World-renowned veteran evangelist Billy Graham looks forward to heaven, in this exclusive extract from his new book ‘The Journey’.
Try as we might, we can’t turn back the clock or stop the relentless march of time. Years ago I never dreamed I would live well into my late 80s, but life has a way of surprising us, and none of us can predict how long our journey will last. My wife, Ruth, and I talk about it frequently, knowing that some day soon our journey through this life will be over and we will embark on another journey – one that will last forever.Our Final Destination
One of the Bible’s greatest truths is that [itals] we were not meant for this world alone. [end itals] Death is not the end of life; it is only the gateway to eternity. We were meant to live forever, and death is only a transition from this life to the next. The question isn’t whether or not there is life after death. The only question is where we will spend eternity - either with God in that place of endless joy the Bible calls heaven, or apart from Him in that place of endless despair the Bible calls hell.
Why isn’t death the end as it appears to be? Job lamented, ‘Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure... Man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more’ (Job 14:1-2, 10). Yet Job knew this isn’t the whole story. Someday this life will end, but for the Christian death also marks a beginning - the beginning of a new life with God that will last forever. Paul put it this way: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ - but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). In the midst of life’s disappointments and sufferings, heaven is our glorious hope.
How Do We Know?
To many, however, any talk about heaven or eternal life is only wishful thinking. ‘Heaven is just a myth as far as I’m concerned,’ one man wrote me. ‘I’d like to think we’ll live forever, but once we’re dead, that’s the end.’
Is he right? How do we know heaven is real? One reason is because of our inner yearning. Virtually every religion believes in some type of afterlife, and down inside we all sense there must be something beyond this life. This life is incomplete, and we yearn for its fulfillment. Where did this universal yearning come from? The Bible says God implanted it within us: ‘He has also set eternity in the hearts of men’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We were made for God, and we yearn to be with Him forever. We can suppress this or convince ourselves it isn’t true—but we still hope that life’s injustices and evils will be made right someday.
We also know heaven is real because of God’s promises. From oneend of the Bible to the other, God assures us that we were made to live with Him forever. The psalmist declared, ‘Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever’ (Psalm 23:6). Job affirmed, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God’ (Job 19:25–26). Jesus promised, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies’
(John 11:25). Paul taught, ‘Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands’ (2 Corinthians 5:1).
There is, however, a third reason why we know heaven is real: because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us. Why did Jesus Christ leave heaven’s glory and enter this sin-infested world? For one reason: to make our eternal salvation possible. When God created Adam and Eve, His plan was that they would live in perfect harmony with Him forever. But Satan was determined to change that, and with his lies he lured them away from God. When that happened, death came upon the human race, and we are all its victims. Never forget: [itals] Death was Satan’s greatest victory. [end itals]
But by His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ reversed this. The Bible says Christ came to ‘free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’ (Hebrews 2:15). Think of it: [itals] Satan’s greatest victory has now been turned into defeat! Death has now been put to death! [end itals] No wonder the Bible says, ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57). Christ’s motive in coming to earth was love, and His goal was to destroy death and take us to be with the Father forever. Jesus’ resurrection proves beyond all doubt that death is not the end, and ahead of us is heaven. Jesus promised, ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you’ (John 14:2). This is our sure hope.
In the meantime
Heaven is real—but what difference does it make right now? Is the old quip true, that Christians are so heavenly minded they aren’t any earthly good? Definitely not—and in fact the opposite should be the case.
First, because heaven is real, we have hope: hope for the future, and hope for our lives right now. No matter what happens to us now, we know it won’t last forever, and ahead of us is the joy of heaven. “Life is hard—but God is good, and heaven is real.” Is what a doctor friend of mine sometimes tells his Christian patients, because he knows how easily we get caught up in our present problems and forget God’s promise of heaven. Paul wrote, ‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men’ (1 Corinthians 15:19). But our hope isn’t only for this life! In the midst of life’s storms, our hope in God’s promise of heaven is ‘an anchor for the soul, firm and secure’ (Hebrews 6:19).
In addition, because heaven is real, our lives have meaning and purpose right now. Before he turned to God, the writer of Ecclesiastes concluded, ‘Everything is meaningless’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Many today come to the same conclusion. But when we know Christ, we know life isn’t meaningless, because God has a reason for keeping us here. Every day is a gift from Him and is another opportunity to love Him and serve Him. Heaven doesn’t make this life less important; it makes it more important.
This leads to a final difference heaven should make: Because heaven is real, we should live every moment for Christ. Life is short; none of us knows how long we have. Live each day as if it were your last - for some day it will be. Peter wrote, ‘Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You
ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming’ (2 Peter 3:11–12). If you are ever going to live for Christ, it should be now.
Is heaven your goal? Are you looking forward to going there? I know I am, and I pray you are too. What a glorious future God has prepared for us!
‘Don’t let the burdens and hardships of this life distract you or discourage you, but keep your eyes firmly fixed on what God has promised at the end of our journey: heaven itself. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Praise God for the hope we have in Christ!
Adapted from The Journey by Billy Graham published by W Publishing Group (a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers).
Paperback £9.99, ISBN 0-84999-145-5
Hardback £15.99, ISBN 0-84991-832-4
Used with permission.