What do you do when you long for something? What does that look like? This idea struck me anew on my way back from a recent mission trip to Ethiopia. During the flight back to the United States, my heart was filled with a deep, intense desire to see my family after being out of the country for ten days. The second my feet hit American soil I made a beeline to embrace Anna, my wife, and the kids. This became clear to me: Longing is not a weak emotion. Longing moves you to run toward the object of your affection.
Longing for Christ is longing for heaven
As Christians, we long for Christ. This means that we design our lives around the single, earnest pursuit of him. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Our lives are not about seeking “all these things,” but Christ.
This is the same note the author of Hebrews strikes. He says that one of the ways we “run with endurance the race set before us” is by “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2). The best runners in a race are not looking to their left or right or backwards, but always forward to the goal in front of them. And in the race of faith that is our lives, we fix our eyes on Jesus. He is the longing of our hearts; he is the goal of our salvation.
Jesus is what makes heaven worth attaining. In comforting his fearful disciples, Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). At the heart of the glory of heaven is our unhindered, uninterrupted fellowship with Christ. This is how the Apostle Paul reasoned when he considered his potential death: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). Death was gain for Paul because it meant more of Jesus, the very hope of heaven.
Training our people to desire God
Preachers have a tremendous opportunity to help steer hearts heavenward through Spirit-empowered expositional preaching. Their job is to encourage church members to long for heaven through their preaching ministries. This is of vital importance given the powerful role the pulpit plays in the life of the local church.
Helping our people long for heaven through our preaching requires preachers who long for heaven. In other words, a preacher’s preaching must be marked by the aroma of eternal realities. Is the fragrance of Christ in the air as we preach?
It will be if, as preachers, we are governed by the text of Scripture. The Bible is first and foremost revelation of God — his character, conduct, and purposes. The Bible, after all, is about a kingdom not of this world. And it is our responsibility as preachers to bring our people into God’s world every Sunday.
Tragically, many preachers today need to hear the rebuke Jesus gave to Peter in Mark 8:33, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Most of us have heard the phrase, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.” Well, Peter was so earthly minded that he was in danger of missing heaven.
When a church doesn’t long for heaven, it is probably the preacher’s fault. The notes sounding forth from the pulpit are too often the pop songs of the world, not the symphonies of God’s glory. If our preachers aren’t enamored with heaven, why would our churches be? If our preachers aren’t longing for Christ, why would our people be captivated by the glories to come?
Preachers must be men who live and preach in the tension of heaven and hell because we know people are ultimately either children of God or children of the devil — forgiven or condemned, saved or unsaved. Moreover, the Christian preacher believes all history is moving toward God’s appointed end: the day of Christ (cf. Rom 2:16, 1 Cor 1:8, Phil 1:6, 2:16).
Do not shrink back from declaring the reality of hell nor assume the riches of heaven. We must strive to make these realities as concrete in our people’s thinking and feeling as the Bible makes them. These great truths animate our preaching and move us to proclaim eternal realities.
As Christians, we long for Christ and our heavenly home. Part of the glory of the local church is the power of corporate longing — dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people gathered together determined to go Godward in their affections. The pulpit plays an indispensable role in building these kinds of churches. Therefore, may God be pleased to raise up an army of preachers who “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb 11:16).