Longing for Heaven: God’s Gift
There dwells inside you, deep within, a tiny whippoorwill. Listen. You will hear him sing. His aria mourns the dusk. His solo signals the dawn.
It is the song of the whippoorwill. He will not be silent until the sun is seen.
We forget he is there, so easy is he to ignore. Other animals of the heart are larger, noisier, more demanding, more imposing. But none is so constant.
Other creatures of the soul are more quickly fed. More simply satisfied. We feed the lion who growls for power. We stroke the tiger who demands affection. We bridle the stallion who bucks control.
But what do we do with the whippoorwill who yearns for eternity?
For that is his song. That is his task. Out of the gray he sings a golden song. Perched in time he chirps a timeless verse. Peering through pain’s shroud, he sees a painless place. Of that place he sings.
And though we try to ignore him, we cannot. He is us, and his song is ours. Our heart song won’t be silenced until we see the dawn.
“God has planted eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes. 3:10 TLB), says the wise man. But it doesn’t take a wise person to know that people long for more than earth. When we see pain, we yearn. When we see hunger, we question why. Senseless deaths. Endless tears, needless loss. Where do they come from? Where will they lead?
Isn’t there more to life than death?
And so sings the whippoorwill.
We try to quiet this terrible, tiny voice. Like a parent hushing a child, we place a finger over puckered lips and request silence. I’m too busy now to talk. I’m too busy to think. I’m too busy to question.
And so we busy ourselves with the task of staying busy.
But occasionally we hear his song. And occasionally we let the song whisper to us that there is something more. There must be something more.
And as long as we hear the song, we are comforted. As long as we are discontent, we will search. As long as we know there is a far-off country, we will have hope.
The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realize, is to feel ourselves to be home on earth. As long as we are aliens, we cannot forget our true homeland.
Unhappiness on earth cultivates a hunger for heaven. By gracing us with a deep dissatisfaction, God holds our attention. The only tragedy, then, is to be satisfied prematurely. To settle for earth. To be content in a strange land. To intermarry with the Babylonians and forget Jerusalem.
We are not happy here because we are not at home here. We are not happy here because we are not supposed to be happy here. We are “like foreigners and strangers in this world” (1 Peter 2:11).
Take a fish and place him on the beach.2 Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Playfish magazine and martini? Do you wardrobe him in double-breasted fins and people-skinned shoes?
Of course not. Then how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach simply because he was not made for the beach.
And you will never be completely happy on earth simply because you were not made for earth. Oh, you will have your moments of joy. You will catch glimpses of light. You will know moments or even days of peace. But they simply do not compare with the happiness that lies ahead.
Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.3
Rest on this earth is a false rest. Beware of those who urge you to find happiness here; you won’t find it. Guard against the false physicians who promise that joy is only a diet away, a marriage away, a job away, or a transfer away. The prophet denounced people like this, “They tried to heal my people’s serious injuries as if they were small wounds. They said, ‘It’s all right, it’s all right.’ But really, it is not all right” (Jer. 6:14).
And it won’t be all right until we get home.
Again, we have our moments. The newborn on our breast, the bride on our arm, the sunshine on our back. But even those moments are simply slivers of light breaking through heaven’s window. God flirts with us. He tantalizes us. He romances us. Those moments are appetizers for the dish that is to come.
“No one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
What a breathtaking verse! Do you see what it says? Heaven is beyond our imagination. We cannot envision it. At our most creative moment, at our deepest thought, at our highest level, we still cannot fathom eternity.
Try this. Imagine a perfect world. ‘Whatever that means to you, imagine it. Does that mean peace? Then envision absolute tranquility. Does a perfect world imply joy? Then create your highest happiness. Will a perfect world have love? If so, ponder a place where love has no bounds. Whatever heaven means to you, imagine it. Get it firmly fixed in your mind. Delight in it. Dream about it. Long for it.
And then smile as the Father reminds you, No one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.
Anything you imagine is inadequate. Anything anyone imagines is inadequate. No one has come close. No one. Think of all the songs about heaven. All the artists’ portrayals.
All the lessons preached, poems written, and chapters drafted.
When it comes to describing heaven, we are all happy failures. It’s beyond us.
But it’s also within us. The song of the whippoorwill. Let her sing. Let her sing in the dark. Let her sing at the dawn. Let her song remind you that you were not made for this place and that there is a place made just for you.
But until then, be realistic. Lower your expectations of earth. This is not heaven, so don’t expect it to be. There will never be a newscast with no bad news. There will never be a church with no gossip or competition. There will never be a new car, new wife, or new baby who can give you the joy your heart craves. Only God can.
And God will. Be patient. And be listening. Listening for the song of the whippoorwill.