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A Glimpse of Heaven, Part III: Joy

December 5, 2022

A highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. .  . But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Excerpts, Isaiah 35: 5-10)[1]

In the last book he finished before his death, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.”[2]  He lost his beloved wife, Joy, three years before he penned those words, and he was looking forward to experiencing the joy that will be ours when our time on earth comes to an end.  Isaiah confirms this in his glimpse of what we can expect in heaven: “They [the redeemed] will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10)[3]

Isaiah emphasizes that only the redeemed will follow God’s highway in heaven.  But God wants us to experience joy on earth as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps.  The joys we are blessed with on earth give us a foretaste of what is in store for us in heaven. The joy we have in Christ does not mean that we are never sad.  The Christian’s joy is a deep, abiding treasure that goes beyond current circumstances.  It is a stream that flows within our souls and refreshes and revives us despite the difficulties we face.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit promised to all believers.  

Absent clinical depression, the underlying joy of a believer should be evident in his or her countenance.  I once heard a well-known theologian suggest that a joyless Christian is an oxymoron.  The angel announced to the shepherds: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).  Good news indeed–it was the best news that anyone would ever hear!  

I was reminiscing about my friend, Stephanie Burke, on our way home from Mammoth the night of January 3, 1998—the ninth night of Christmas.  

As I continued reminiscing, I saw Stephanie’s face in my mind’s eye.  That in itself was not unusual, since our minds often create pictures to go along with our thoughts at the time.

The Stephanie I saw was in her 30’s–early in our relationship. She was vibrant and smiling–laughing at times. She was surrounded by a bright, white light that radiated around her face.  I only saw the upper part of her body, which was encased in white. “This can’t be a vision,” I thought, incredulously. 

“Mom”, Julia asked, “Do you want to see my new eyelash curler?” She had been rummaging through her backpack in the dark, and apparently had come upon the new gizmo. I told her a few days ago that I had one when I was a teenager.  She didn’t know how to use it, and I had promised to help her with it.

“Not now, sweetie”, I answered, trying hard not to let the noisy group in the two seats in the back of the Suburban interrupt my concentration. 

I stared at the road ahead of me in the darkness of the night as I studied the face I saw in my mind. I missed her so much. The events of the preceding September flooded my mind, as I thought about her illness, how she died, and her funeral.  I had been overcome with grief and regret for the past three months.

 I was startled from my musings by Stephanie’s laughing face.  There was even the familiar twinkle in her eye. “It doesn’t matter how I got here,” she seemed to say. “It doesn’t matter”, she repeated the words. ” I am here in heaven. You were right. I am scaling mountains.” It was a reference to the tribute I had written for her funeral.  “I wanted you to see how happy I am. There is no need for you to be sad.” It was clear to see that life’s burdens had been removed from her.  She was vibrant, alive.  She radiated happiness and love.  I saw and heard her in my mind’s eye; her words were not audible. 

As I studied her face, I was overcome by a physical warmth that covered my entire body, right down to my toes.  And I was completely enveloped with a remarkable sense of peace, well-being, and love. The physical warmth I experienced during my interaction with Stephanie was a  factor that convinced me that what I had experienced was real and not a figment of my imagination. 

Stephanie’s image was so real and persistent, that I became bold, and began peppering her with questions in my mind: “Did you need to get permission to come to me?” I asked her.  “Did you need to ask God to come to me, or are you able to visit people at will?  Do you get just one visit to a person on earth or can you make several visits?  Tell me about the place where you live now, and how you spend your time.  Will I see you again?”

She didn’t answer my questions.  She remained quiet, but smiling and laughing. Her joy was overwhelming. It was infectious. 

“You will be here with me soon”, she said kindly. It was so like Stephanie to speak kindly.  We had always treated each other with respect, and while we had many spirited discussions, we had never once exchanged unkind words during our 27-year friendship. It was unusual for a friendship of such duration.   She knew of the destructive power of words, and did not want to speak words that she would later regret.  She set a good example for friendship, which is partly why her friendship had been so valuable to me.

“Will I die soon?” I asked. I wasn’t anxious to leave Bob and our young children just yet, as much as I missed Stephanie.

“We will have an eternity of friendship” she answered.  “Life on earth is very short compared to eternity. You are on the right path. That’s what I want to tell you. Stay on it.”  She told me a few things, but she said the piece about being on the right path several times.  

 Seeing Stephanie so happy and so full of life and joy reminds me that we can experience part of the joy during our earthly lives that we will experience for all of eternity with God and with our loved ones.   God gives us many opportunities to experience joy by giving us people to love during our time on earth. Stephanie told me several times that I was on the right path.  It was such a comfort to me then—all those years ago, and still is.  It should be a comfort to you too, to know that you are on the right path—the path that Isaiah called the Way of Holiness. 

Paul tells us to rejoice: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).  Paul isn’t suggesting that you be joyful—his words to the church at Philippi constitute a mandate: Rejoice!  If you are a believer, having a joyful spirit is the result of your assurance that God is there for you in this life, and that he will carry you into the next life where you will never have another concern or shed another tear.

You either believe that God became a man and lived on earth two thousand years ago or you don’t believe it.  Jesus left us with a lot of evidence that he was indeed, fully God and fully man—and that is the basis for our joy.  He loved us so much that he died for us; his Spirit lives in the hearts of believers today. 

Paul was not living the high life when he wrote his letter to the church at Philippi about 61 A.D.  Despite being arrested, narrowly escaping a murderous plot, being held for two years in protective custody, surviving a shipwreck and a poisonous snake bite, and waiting in Rome another two years for his case to be heard, Paul found reasons to rejoice, and he encourages us to live our lives joyfully.

The psalmist explains that God is the way to salvation, not men: “Don’t put your life in the hands of experts who know nothing of life, of salvation life. Mere humans don’t have what it takes; when they die, their projects die with them. Instead, get help from the God of Jacob put your hope in God and know real blessing! (Psalm 146: 3-5, The Message).  That is exactly what Stephanie was saying to me when she told me that it didn’t matter how she arrived in heaven—anything that happened on earth just didn’t matter anymore. Put your trust in God.  He will come through for you.

Life gives us many opportunities to be anxious, sad, apprehensive, and fearful –money problems, relationship problems, health problems, family problems, job problems—the list goes on.  But Paul tells us to rejoice always.  Joy is not the same thing as being happy.  You are happy when good things happen.  Joy runs much deeper.  If you are grounded in faith and ask God to forgive, guide, and teach you– you will experience a quiet joy that transcends your personal circumstances at any given time.  Even in the midst of difficult and painful circumstances, the believer maintains a joyful spirit, because he or she calls upon the Lord, and knows the outcome: whatever happens, you will ultimately spend eternity in a place of incomprehensible joy where you will never shed another tear or have another worry. 

Joy is a choice. Practice joy this Advent season.

Prayer:  Father, we thank and praise you for sending Jesus to live among us—to teach and guide us—and then to die for our sins.  During this Advent season, we look forward to celebrating the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah—our Savior.  We thank you for the great joy we experience when we come into your presence now, and look forward to rejoicing with you and with our loved ones in our forever home.  Amen 

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the third Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146 

James 5:7-11; Matthew 11:2-15.  

[2] C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, published posthumously (San Diego: Harvest, 1964), 92-93.


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