Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Eyes of the Heart part 2

Continuing on in chapter 8 of The Slumber of Christianity author Ted Dekker moves from talking about the need for us to use our imagination when it comes to thinking about heaven to how we can use our imaginations to set in us a desire for heaven. He writes:
“There are several practical ways to set your mind on the things of heaven so that the eyes of your heart might be opened to understanding how rich the bliss of that inheritance really is. I will address three: meditations, readings, and corporate exercises.” (pp. 142-43)

Part of the problem is that we haven’t given our imaginations the feed they need to develop a desirous picture of heaven. A new Ford truck or a vacation to the mountains or getting married (at least for me) are more real and desirable than heaven is.
“We are stale in the practice of informing our imaginations about heaven that reaching beyond ourselves requires a whole new way of thinking. Paul didn’t tell us to occasionally glance at the things of heaven. He urged us to set our minds on the things above.” (p. 143)

This requires us to be intentional about what we put into our minds and what we think about. We can’t hope to put any old thing into our minds and still expect to desire heaven.
“But in the end, setting one’s mind on heaven is a purposeful exercise demanding use of the imagination. Find a quiet place, close your eyes to minimize distraction, and think about the most incredible experience you can imagine regarding Christ in heaven. Meditate on heaven.” (p. 143)

In order for us to meditate on heaven we have to have an idea to meditate on. Meditation on its own won’t give us a desire of heaven, we need to proper fuel to fan the flames into a blazing fire.
“The problem with most Christians’ visions of heaven is that they are terribly vague. ‘Where there is no vision, my people perish’ could be easily translated ‘Where there is no clear vision, my people perish.’

“So make your vision clear. Think of specifics. Images from the Word of God. From stories you’ve heard or read.” (p. 145)

From meditation Dekker moves on to readings. Reading, by its very nature, activates the imagination. It doesn’t matter if it is fiction or non-fiction, but what matters is putting words and ideas into our minds that give way to images.
“Consider heaven in all that you read between Genesis and Revelation, because in one form or another every book in the Bible points not only to the Cross, but beyond it to the joy for which it was suffered.” (p. 146)

If we are going to create an accurate picture of heaven, rather than just our own made up fantasy, the Bible has to be our primary source of reading. Everything else must be filtered through it.
“Let me suggest you use you God-given imagination to develop you own analogy of heaven’s bliss. Feed your imagination with the analogies presented in the Word of God and deliberately connect with those images that quicken desire within your heart.

“If were were created to obsess, then we must feed our obsession with heaven, knowing that if we feed those obsessions, they will grow until we, too, can agree with Paul that dying to be with Christ is better by far.” (p. 147)

We need to find literature that will feed our imaginations and produce in our hearts a desire for heaven. Read the Bible, read fiction, read biographies, and read non-fiction. Meditate on the images they provide that stir a desire in your heart for heaven.
“I say set your mind on heaven. Liberate your imaginations and connect with God, who has given you an imagination to be frequently used.” (p. 156)

Meditation and readings are important in developing our imaginations to set our hearts towards heaven. A third activity Dekker points out that is useful is corporate exercise. Those things that we do as a church family, as a small group, as friends, and family that can give a foretaste of what heaven will be like.
“Music has a way of focusing our thoughts and emotions. It could be said that music is a form of raw imagination, and it is time the musicians among us flooded the airwaves and the church services with songs of hope directed toward the bliss that awaits.” (p. 156)

Songs play an important part in our lives and in what we do as church families. Music has a way of directing our thoughts and emotions to think about things we don’t normally thinking about, especially in an emotional way.
“With some noted exceptions, heaven is now a passing reference in the few songs that do mention it. There is certainly no general obsession with heaven in our worship. If you’re a writer, write songs that draw the people into a fascination for all that awaits us. The rest of us singers should sing songs that quicken our passion for heaven.” (p. 157)

Music is not the only corporate activity that we experience. There are a couple of traditions, handed down by Jesus Himself, that should be used to remind us of heaven. One of those traditions is communion (on a personal note, I think it is sad that we have such a lack of understanding about communion an the powerful part it should play in our lives).
“The early church did not sip from tiny plastic cups in a moment of silence. The threw banquets, because the death of Christ pointed them to the great wedding banquet in the next life. The feasts even got out of hand on occasion, and Paul had to correct the Christians for drinking too much wine at these celebrations (1 Cor. 11:21).” (p.157)

Aside from the fact that I think Dekker misrepresents what was happening in Corinth I still think he makes a valid point. We have watered down communion so it fits nicely in our order of service, but in many ways we have robbed it of its true significance. I would like to see us celebrate communion at fellowship dinner, at Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter dinner, or when a few followers of Jesus get together to celebrate life. Take a time during the midst of the laughter, the jokes, the story telling and celebrate why these times can be so joyful and what they ultimately point us to. Something to think about.

What other activities can we do together that can center our minds and hearts on heaven? What about baptism? What about serving the community? What about weddings? What about funerals? Think about it.

If we are going to desire heaven it is will be because we engage our imaginations and not because God has given us a tangible sign. Imagination, especially when applied to heaven, is an act of faith.
“But that’s precisely the point, isn’t it? Our vision of heaven is weak because the faculties God gave us to engage his reward are unpracticed and have slipped into slumber. Many want something physical that requires no faith. Heaven in a bottle or in a pill. But we find the heaven God has given us primarily in our hearts and minds.” (p. 159)

Faith is what moves things from our imaginations into that real part of our lives. Faith makes God real, and faith makes heaven a reality to look forward to.
“We experience God primarily through our imagination. We know God through our faith.

“This is primarily a philosophical question that could lead us on a lengthy discourse of what it means to know something, a discussion we don’t have the space for here. But I think it’s helpful to focus on the fact that our primary interaction (experience) with God occurs beyond our five sense that we typically use to engage in our world—touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing.” (p. 161)

If we are going to know God and desire heaven it is going to happen outside our five senses. By using our imaginations we begin to allow that desire for what seems so far off and unreal now to grow in our hearts. Wake up and engage your imaginations.

Find the other chapters:
Chapter 1: The Death of our Dreams
Chapter 2: The Search for Pleasure
Chapter 3: Foundations
Chapter 4: Give Me Pleasure or Give Me Death
Chapter 5: The Slippery Slope to Slumber
Chapter 6: In Living We Die; In Dying We Live
Chapter 7: Created to Obsess
Chapter 8: The Eyes of the Heart part 1

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