A Man, a Wheelchair, and Overflowing Joy
By Jonathan C. Brentner
He was perhaps the most joyous and Spirit-filled believer I had seen up to that point in my life. Though it was decades ago, I remember the joy that beamed from Paul Lundgren’s face as he sang.
I also recall the sight of Paul, bound to his wheelchair, sitting on the platform at my church. A traffic accident while delivering a piano had left him paralyzed from waist down. This did not deter him, however, from singing and talking about his expectation of walking on streets of gold.
As a high school student who prized involvement in sports (despite a total lack of athleticism), his joyfulness baffled me. He could not do what I enjoyed the most in life and yet I had never seen anyone so jubilant or so in love with Jesus. How could he be so happy?
We find the answer to Paul Lundgren’s joyfulness in his biblical view of an exciting eternity. He allowed the bliss ahead for him to flow back into his current life. He knew he would walk again!
This perspective is so different than today where many believers find it difficult to look beyond the things of this life. I suspect this happens to all of us at times.
We get up, go to work, return home, eat, watch TV, and go to bed. We do a hundred different things throughout our day that focus our attention on this life and soon we forget about eternity.
I am not saying we must concentrate on heaven all day long; we would never get anything done at work or at home. Yet, so often we go about our daily routines with a one-world perspective oblivious to the great joys ahead for us in eternity.
Why the Loss of Excitement?
Why do we lack excitement regarding the return of Jesus or eternity? Why do even seasoned students of prophecy sometimes lose their focus on these things?
I believe this happens for a variety of reasons:
1. Misconceptions: How often have we seen depictions of solitary glorified believers sitting on clouds strumming harps? Others envision heaven as a long unending worship service. With such caricatures of heaven, it’s no wonder believers lose their eagerness for it. Such misconceptions dampen our anticipation and understandably so.
Scripture, however, paints an exciting picture of forever where we will reign with Christ in his millennial kingdom during which time we will enjoy the wonders of a restored creation. Doesn’t that sound a whole lot better than the popular misconceptions of heaven? Just think; after the millennium we will have all eternity to explore the wonders of the new earth as well as the New Jerusalem! Perhaps we will have the opportunity to talk with the apostle John or King David, though the line to do so may be long!
We will never be bored or lonely again.
2. “I’ve heard that before:” Back in the 1960s’ and 1970’s, eschatology became a hot topic. Many churches emphasized the imminent return of Jesus. I remember when Jack Van Impe came to my church to teach on prophecy for an entire week. I felt the excitement of waiting for Jesus’ soon return.
However, decades have passed since then. Believers in large numbers have lost their expectancy of Jesus’ soon return and often respond with “I’ve heard that before” to messages telling them to be ready for it. Having looked for Jesus’ appearing for so very long myself, I fully understand the sentiment that finds it difficult to remain watchful for so long a time.
Yet as we see biblical prophecy coming to life before our eyes at an accelerating pace, if there was ever a time to be watchful, it’s now! An abundance of signs point to the beginning of what we know as the tribulation and hence to Jesus’ return for us, which happens before the onset of this terrible time.
Please don’t let the words, “I’ve heard that before,” take your eyes off the prize! Jesus could come at any time! Now more than ever is the time to be ready for his appearing. This is not the time to ignore Jesus’ command to watch (Matt. 24:42-44) or join with the scoffers in denying the hope of his return (2 Pet. 3:1-4).
3. Silence: Rather than increase their focus on Jesus’ return for us as the day of His return rapidly approaches, most churches remain quiet on the subject. Such silence not only takes the eyes of believers off eternity, but deadens their joyous expectation of his appearing. How can they look forward to something they never hear about in their churches?
We need a renewed focus on what Scripture teaches about the joys ahead for us rather than the lifeless allusions to eternal life we so often hear from our pulpits. These lackluster depictions do little to stir our hearts, relieve our anxieties, or comfort us in the midst of tragedy and sorrow.
Without the exciting biblical vision of the eternal state, it’s difficult to imagine how heaven could be better than iPhones, the latest high definition TV, electronically-equipped cars, comfortable homes, and a host of other items that add enjoyment and ease to our everyday lives. Can heaven really surpass the luxuries and wonders of this life?
Yes, absolutely! But sadly, the boring and misleading depictions of eternity we so often hear do not stand up against the things we enjoy so much in this life.
4. Teaching without a two-world perspective: When churches ignore a biblical two-world perspective, they can unwittingly make things such as happy marriages, good parenting, and wise financial planning the ultimate hope of believers rather than Jesus’ appearing to take them home. Of course, biblically-centered teaching on such matters is critical.
Without a two-world perspective integrated into such instruction, however, these things can easily become the consuming focus of believers. They soon put all their expectations into becoming “better Christians” rather than Jesus’ promises regarding their joyous life in heaven.
The danger comes when believers place all their hopes on temporal outcomes where so many factors, including their sinful choices as well as those of others, negatively impact the results they so earnestly desire. Children rebel; wives leave their husbands and vice versa; finances fall apart. What does one do when he or she does everything “right” and yet their life falls apart? This happens all too often.
The New Testament teaches believers to expect difficult times (James 1:2-3; 1 Pet. 1:6, 4:12-13). Scripture promises us paradise in eternity, not now. We set ourselves up for disappointment if we define anything in this life as our ultimate hope, even if it’s biblical, desirable, and good.
The man in a wheelchair demonstrates that a biblical view of heaven can bring great joy into difficult circumstances. It’s a lesson I needed back in high school and I still need it today as well!
What is your view of eternity? Do you envision a time when you will enjoy the wonders of God’s creation in an imperishable body? Can you imagine a time when there will be not more death, sorrow, mourning, or tears (Rev. 21:4)? Are you looking forward to the New Jerusalem, which will be beautiful beyond anything we can comprehend?