What is it you think we’ll be doing in the coming eternity promised us by God?

This is one of the most urgent questions Christians of our day must revisit, re-learning what we have forgotten. The modern church has a terrible, anemic view of what “eternal life” looks like, when it begins, and what we’ll be doing with it.

First of all, if we are saved by Jesus Christ and possessed of the life that he gives freely to everyone who follows him, where will we be spending eternity?

If you answered heaven, that’s your first mis-step. Heaven—the dwelling place of God, separated from the earth we know—will indeed be a stopping place for us after we draw our last breath in this life. As Paul says in Philippians 1, when we depart from this life, we will go to be with Christ where he is, seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. This is a very good thing.

But it is not our final destination. This is a temporary setup awaiting the final completion of God’s work in all Creation, renewing the whole of the heavens and the earth. We will have flesh and blood bodies, different from what we know now but no less real. In fact, we will find that what we thought was real was merely a shadow, seen like a glimpsed image in a dirty mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12). The true reality for which we were made awaits us in the future, long promised by God and to come at precisely the right time. Our place in that new reality is guaranteed to us, our inheritance as children of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit. If any of this is new or surprising to you, stop what you are doing and go re-read Revelation 21-22.

Hidden in there is a repeated refrain that we have simply forgotten in our churches. What is it that will occupy our days in this beautiful eternity? If we won’t be sitting on clouds strumming harps all day, singing church songs we don’t really like, what will we do?

What does it say in Revelation 22:5? “…and they will reign forever and ever.” Jesus hints at the authority we’ll be given in the parable of the Ten Minas, “…because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.” Paul says it much more explicitly in 1 Corinthians 6: “If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?” Paul writes again in 2 Timothy 2:12, “if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

This all sounds very strange to modern ears. “Reigning” is not a word in our daily vocabulary. And yet this was and is our task. In Genesis 1, we see that as God breathed life into humankind and made them in his image, they were given a charge—to reign (this is what it means to “have dominion over”). Our task on earth was to reign over Creation.

We’ve lost touch of what reigning means. Reign is an archaic word, one we hear most often in the context of old, dusty monarchies left behind centuries ago. But anyone who uses power is reigning, even if his “kingdom” is small. Power is the ability to influence outcomes toward certain ends. And the power we were given in Genesis 1 was astounding. The power that Jesus exercises over Creation is astounding. And the power Christians will exercise for the good of Creation will be astounding. As we yield to the will of God, receiving and entering his kingdom, as God once again fills the heavens and the earth with his unveiled glory, we will spend eternity with one another leading all of boundless Creation in a grand symphony of life and love.

This is our inheritance. And our training for this reign begins now. Is your prayer life preparing you for this task? Consider the words of Dallas Willard on Kingdom Praying:

“Prayer as kingdom praying is an arrangement explicitly instituted by God in order that we as individuals may count, and count for much, as we learn step-by-step how to govern, to reign with him in his kingdom. To enter and to learn this reign is what gives the individual life its intended significance. This high calling also explains why prayer frequently requires much effort, continuous effort, and on some matters possibly years and years of effort.

“Prayer is, above all, a means of forming character. It combines freedom and power with service and love. What God gets out of our lives—and, indeed, what we get out of our lives—is simply the person we become. It is God’s intention that we should grow into the kind of person he could empower to do what we want to do. Then we are ready to “reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

“Reign is no doubt wording that is a little too grand for the contemporary mind, though what it refers to is what everyone actually pursues in life. We have been trained to think of reigning as exclusionary of others. But in the heart of the divine conspiracy, it just means to be free and powerful in the creation and governance of what is good. In the life of prayer we are training for, we reign in harmonious union with the infinite power of God.” Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

Does that sound boring to you?