by Chris Tiegreen
When the Kingdom Whispers Your Dreams
I love beaches. I always have, and I always will. I think they’re pretty close to paradise, and I’m convinced heaven will be full of them.
My family usually takes a summer trip to the beach, but we couldn’t squeeze it in last summer. The schedule was too hectic, the workload was too urgent, and the time went by faster than ever, so we missed our trip. I think I missed it the most.
I’m not quite sure why I love the beach so much, but I think it has something to do with the total convergence of sights and smells and sounds that, if I experienced them separately, would only be mildly pleasant. My favorite color is that soothing aqua that almost begs you to go snorkeling; my favorite temperature is 87 degrees, give or take about 10; my favorite smell is coconut; my favorite sound is the rhythmic pulse of wave meeting shore; my favorite exercise is rowing a kayak against the surf; my favorite footwear is none; and two of my favorite feelings are cool water and a warm breeze. Put them all together, and I’m in sensory heaven.
Throughout the year, I see aqua in a few photographs, I smell coconut when I wash what’s left of my hair, I feel an occasional warm breeze, and I relish 87-degree days several times between May and September. Every time, I enjoy the sensation and I’m reminded of paradise. But there’s nothing like bringing all of those pleasures into one moment. All of my senses celebrate in unison at the beach. That’s why I love it so much; it’s a total experience.
Escapism vs. Truth
Since I can’t live at the beach at this point in my life—though I’m determined that it will happen one day—I have ways of bringing the beach to me. The screensavers on my computer are all pictures of French Polynesia. The background image on my cell phone is a sliver of sand and palm trees surrounded by calm, Caribbean blue. My phone’s ringtone is a catchy little reggae tune.
Sometimes on a winter day when the heat in the building is doing a better job than it should, I turn on the fan in my office and feel the breeze. Recently I bought a “white noise” machine that duplicates the sound of waves. If I close my eyes long enough for my thoughts to drift away—(note to my boss: this is never quite long enough to distract me from doing my job; plus, it probably makes me more productive in the long run, don’t you think?)—I can almost imagine being there. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of paradise can bring me very close to it.
Many people would consider my mental jaunts to the seashore a desperate attempt to escape from reality. I beg to differ. I think they are, in many ways, an escape to reality. There really are a lot of beaches, after all. I’ve seen them; they aren’t a figment of my imagination. Though they have become icons of a hedonistic culture, I know that God made them and that He created me to enjoy them. When I think of the beach, I feel like I’m embracing a gift from His heart. To me, the seashore is a marvel of His creativity, and I’ve stopped apologizing for my longings.
Looking Forward to It
If you think about it, God doesn’t just tolerate us seeing His gifts that way; He encourages it. The prophets wrote of a day when the lion and the lamb would lie down together, when swords would be beaten into plowshares, when the trees would clap their hands and sing, and when the mountains would be made low enough to eliminate the valley of death and invite us to travel peacefully. If escapist thinking is wrong, God really messed up when He inspired the prophets to tell of His kingdom.
But God never messes up, so the glimpses He gives us in His Word and in life are legitimate. He actually tells us to look ahead. When we read of dry bones getting up and celebrating, of mourning turned to dancing, of wedding feasts and everlasting fountains and brilliant light, we are allowed to embrace the previews. Like images on a cell phone or the scent of a shampoo, the whispers we get of the kingdom of God remind us of our hopes and dreams for fulfillment. They are very small approximations of the real thing—just hints, really—but we are never told to forsake them for the more depressing “reality” of the day. We are urged to embrace them.
In fact, much of Scripture inspires us to see a different reality than the one that dominates our view. If our eyes and ears gave us a true picture of God and His kingdom, we wouldn’t need the radical words and wild images of the prophets. But our eyes and ears lie. They convince us that the desire for the kingdom is a fantasy, and we desperately need the reality of that fantasy to pierce our complacency. We need to dream about things to come.
God knows that if we dream about things to come, we’ll live as if those things are actually coming. That’s why His Word challenges us to dream big and to see what life in His kingdom can be like. That’s why He showed the prophets some pretty fantastic visions.
And that’s why next winter, in an office too far removed from the tropics, I’ll turn on my fan and my waves, close my eyes for a minute, and look forward to the total experience I’ll have in the summer—and forever, if my hunch about beaches in heaven is right. Because as a citizen of the kingdom, and as a guy who loves a tropical paradise, I get to choose which realities to see.
- What are your favorite places, sounds, scents? How do they make you feel?
- Look at your list—what do you think God is trying to tell you through those things? What characteristics of God do they highlight?
- Read Psalm 46:10. How often are you still? What is stopping you? What would it take for you to sit still for ten minutes a day this month to acknowledge all the blessings God has given you?
- What kind of a glimpse of heaven and God’s personality did you get after the first week doing this?
- Chris views his mental trips to the seashore as an escape to reality. What is the difference between escaping from reality and escaping to reality?
- What is your reality? How did this article change the way you think about your reality and how you experience it?
- “God knows that if we dream about things to come, we’ll live as if those things are actually coming.” What do you think is coming? Why does living as if those things are coming make a difference in your daily life?
- Even though Chris can’t get to the beach each day, he’s placed little reminders of God’s gift and the hope of heaven throughout his life. What do you need to place around you to remind you of the reality of God’s kingdom?
- Sometimes life gets hard and the demands of our daily lives can wear down our hope and faith until trying to recognize even the simplest blessings seems impossible. If this is where you are right now, ask God to show you glimpses of His heart and little signs of His love. Ask Him to send you your personal beach moment and watch what He does.