“And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” 2 Corinthians 12:3-4 NKJV
Many years ago, when we were on a holiday in Nepal, we heard a chant that sounded like, “No money take me home.” It was actually a Buddhist mantra, “Om Mani Padme Om.” But I had heard it incorrectly as “No money take me home,” which convicted me of the truth that we can be so comfortable here on earth and forget that we are citizens of heaven. It is only in times when we are suffering that we are homesick for heaven.
Caring for the dying over the past twenty years gave me a vicarious foretaste of heaven and hell in the here and now – heaven is love without pain and hell is pain without love. At the end of life many struggle between heaven and hell when they have pain with love. The dying has also taught me that death is beautiful and a masterpiece when it is the doorway to eternal life which begins even before we die. Bishop Fulton Sheen described a happy death as a masterpiece and noted that no masterpiece was ever perfected in a day – death is beautiful only for those who dies before he dies, by dying daily to the temptations in life. It is only when Christ means everything to us in this life that we’ll have even more when we die (Philippians 1:21).
Our purpose in life is to live as God’s masterpieces so that we do not die as copies of another. Each one of us is special and an original. The good news of the gospel is not that we are saved from hell but that we are saved to bring heaven to earth as the children and ambassadors of God as we pray, “Our Father who is in heaven, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.” Morton Kelsey paints for us the following inspiring picture of heaven:
“Heaven is the state of being in which we develop and grow in relationship with other human beings around us. We can also relate to the communion of saints, those who have stepped beyond our mortal life. And we can have fellowship with the angelic beings, and with the loving Trinity as well. Love opens incredible experiences of heaven to us.”
Rather than thinking of heaven as a post mortem destination, it may be more fruitful to think of our life here on earth as a journey to eternal life. Our thoughts and beliefs determine how we feel and how we live. God does not want to send anyone to hell – He wants all people to have the opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act (2 Peter 3:9 GW). It is our godless and hateful thoughts that lead to hell. Godly and loving thoughts lead us to heaven. When our hearts are filled with love, joy and peace, we are in heaven. When our hearts are filled with anger, fears and guilt, we are in hell. The bad news, according to the apostle Paul, is that we are slaves to the power of sin in our hearts and are unable to love God:
“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.” Romans 7:21-23 NLT
Bishop Fulton Sheen noted that when we think of heaven or hell as something that happens to us at the end of time, we keep on postponing it. And if we postpone the thought of heaven until the moment we die, we will be very much like the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert:
“The poor Jews were at one time within about eleven days of the Promised Land. It took only three weeks for them to make the journey form Egypt to the Promised Land, but because of their disobedience, failures, backsliding, and rebellions against Moses, it took them forty years to get into the Promised Land, which represents a pilgrimage in many of our lives. We make progress and then we slip back.”
The Exodus of the Jews from their slavery in Egypt is a picture of our journey of faith from our slavery to sin to a life filled with the love of God. Our Exodus from our slavery to sin is the beginning of the adventure of living the eternal life in the here and now rather than waiting to go to heaven when we die. Eternal life is not the absence of pain, sorrow, or death. Eternal life is the presence of God that swallows up pain, sorrow and death. Eternal life is seen when God turns the worst moments of life into moments of great testimony. In a recent devotional, I read how God used a plumber, who was nearly consumed by the heart wrenching grief over the death of his thirty year old son, to be a channel of comfort to those who have lost a child. I was also inspired by the testimony of a divorcee who was moved by the suicide of her teenage son to start a suicide prevention movement.
Like the apostle Paul, we can have a taste of Paradise in times when we experience the amazing grace of God in our dreams or in times of contemplative prayer. Let us learn to wait patiently in the silence of worship and offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God so that we will not conform to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In silence, we seek the Holy Spirit to search our minds for the negative thoughts of anger, fear and guilt and take them captive to Christ. In silence, we empty our heart of the idolatry of health, wealth and prosperity so that the Holy Spirit can fill our heart with the love of God. It is not the worship of silence but the practice of silence that is the first step in the journey to eternal life. So let us listen to the voice of God in our silence:
“Speak, O Lord and renew our minds.
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us.
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord till Your Church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.”