I had been a pastor for ten years when I realized I didn’t believe in heaven.
My mother had died, and the devastation I felt at first was normal, understandable. But then, it hung on, and eventually grew into the dark, clinging despair of depression. I knew I shouldn’t feel this way – I was a pastor, after all! And yet I did, and I was helpless to fix it.
As it so happened, right at that time I was working on a project under the mentorship of three spiritual giants: J.I. Packer, Dallas Willard, and George Gallup, Jr. We were hammering out what we believed were the key factors in a person becoming a true disciple of Christ. The essence of what they were schooling me in was this:
The Christian life is not primarily an intellectual pursuit, nor is it simply about doing good. The Christian life is about who you are becoming for the sake of others.
And who you are becoming is identifiable by the fruit of your life – the “fruit of the Spirit,” as the apostle Paul would say.
The interesting thing about fruit is that it is external. It is visible. It is there for the good of others. People can see it and smell it and taste it. So, when I shared with my mentors my heartache and devastation over my mother’s death, they each, independent of the other, identified the fruit in my life that I was lacking: HOPE. They knew I had lost hope because it’s a visible fruit that would be evident to others if it was there. But it wasn’t.
Knowing what was missing didn’t help me though. You can’t produce more fruit by trying harder. It would have been impossible for me, in my depression, to say, “By golly, the sun’ll come out tomorrow, so I’m going to feel more hopeful!” The “being” part of the Christian life, or the fruit, or the virtues, as we were to come to call it, cannot come by wishful thinking. Rather, it comes by purposeful thinking – by believing.
At the core of my lack of hope was a belief I was not believing. It is not enough to believe something is the right answer in your head; it must migrate twelve inches south to the heart to make a difference in your life. The writer of Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” The journey of belief begins with the confession of unbelief. It was J.I. Packer who identified which belief I lacked: the belief in eternity. It is one of the beliefs that drives biblical hope. I had to admit, “I don’t believe in heaven.” Oh, I understood it as the right answer but I never embraced or owned it in my heart where life transformation begins.
Stupidly, one of the first things I did when I discovered my unbelief was I shared it with my congregation. Bad idea. Apparently, church is the last place you want to confess your unbelief, especially when you’re the pastor. But oddly, I had never felt more spiritually alive. God can handle a raw dialogue, as the psalmist proves. We need to give our people, old and young alike, the same opportunity Jesus gave the man desiring his son to be healed who said, “I believe! Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).
In the weeks and months that followed, God used the spiritual practice of Bible study about the true nature of heaven to move the belief in eternity from my head to my heart. The fruit of hope is now evidenced in my life. It all started with confessing my unbelief, and digging into Scripture to truly understand this belief that I had assumed I knew, but never really believed.
And what happened with the work I was doing with J.I. Packer, Dallas Willard and George Gallup, Jr.? We eventually arrived at what we came to call the 30 biggest ideas of the Christian faith – ten beliefs which form a core systematic theology, ten practices that emanate out of those beliefs – the behaviors of a true Christian, and ten virtues, those Christlike character qualities that are the observable fruit of a true disciple. Those 30 key ideas became the basis upon which the BELIEVE church experience has been built.
Starting this fall, Max Lucado and I will be leading our church through the 30-week BELIEVE journey, which involves every member of the family from adults to children reading books of Scriptures at their reading level, discussing the beliefs in their classes and groups, and hearing sermons and singing worship songs about the 30 biggest ideas in the Bible. We are joining together with a dozen other churches of various denominations in the greater San Antonio area, in a collective effort to help the people of San Antonio see what it looks like when God’s people think like Jesus, act like Jesus, and become like Jesus.
I hope you’ll join us and consider taking your own church on a BELIEVE discipleship journey.
-By Randy Frazee, Senior Minister at Oak Hills Church, San Antonio, Texas
How to Use This Book
Think, Act, Be Like Jesus is one of the many resources included in the BELIEVE Church Resource Kit. Based on Believe, a book of selections of pure Scripture about each of the 30 biggest ideas in the Bible, the BELIEVE whole-church campaign is a spiritual growth experience that helps Christians of all ages think, act, and be more like Jesus. To learn more about BELIEVE, go to www.believethestory.com.