Your eternal destiny is not cosmic retirement; it is to be part of a tremendously creative project, under unimaginably splendid leadership, on an inconceivably vast scale, with ever-increasing cycles of fruitfulness and enjoyment -- that is the prophetic vision which 'eye has not seen and ear has not heard'" Dallas Willard as quoted by John Ortberg in Soul Keeping
I just love Dallas Willard! He has such a rich, expansive view of faith and infuses such meaning into every circumstance of life. In the above quote he is laying out a vision of an active, engaged heaven with challenges to overcome, victories to be won and celebrated and an ever-increasing enjoyment and satisfaction of involvement for the believer. Eternity is a such a busy, busy place, with lots to do!
In his book, Divine Conspiracy, he makes the argument that modern Christianity has gutted the significance of daily life, in preparing us for that kind of heavenly reality, by preaching a "you got it, you'll get it" (my phrase) salvation. He explains that we have reduced faith to two separate though connected experiences with a huge gap in between.
The first experience is that I get saved and as a consequence escape all of the nasty consequences of sin. I get my fire insurance policy, I'm not going to hell and all is good with God. The other side of the coin is that since I have been saved, then I can look forward to getting all the goodies of heaven in the future. (I know this is greatly simplified and there are all kinds of variations on the theme, but this is currently a hugely popular presentation of the gospel.)
What is missing, Willard says, is are all the years in between. Since those two events are irrevocable and without qualification (in current theology), the time between them really has little or no practical significance. We are just biding our time until the good times roll. We are encouraged to be a 'good testimony,' preach the gospel and live 'godly' lives. But the further we go along, we slowly begin to understand that if 'A' (getting saved) is always going to lead to 'B' (getting the goodies), then there really isn't a lot at stake here.
And since the vast majority of ministry is done by the few professionals on the stage, there is less and less attention given to 'preparing the saints for the work of ministry' and consequently we become more and more disinterested in and disengaged from spiritual things. I think this is one of the reasons more and more people are leaving the church -- they just don't see the significance, apart from the brief social encounter each week.
But what if we looked at heaven, at eternity, as Dallas did. How would that change our perspective?
In a rather interesting bit of irony, if eternity is not our 'cosmic retirement', than these are not our 'working years'! This is not the time when we are to be working hard to secure some good thing for the future. The future has already been promised us -- and it is far beyond what tongue can tell! Understanding that this is not the time to be 'working to get,' removes the necessity and pressure for a works-based busyness as the necessary precursor to receiving a 'full salvation.' We must understand and embrace the fact that grace has already secured the fullest salvation for us. We will never be able to do enough to earn that. But isn't that teaching part of what Dallas is concerned about? Isn't this just a little confusing?
Let's take it as true that heaven is secured irrevocably for us and we are not here to work hard so we can retire there. Then, what in the world are we here for?
These are to be our learning and forming years! This is the time when God gets us ready for what is to come. We are in essence growing up, going to school, doing our internship, learning to live responsibly, etc. Now is the time we learning to live out of who God says we are and intentionally allowing his full formation in our lives. In an interesting reversal of most theology, we are learning and preparing now to work then!
But to be fully prepared to enter the cosmic workforce, we need to give attention to what God is doing in us and through us and allow his perfect and perfecting work. In other words, we need to be fully engaged with God now to be ready to be full participants then!
Willard's vision is of heaven as a busy and eventful place, and now is the time we are being prepared to enter into the fullness of that heavenly sphere. Now is the time we are learning to be creative, responsive, mature and fruitful. We are learning to be led, but also to lead and live out of our giftedness and capability. We are learning to embrace the tension and possibilities of 'faith-only' opportunities and challenges. We are learning to employ and perfect our individual gifts and talents, while learning to work collaboratively with others. We are learning to work hard, love intensely and care for others without regard to our personal benefit. We are being perfected in faith, in love, in life and in holiness by living vitally for and through Christ in the moment.
Or at least we should be...
But we can't be learning these things if we adopt a careless and casual "I got it, I'll get it" attitude toward faith. Or if we have a limited, 'Club Med' view of eternity.
Fact is, if we are going to be ready to step seamlessly and comfortably into the active, tremendously creative project that is co-laboring with God and one another throughout eternity, we need to wake up, embrace the opportunity and give attention to the eternal significance of 'this moment, this day.'
Now the God of peace, who brought back from the dead that great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, by the blood of the everlasting agreement, equip you thoroughly for the doing of his will! May he effect in you everything that pleases him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Hebrews 13:20-21 J.B. Phillips New Testament