June 11, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — 1 Corinthians 2:9-10; 15:58 (NRSV)
But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
When we imagine that there is a heaven, when we envision the day when God’s justice has rolled down completely, when the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord, when all of our brokenness has been healed, when God’s peace fills the earth, and when the world does indeed “live as one,” to quote John Lennon, we are inspired and compelled to live today in light of the future that permeates our imagination. We will be committed to “livin’ life in peace” today because we look forward to the all-encompassing peace of God’s heavenly future.
This devotion is part of the series, Imagination: Redeemed and Redemptive.
In the fall of 1971, John Lennon released a new single in the United States, featuring his song “Imagine.” It peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, a striking achievement for the singer who had recently left the Beatles. But, in time, “Imagine” only grew in its popularity. It’s estimated that the song has been sold over 21 million times since its release. Moreover, in 2001, a poll by The Observer honored “Imagine” as the greatest single of all time. In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine recognized “Imagine” as the third greatest song of all time. By 2021, Rolling Stone demoted “Imagine” to number 19, still an impressive rank. (In case you’re curious, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” was lauded as the top song.)
From the beginning, “Imagine” has been controversial. It’s not hard to understand why. The song begins:
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky
Imagine all the people
Livin’ for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Livin’ life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Though Lennon’s vision of “all the people livin’ life in peace” is compelling, his imagining that “there’s no heaven” and “no religion too” didn’t exactly excite Christians and others who worship God.
“Imagine” was popular when I was in junior high school. I loved the song even though I was an earnest follower of Jesus. When I sang along with my AM radio, I simply changed the opening line from “Imagine there’s no heaven” to “Imagine there’s a heaven.”
At that time, I didn’t realize how important imagination is when it comes to our understanding and experience of heaven in this age. I was just fixing Lennon’s song so I could sing it. But I have since come to understand that imagination is an essential element of Christian faith, including our beliefs about life beyond this life.
Consider, for example, what we read in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10: “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” According to this passage, God has revealed to us what is prepared for us in the future – namely, heaven or the life of the age to come – even though “no eye has seen” these things. The revelation of the future is something we perceive, not with our physical eyes, but with our imaginations.
Scripture encourages us to do precisely what John Lennon rejects—namely imagining that there is, indeed, a heaven. Now, as I have noted earlier in this series on the redemptive imagination, imagining heaven is not a matter of making it up all by ourselves. Rather, we fill our imaginations with what God has revealed to us about the life of the future.
Critics of Christianity often claim that our belief in heaven detracts from our concern for this world. Lennon thought that the way to world peace and unity requires us to “imagine there’s no heaven.” Sadly, it’s true that some Christians become so “heavenly minded” that “they’re no earthly good,” to quote a familiar cliché. But those who allow their imagination of heaven to weaken their concern for this world miss the point. In 1 Corinthians 15, for example, we have one of the most extended and explicit presentations in Scripture of what will happen to us in the age to come. Yet, after hearing the good news of our future immortality, we read this: “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (15:58). Our convictions about heaven do not weaken our commitment to this earth. On the contrary, they energize our earthly efforts by reassuring us that our “labor is not in vain.”
Thus, when we imagine that there is a heaven, when we envision the day when God’s justice has rolled down completely, when the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord, when all of our brokenness has been healed, when God’s peace fills the earth, and when the world does indeed “live as one,” to quote John Lennon, we are inspired and compelled to live today in light of the future that permeates our imagination. We will be committed to “livin’ life in peace” today because we look forward to the all-encompassing peace of God’s heavenly future.
When you think about heaven, what thoughts come to mind? What images? What feelings?
Does your belief in life after this life help you to live with more meaning and purpose now? If so, why? If not, why not?
Set aside some time to imagine heaven, the life of the age to come.
Gracious God, thank you for the promise of your future. Thank you for the fact that what lies ahead for us is more and better than anything we might imagine. Thank you for revealing to us a bit of what lies ahead, even though we cannot see it with our eyes. Thank you for enlivening our imaginations with the truth of heaven.
As I imagine there is a heaven, Lord, keep me from caring less about this world. Help me, instead, to let the assurance that my labor is not in vain energize me for greater investment in the work of your kingdom. Amen.
Banner image by Frank Mckenna on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Our Work Is Not in Vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.