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  • Writer's pictureAmelia

Look Up, Child

I like to think that I am a present person. At university in Exeter, I was rarely thinking about life in Plymouth, and vice-versa when I came home during the holidays. I don't think this was a bad thing at all, maybe I could have made a little more effort at times with friends who didn't live in Exeter whilst I was there but generally, I think it's a good thing to be focused on life where you are and live in the here and now.


Yet what I've come to realise recently is that this kind of thinking has translated into a similar attitude in terms of my faith. Though my faith in Jesus is very much active, my focus on earthly things has almost entirely eclipsed any attitude of waiting for heaven - living in the present has overcome the need to live in the heavenly future. Whenever heaven is mentioned, my joy over the thought of it is somewhat superficial. It's like when we talk about knowing things in your head and knowing things in your heart - I know in my head that heaven is what awaits me after I die, but it feels so far away from my present reality that my thoughts of it are generally pretty fleeting. I don't think I'm alone either. It's a cliché but a truth that the comforts and freedom we enjoy in the developed world can often draw our eyes away from things above and onto the things below, and I think in many ways, the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated this. Though, of course, we shouldn't entirely ignore the world, it seems that some of us have lost sight of the hope of heaven, and what a joyful thing this should be.


I'm sure I don't have to point out to you that the world we live in is a turbulent place. Even within the last 12 months, the UK has had 3 different prime ministers; Cuba has suffered horrendously at the hands of Hurricane Ian; Ukraine is at war with Russia; we've got an ever-worsening cost of living crisis; and women's rights protesters are being arrested, beaten, and killed in Iran. I will freely admit that looking at all of these things together makes me feel rather hopeless. What will happen next? Is the world about to collapse in on itself and drag me down with it? Will I ever be able to move forward with my own life plans? Will things ever get better? Now, these questions may seem a little dramatic to some of you, but they're issues I often find myself worrying over.


I'm ashamed to say it, but my gaze has been anything but fixed on God for most of the last few months and though life, in general, has been enjoyable, I often find myself slipping into depressive phases whenever I'm forced to stop and consider the state of the world and so contemplative prayer has been something I have mostly avoided to stop myself from feeling that way. On top of that, I've also been looking back at my gap year and uni days in particular and wishing I was back there - partially to relive some of my happiest moments from those times, but also to go back and just make the most of them; make some slightly better financial decisions; be a better witness to my friends; work that bit harder during my BA; develop some healthier habits while I had the time to work on them; the list goes on. The thing is that not only am I feeling nostalgic for those days, but genuinely sad because I miss that stage of life when there was no pandemic to worry about, I had much easier access to travel and much more time to commit to my friends. It's sometimes hard to feel good about my life right now in comparison - though I know I'm blessed to have a job and a great church family and so many other blessings, the fact that I'm very much not where I wanted to be by age 26 often leads me to feel pretty rubbish.


Recently, though, God has really been speaking to me about how I see him in all of this. One of my favourite Christian books is 'Is This It?' by Rachel Jones. Aimed at Christian 20-somethings who are in that stage of questioning where our lives are going and where God is in this, that, and the other, it's a really comforting one in that you feel like you're having both a reassuring and biblically-centred conversation with a good friend who understands you and where you're at. The most recent chapter I read was on nostalgia and regret, and I found it especially thought-provoking given how much I like to reminisce over my travels and my time at university in particular, even more so now that we're living in a post-covid world. I won't go into detail about the whole chapter (I really recommend reading the book if you're in your twenties/early thirties), but given I can't say it better than Rachel does, I will share with you a short extract that really spoke to me:



'However much it might feel to the contrary, the best is not behind you. No - the best is yet to come.

In the book of Revelation at the end of the Bible, we're given a picture of what it will be like for us to come into God's personal presence in peace in heaven. [...] The apostle John sees "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb" (Revelation 7 v 9). This multitude is the people "who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (v 14) - Christians, those who have stayed faithful to Christ in all the muddle and mess and misery of life in this world.

[...]

I don't know what it is that's not working in your life right now - the things which make you want to go back to a happier, easier era. I don't know what you wish you could go back in time to change. But I do know that whatever's behind you if you're a Christian - if you've been washed clean "in the blood of the Lamb" - then this is the future that awaits you on the other side of the grave.


It's a future where you will enjoy being sheltered by God's presence, completely safe and free from fear. A future without any material or physical need. A future that is free from any relational or spiritual sense of longing, because Christ shepherds you to living water that satisfies. A future where the painful memories and fraught "if onlys" all fade as God himself wipes away your tears of regret.


This is a time worth longing for. And it lies ahead of you, not behind.'


I don't know about you but for me, that's such an encouragement. "A time worth longing for" that's even better than what's gone before - better than the best times in my life so far and even if I could go back and make them even greater, it's nothing compared to what's on the way. When we look 'down' and focus on earthly things, that excited longing becomes subdued, sometimes even to the point of disappearing entirely.


 

So how can we actually 'look up'? It's all well and good putting the theoretical side out there and saying "do it", but how does it look in reality?


1. One-on-one time with God

It seems like a given, but it's absolutely the most important thing we should be doing every day. Of course, it's the most vital part of our spiritual lives, but in terms of learning to keep our gaze turned upwards, the more we spend time with God, the more we learn to keep our gaze fixed on him and not what's happening around us. It's a natural progression of that time spent to then develop a more heavenly perspective.


2. Pray for it

It's not a weakness to pray for a perspective that you don't currently have. Matthew 7:11 says “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”, so why not ask? This is a good gift, and it's something God will give you if you ask for it. It may take a lot of time and perseverance, but it's so worth the continued prayer.


3. Remember that a heavenly perspective does not equal naïveté

I think that one of the reasons that we, or at least I have shied away from trying to look up more is because I don't want to come across as one of those people who's irritatingly super spiritual, seemingly without any awareness of our physical reality on earth. None of us wants to be that person, but the thing is we don't have to be. All of this is about seeing the world clearly, and then seeing God even clearer. We don't have to stop being realistic about our circumstances on earth, we just have to also see the fact that those circumstances aren't permanent - heaven is.


4. Use it as a fuel for evangelism

This isn't just something we want to keep to ourselves. The heavenly perspective is not just about our own ability to feel better within a chaotic world, it's intrinsically tied to salvation. Without the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we wouldn't have this hope at all, and it's our God-given responsibility to share it.


 

This is by no means something I'm good at, it's a daily struggle for me to stay aware of the temporary nature of this life because it's still very much happening. However, my hope is that this post is of some use to you - it's certainly helped me at least to process and pray about it while I write. Every blessing, friends.

 

Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or if you'd like to guest-write for The Classicist with an Atlas then I'd love to hear from you - you can get in touch via the form on the Contact page or on Instagram @theclassicistwithanatlas.


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