As part of our evening bedtime story ritual, I've been reading my sons the inspiring classic by John Bunyan entitled Pilgrim's Progress. I highly recommend adding it to your reading list if you haven't had a chance yet (this one, in my opinion, is the best edition).
One of the best parts of the story (spoiler alert) is when the primary protagonist, who is fittingly named “Christian,” arrives at the foot of a cross and the heavy burden he has been wearied and worn by for years suddenly rolls away from his back and he's light as a feather with a fresh spring in his step, with all his cares and worries cast upon Christ.
This story reminded me of how absolutely breathtaking it is that, by the grace of God, we've all been offered a free gift of salvation—and we can't and never have done anything on our own to earn it.
That gift of salvation, and subsequent eternal life, is free to us but purchased by the intense suffering, pain, and ordeal of the cross that I describe in all its gory detail here.
This also got me thinking recently about how much glory, pleasure, and bliss we've been offered for free that we so easily spend much of our lives simply passing by and turning down for arguably far more fleeting and temporary, and far less significant, glory, pleasure, and bliss in our daily lives.
When you really think about it, trading long-term glory for short-term pleasure is so silly and senseless, yet so automatic easy. I don't know about you, but I often find it tempting to trade the delayed gratification and the eternal glory of heaven for the temporary earthly enjoyment of a hedonistic trip to Las Vegas, missing church to catch up on work or household projects, skipping a monthly tithe or gift to the poor to sock away just a bit of extra cash for a rainy day, jumping into the pressing business task of the day prior to meditation, devotions, and prayer, or using workaholism, exercise or personal hobbies as escapism from a more meaningful focus on, say, faith and family.
Yet, as the saying in Mark 8:36 of the Bible goes, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul?”
The heavenly afterlife I describe here is so mind-blowingly glorious that you'd think it'd be somewhat simple for us to resist temptation or the tendency to engage in less eternally meaningful activities here on earth, but us silly humans just…don't do that. It's as though a plate of warm, chocolate chip cookies were placed in front of a child, and the child was offered the cookies now, or a hundred billion dollars in a year. Most of us are the kid who dives right into the cookies, with chocolate smeared across our faces and a temporary mouth pleasure traded for a far more significant and meaningful prize.
This irrational human psychology is why Matthew 7:13-14 so aptly states: “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
But I want to share with you a tactic that may help you resist those worldly temptations that pull you away from eternal glory, and it's a tactic that has served me well, so I thought it wouldn't do any harm to share it with you.
First, close your eyes.
Take a deep breath in through your nose, then out through your mouth.
Now, begin to visualize and imagine an existence so glorious, so blissful, so overwhelmingly pleasurable and uninhibited that it nearly takes your breath away. Imagine you have no cares or worries in the world, you are in a perfect state of health, you are surrounded by laughter, feasting, and loved ones, and you could live in that blissful existence forever.
Next, imagine that there are long, wickedly sharp thorns, burning hot flames, intense icy cold, and the most unpleasant sensations imaginable to attain that existence, yet in the midst of all those painful obstacles to your entrance to pleasures forevermore, there is a tiny light illuminating a narrow path to the glory that awaits you, and that path is as simple and free to find as this because someone already went in front of you and took on all the pain, heat and cold themselves to ensure that the path was freely open to you. As you sit and breathe, imagine that all you need to do is commit to leaving behind the temporary and fleeting earthly pleasures and the short-term flavor of that pile of chocolate chip cookies to enter into this eternal glory.
You inhale one more deep breath, you step forward onto the narrow path, and you commit to trusting in full faith, like a little child, that the path will take you where you need to go. You tell yourself that by loving God and loving others, you can, by the grace of God, remain upon that path, even when you're tempted to veer sideways from the path for the temptations of just a little bit more money, a few more minutes each day pursuing a better body, or a little bit more networking with the worldly folks you want to impress. Your laser focus is now…
…the path to glory.
Then open your eyes, and ask yourself what the very best thing you can do each day would be to keep yourself focused on that path. Hint: the answer to that question is to begin each day by training your soul—via meditation, devotions, prayer, silence, solitude, reading Scripture, and engaging in the spiritual disciplines as your first and most important task of each day.
Do this exercise for at least seven consecutive days…
…close your eyes…
…imagine eternal glory, pleasure, and bliss…
…know that it is free and fully attainable…
…then commit to focusing each day, as one of the very first things you do, to equipping and empowering your spirit to stay upon that path.
Psalm 16:11 says, “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Yet Matthew 13:22 says, “The seed falling along the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” And Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
This means that you and I have a choice. We can pursue earthly pleasures and possessions that are temporary and fleeting, getting choked up by the thorns and worries of this world while engaged in the pursuit of money and wealth…
…or we can pursue heavenly treasures that are lasting and satisfying for all of eternity.
Which would you choose? I challenge you to truly imagine, visualize and meditate upon how overwhelmingly glorious it will be to enjoy pleasures forevermore in the presence of God, then to ask yourself if anything you are doing in life that is holding you back from that is really worth it.
Thanks for reading, and leave your thoughts, questions, comments, and feedback below. I read them all.