” but he changed the intonation and it became “re-sign.” As he prayed it prophetically over me—one cancer survivor praying for another—I realized how powerful that word is when pronounced in this way. All of us have an invitation—not to resign or give up, but rather to re-sign, to re-enroll as students and seekers of glory in every circumstance, no matter how difficult or discouraging. There really always is more. My mother is a great example of this attitude for me. Today, at 87 years of age, she is a hospital chaplain and chairwoman of a Prison Fellowship that visits and ministers in a high security women’s prison in England. She has had more opportunities than most to resign. She lost her mother to tuberculosis at age 4, served in the land army during the Second World War, and saw her husband die of cancer after only 21 years of marriage. But she has never resigned. In every season and every challenge, she has taken it as an opportunity to re-sign and pursue glory.
Moses’ journey on earth took him from glory to glory, and that journey did not stop when he died, but continued into eternity. I myself have purposed to follow Moses and enroll myself as a life-long student of glory—until I graduate to the master’s program and then it will be nothing but glory! But as my own passion and interest in glory has grown, so has my passion to draw others into the journey with me, for glory is made to be shared. I am convinced by the words of Lewis in his conclusion to “The Weight of Glory”:
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.[ii]
“There are no ordinary people.” We are all called to an eternal journey that will takes us from glory to glory and ultimately to the great cloud of witnesses, where we will watch as those that follow us continue and complete the work of revealing the fullness of God’s glory in the earth, culminating in the most glorious wedding and family reunion, which will last for eternity. It is our glory as members of the royal family in every generation to prepare for these events by searching out the matters God has hidden for us and helping one another become the “everlasting splendours” we were made to be. What else is waiting to be discovered? What is waiting to be created? What journeys, begun by our forefathers, are crying out to be completed? If this book has left you asking these kinds of questions, if I have in any way convinced you to enroll in the same program as a student of glory, then it will have fulfilled its purpose.