The 8 Characteristics of the Heavenly Life

“Fellowship with Christ is a table only for two-set in the wilderness. Inwardness is not a gaudy party but the meeting of lovers in the lonely desert of the human heart. There, where all life and fellowship can hold no more than two, We Sit together and he speaks as much as we, and even when both of us say nothing there is our welded oneness. And suddenly we see we cannot be complete until his perfect presence joins with ours.” Calvin Miller, The Table of Inwardness

Looking all the way back at the beginning of this series we said that when Isaiah caught a vision of the beauty of God it ushered him into a transformative journey:

Isaiah 6:1,5 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.”

However, the place of undone-ness is not where Isaiah stays. He moves through catching the sight of the beauty of God (I saw the Lord), coming to grips with what his lack (I am a man of unclean lips), into brokenness (being undone), but that is not where he stays.

Isaiah 6:6-7 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.”

Isaiah begins to be reconstituted by Heaven’s help. He cannot change himself, but is changed by God. Immediately, he is given an assignment: 

Isaiah 6:8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

The point of brokenness is transformation, not brokenness itself. However, those who have been broken and reconstituted by God tend to carry the memory of brokenness with them. Their life is not marked by catastrophic failure, but rather by a fondness for the heart of the Father and for His creation. Isaiah cries out that he will go to the people as he is purged of his iniquity. Deep transformation does not work perfection but humility, love, and willingness.

The 8 Marks of a Heavenly Life

Right now, you may be in the middle of your journey. If you are, take heart, God is doing something in you, and He is not done with you.

Maybe you are at the end of a transformative season. May I say well done. You may not have walked through it perfectly (rest assured, no one ever does), but that was not the point. You walked through it faithfully, and that is the point.

You may be staring down your first transformative season. Take heart. Be strong. You can do this. 

For all of you, God is forging something deep within. That depth is pulling out the man or woman he has always intended for you, the inner being of your heart. As that inner life strengthens, matures, and blossoms, here are 8 characteristics you can look forward to.

Characteristic #1: Walking in weakness rather than strength

The key to realizing this lies in one of Jesus’ most brazen teachings: the beatitudes.

Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

As transformation takes shape you become far more familiar with the sustaining life of Christ. It is no longer a theory, but it is a reality. I cannot enter into a deeper understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven unless I understand my own poverty.  Paul carried an incredible revelation of his own weakness:

2 Corinthians 12:9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

The deeper reality of the principle of spiritual poverty is you begin to come to grips with the fact that you cannot affect change within yourself. You realize that you require an outside source of life to continue living, moving, breathing, and thinking. For those who have come to grips with their own lack there exists a deep appreciation for the life of Jesus lived within them.

“A brother asked an Elder: ”My Father, how should the mind banish evil and unclean thoughts?” And the Elder replied: ”My child, it is not possible for the mind, entirely on its own, to accomplish such a thing, because it does not have that much power. When evil thoughts assault the soul, the soul must immediately take refuge in its Creator, persistently entreating Him to come unto its aid, whereupon He dissolves them straightaway, as wax is melted by fire.” The Desert Fathers

Characteristic #2: Connection versus perfection

It is not about perfection; it is about connection. My primary concern is not getting everything right, but in maintaining a heart connected to the Father. Jesus said:

John 14:23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”

My focus is not on Christian perfection, as that seems an impossibility. Rather, perfection is realized not in deed, but in loving holding my heart continually before my Master and Lord. In this way I fulfill Paul’s injunction to pray unceasingly. Prayer is a heart response of desire trained towards the only perfect One.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray without ceasing.

Characteristic #3: Willingness to be vulnerable and transparent

There is a great confidence to share your inner struggles, pains, and wounding that comes not because you are confident in yourself, but because you trust the One who remains faithful. Prior to spiritual maturity, it is even difficult to admit to personal fault, pain, and struggle. When confronted with our pain and struggle we defend and obfuscate. But as we learn to rest in in the embrace of the Father our struggles become His victories. 

As I realize more and more that it is not I who struggle, but Christ who struggles within me, I am easily able to share present day struggles with those who I am called to impact. My willingness to be vulnerable becomes a balm for those who need the healing only Christ can offer. The principle of vulnerability is that my vulnerability invites others into a place of healing.

John 2:24-25 But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.

Jesus died for others not because he trusted them, but because he lived in the bosom of God.

Characteristic #4: Pain does not distract from purpose

Though I may still experience painful circumstances, or the barbs of hurtful statements from others, I am not distracted from my purpose, that of knowing the Father. I can continue to move forward in spite of all that is going on around me because I am in Him and He is in me.

II Corinthians 4:8-9 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

When your life is weighed by your heart connection with the Father, your assignment does not waver when you are challenged. The greatest example of this is that of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and Jesus on the cross. 

In the garden, the crushing weight of what was about to come hit Jesus with the full force of its expectation. At the cross, the greatest physical suffering a human body could bear was poured out upon him. In both instances he never lost sight of his assignment. In the garden he entrusted himself to the Father, on the cross he reached out to the thief. 

II Corinthians 4:16-17 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

Characteristic #5: The increase of discernment and wisdom

When we are immature, we are either incapable of judging under the guise “being loving”, or we are too judgmental because we assume that we have all the facts. As we mature, we find the junction of judgement and maturity, and that is discernment and wisdom. 

I am not quick to judge others, rather I exercise discernment and appraise the situation. In discerning am I not quick to condemn others, but rather, in wisdom I respond and attempt to convey the heart of the Father. 

There are two verses that highlight this characteristic:

I Corinthians 2:15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.

Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that you be not judged.

Judge not, but judge all things. What could this possible mean. The context of the two verses basically says this: I am to accurately appraise any given situation because of the Holy Spirit within me, but because of the Holy Spirit within me I am not to condemn anyone involved to a finality of judgement, but rather respond in the love of the Father.

We are to properly appraise a situation and see motives, heart, intent, righteousness, and sin. But finality of judgement is God’s role. And to ask for justice from God is to ask him to be merciful because he is a merciful God.

Characteristic #6: I become comfortable with the tension of tomorrow

Psalms 101:2 I will behave wisely in a perfect way. Oh, when will You come to me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.

Always keep your death in mind and do not forget the eternal judgement, then there will be no fault in your soul.” Abba Evagrius

The principle of Abba Evagrius puts things in stark clarity. When you recall that your time in this world is fleeting what is truly important today comes into perspective. We don’t know what will happen in the next hour, let alone the next day. When we learn to walk with the Father, we are comfortable in the tension of unknowing. We truly begin living the reality of Proverbs 16:9:

Proverbs 16:9 A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.

I have learned that my desire to know the outcome is born from my desire to control, and my desire to control is married to my desire to be safe and free from harm. When I am safe and free from harm as a result of my control, I am afraid of ever taking a risk. And the problem with that is that love is risky. For me to love truly will require that I risk.

To live in the tension of the unknown is to embrace the darkness of faith and trust. It is to find a place of rest in the heart of the Father.

Characteristic #7: Living with purpose

I begin to question my purpose less, not because I am wholly aware what my purpose is, but I have begun to recognize that at any given point my purpose is to become like the Father. 

II Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

As the focus of my life becomes his heart, the intentions of my life begin to change. No longer am I concerned about fulfilling a purpose, but rather, I just go about doing what I know brings pleasure to the heart of the Father. I enter into one of the deepest realizations of transformation: that my heart can bring pleasure to the heart of the Father. He is my life and source, and as such, all that I do is done with the intent of pleasing Him. I spent less time wandering and more time doing. 

I no longer need to ask God should I do this, or should I do that. Rather, I ask myself, what has He gifted me to do and who has He made me to become? As I enter more and more into the answer to those questions, they begin to inform all that I do. I “do” because I have “become.” 

Characteristic #8: Recognize there is great purpose in suffering

A few years ago, I had a dream. In the dream a well-respected man of God looked at me and said to those standing around while pointing at me, “There is a great vision for the church within that young man, but he has not suffered enough, nor been persecuted enough for it to be defined yet.”

I woke up with a start. The dream was a significant dream, and it was very true. I began to learn that the breaking of the outer man is designed by God to launch you into your calling

“Suffering arising from anxiety, in which the soul adds, to the cross imposed by the hand of God, an agitated resistance, and a sort of unwillingness to suffer, such troubles arise only because we love to ourselves.” Francis Fenelon

Suffering is only suffering because of the resistance of our souls. If our response was passive it would cease to be suffering. Suffering reveals to the extent we hold self-love. If we were truly dead to ourselves, suffering would cease to exist. A dead thing can feel no pain.

When I suffer through circumstances, what is NOT the image of Christ within me becomes apparent. Your calling is not to lead a church, ministry, or business. You calling is to be transformed into the image of Christ. Suffering is useful in that it highlights all the ways that we are not His image. You may receive an assignment in this life to plant churches, win souls, or lead successful and thriving business. But those are merely assignments. The goal of this life is that you would look like the Father. And in looking like the Father, you would introduce others to the Father. And in introducing others to the Father, they would in turn begin to look like the Father. 

When we begin to grasp the incredible potential of suffering, suffering becomes less like suffering and more like being with the One who suffered all things. The deep, true reality of suffering is summed up quite nicely by Francis Fenelon here:

“…love delights in suffering on behalf of the beloved, and the cross which likens them to their Beloved One is a consoling bond of love.”

In suffering you learn what He suffered. After all, if Jesus learned obedience through His suffering, you rest assured that you may need to as well.

Hebrews 5:8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.

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