In one of my favorite scenes in The Return of the King, Gandalf and Pippin are defending Minas Tirith. The battle rages all around them. In a stolen moment of calm before the next onslaught of the enemy—with the thudding of a monstrous troll breaking down the door in the background—Pippin says, “I didn’t think it would end this way.”

There’s a deep peace and a quiet calm in Gandalf’s answer: “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… one that we all must take.” You can almost see Gandalf fixing his gaze on another reality. “The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back… and all turns to silver glass. And then you see it.”

“What, Gandalf?” Pippin replies, “See what?”

Gandalf measures his words carefully: “White shores… and beyond. A far green country… under a swift sunrise.”

“Well…,” says Pippin, “that isn’t so bad.”

“No,” Gandalf says with a warm smile. “No, it isn’t.”

In a few carefully chosen words, Gandalf paints a picture of what awaits when our journey in this life comes to an end. His words instill a profound hope to face whatever comes. The circumstances haven’t changed. The battle still rages. Death still seems inevitable. But there’s an unshakeable hope.

What is your picture of heaven like?

Distress, Hope, and Your Inheritance

This world is broken. Life is messy.  Sin is everywhere.  Injustice abounds.  Tragedy lurks.  We hurt.

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When you’re distressed, perplexed, confused, on the brink of total despair, and taken to your knees, what do you cling to?

Dwelling on a clear, vivid picture of heaven anchors the heart of a believer in the mess of life.  The hope of heaven is something we can cling to even as Jesus takes us through the valley of the shadow of death.

There’s a tension in the Christian life. There’s distress — and hope. There’s affliction — and belief. There’s pain — and joy. There’s brokenness — and faith. Our hope doesn’t dismiss our trials; it embraces them. Our trials are real, but there’s something more real.

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An inheritance can really change your perspective. Imagine you had a loan of $15,000. But then imagine that your grandfather was on his deathbed, and his will named you as the sole benefactor of his $5 million estate. Would you still be concerned about that loan? Of course not. Why? Because you have an inheritance.

Your heavenly inheritance is so much better than that hypothetical inheritance left by your imaginary grandfather. Fixing our hearts on the reality of our inheritance anchors our souls as we face distress, grief, hardship, pain, and loss.

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Heaven in our Hearts

What is your picture of heaven?

Let’s use our sanctified imaginations for just a moment to paint a picture of heaven we can cling to when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. This picture of heaven should be so clear that even when we face the deepest grief, an unimaginable injustice, or overwhelming pain, we can cling to this picture, and it can sustain us and give us hope.

A clear picture of heaven can give you a hope that is ultimately unshakeable because you know how the story ends. You know the final destination. You know what is waiting for you on the other side.

I think God puts certain memories in our hearts — those pieces of our story that whisper to us of love, beauty, warmth, home, adventure — so we have something tangible and personal to attach to our hope of heaven. Our fondest memories and our most powerful longings serve as signs that gently call to our hearts that there is a deeper reality to come.

Perhaps we could say that God has put eternity in our hearts in part through these overwhelmingly powerful, indescribably good memories that leave us longing for something more than we can ever find on this earth.

The Way Forward

So, close your eyes and let’s paint a picture of heaven using the memories and longings God has put in our hearts.

Picture the most beautiful place you’ve ever been…

Now add the most amazing sunset that you have ever seen…

Remember your fondest memories of home…

Think about the deepest connection you’ve ever had with another human being…

Feel the thrill of the greatest adventure in your life…

Imagine the satisfaction you feel when you’re favorite story comes to an end…

Now wipe away every tear.

Redeem all that was broken.

Heal every hurt.

Give back all that was taken away.

Right every wrong.

And remove death for all time.

Can you see it?

Now you’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what awaits in the new heavens and the new earth.

May that picture of heaven be a deeper reality that gives you hope even as Jesus takes you through the valley of the shadow of death.

Question: What is your picture of heaven like?

This article is based on a chapel message he gave on campus in the fall of 2010 — it can be downloaded by clicking a link at www.rts.edu/jackson/faculty/bio.aspx?id=359.