I am learning so much as our women’s Bible study works through Nancy Guthrie’s The Lamb of God – Seeing Jesus in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This is the second study in a series of six on seeing Jesus in the Old Testament.
I don’t know about you, but the seeing these connections to Jesus and the fact that the Bible is one story pointing toward Him from beginning to end are not what I learned growing up in Sunday School. And it is nothing short of transformative to start to understand the Bible’s message after years of study – both corporately and personally.
In our session about the Tabernacle, we learned how it is one of the many ways God expressed His desire to dwell with His people. It demonstrates how He had a detailed plan to be with his people on their journey to the promised land and how sinful people can be with Him for eternity. It also points back to Eden, where God dwelt, forward to Jesus being God with us as a human here on earth and dwelling in us through the Holy Spirit. And, if that weren’t enough, it is a shadow of His desire for us to dwell with him in heaven.
What are you looking forward to in Heaven?
I asked the group what the things that people most look forward to about heaven are. Some typical answers are:
• I’m going to see loved ones again
• There will be no more pain or tears
• I’ll be able to play golf (or fill in your favorite activity) all the time
• I won’t be in hell
What about you? What are you looking forward to?
So often, when we talk about a desire for heaven, we do not speak of the presence of God and the magnificence of just that. Yet God has spent an entire book, the Bible, telling us about His desire to be with us and how He has kept making a way for that.
That begs the question, “Why aren’t we more desirous of being in heaven in the very presence of the one who has pursued us and the Lamb of God who is worthy? Who loved us and gave Himself for us?”
In our group, we discussed why our comfortable life or our fear of separation from those who need us here keeps us from desiring to be in God’s presence. Another dampener of our desire to be in heaven with God could be lost family members who have yet to accept God’s gift of salvation required for entry to heaven. We want our family to be saved!
If we rightly prioritize God’s majesty and glory and recognize how God has so lovingly and mercifully made a way to be with us – or for us to be with Him – shouldn’t our desire for heaven be solely because He is there?
How do we nurture a greater desire to dwell in God's presence?
We talked about how to nurture a desire for God’s presence, and listening to worship music came up as one way, in addition to being in Scripture, to grow in our knowledge and love of God.
What’s your favorite song about heaven? If you’re my age or older, it is possibly a church song that is about heaven, but in no way leads us to a greater yearning to be in the presence of the Great I AM.
Be sure your music choices have a good biblical foundation
Ira Stanphill wrote more than 500 gospel songs. And some of them are dearly loved, biblically accurate, and worshipful songs. One of my favorites is “Room at the Cross for You.” Another you might know and love is “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.” In 1949 he wrote ‘Mansion Over the Hilltop,” and as long as I’ve been aware of it (quite a bit later than 1949!), it has been popular with audiences and congregations.
Music has such a significant impact on us – whether we realize it or not. Even if we are not consciously thinking of the lyrics, the more we take in a song, the more the lyrics influence our thinking. This is why I am tenacious about reviewing the lyrics of a song and comparing it to the Bible – even one I know very well – before choosing it as a congregational song or a solo for a worship service.
Think with me here about why “Mansion Over the Hilltop” is not a song that nutures our desire to be in the Lord's presence.
You might have wanted to stop me already and say, “Beth! This song has biblical truth in it.” It has a smattering, for sure. We can agree on that. I hope you’ll stick with me.
I'm satisfied with just a cottage below,
A little silver and a little gold;
But in that city where the ransomed will shine,
I want a gold one that's silver-lined.
CHORUS - I've got a mansion just over the hilltop,
In that bright land where we'll never grow old;
And someday yonder we will never more wander,
But walk the streets that are purest gold.
Tho' often tempted, tormented and tested
And, like the prophet, my pillow a stone,
And tho' I find here no permanent dwelling,
I know He'll give me a mansion my own.
Don't think me poor or deserted or lonely,
I'm not discouraged, I'm heaven bound;
I'm just a pilgrim in search of a city,
I want a mansion, a harp and a crown.
Of course, this song is based partially on Jesus’ promise in John 14: 2.
In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:2
What a tremendous promise! He is preparing a place for those who belong to Him!
The King James and New King James Versions translate the Greek word monē as “mansion.” The New King James has a note indicating the word literally means “dwelling.” Of course, our God is abundant, so it might be natural to think of a mansion if you’re thinking of a dwelling place God would prepare for us.
So let’s concede the “mansion” as a dwelling place and look at the rest of the chorus – the best-known and most-sung part of this much-loved piece.
To be sure, there’s nothing really unscriptural in the chorus. We know that heaven will be a bright land because there will be no need for the sun. After all, God has illumined it and the Lamb is the lamp (Revelation 21:23). There’s nothing mentioned about wandering in scripture, but it seems reasonable that we would be satisfied and not need to stray as we do now. And Revelation 21:21 tells us about the streets,
And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. Revelation 21:21
This poem talks a lot about things that are important to us on earth. Things. Treasure.
• “I want a gold one (mansion) that’s silver-lined.”
• “He’ll give me a mansion my own.”
• “I want a mansion, a harp and a crown.”
Can you see the problem? "Mansion Over the Hilltop" totally misses the great hope of Heaven - dwelling with the King of Kings who longs to live with His people.
This song does not lead us toward a longing to be in God’s presence. It does not make us want to bow down before our maker crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Revelation 4:8) or “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 4:11).
As one of our women shared in our discussion, as we place more and more emphasis on our treasure in heaven, the more we will want to be there because our hearts will be there.
for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21
Storing up our treasure in heaven, just like feeding our desire for God's presence, is a process in our human experience, and the Holy Spirit is always ready to guide us.
Some recommendations for songs about Heaven
Thank the Lord for writers who have blessed us with hymns about our desire to be with our Savior. That night, we finished our study session with “Face to Face With Christ, My Savior.” Others in a hymnal you can turn to are:
- In the Sweet Bye and Bye
- When We All Get to Heaven
- My Savior First of All
- What A Day That Will Be
- O That Will Be Glory
- On Jordan's Stormy Banks
One of my favorites choral works, “I Bowed On My Knees and Cried Holy,” is more reflective of a desire to see Jesus, which is the most fantastic part of our eternity. Listen in and note the difference in the perspective.
“We Shall Behold Him” is another fantastic presentation of biblical truth about what it will be like when we first see Him face to face.
As you consider these thoughts I’ve shared, ask yourself, “If I didn’t have any other information about heaven other than the fact that Jesus will be there, would that be enough for me to want to go?”
I encourage you to take time right now and express your desire to live in God’s presence to Him and thank Him for making it possible.
If you’re reading this and don’t know how to ensure you spend eternity in God’s presence, or you don’t know whether you’re prepared, click here to reach me, and I will show you God’s plan for you in scripture.
If you were encouraged by this post or have thoughts, I'd love to hear from you!