At various places in this series of essays, I’ve pointed out that heaven isn’t just a place, it’s a dimension. It’s a dimension beyond what we can see, but it’s no farther away than our noses. It’s found in the unseen aspect of our lives. Look around you right now. All that you can see is sustained and animated by all you can’t see. Flesh clothes spirit. Each of us is a microcosm of the universe, for our bodies clothe our inner – and unseen – beings.
We Are Already Spiritual
All of us are spiritual – we can’t help it. If you’re conscious, you’re spiritual…because thoughts are spiritual things. We don’t often recognize how pervasive spiritual things are. Most people, when asked to list the spiritual aspects of their lives, would list prayer, and if they were involved in organized religion they’d list those activities. In other words, they’d list activities which are taken on in addition to the normal activities everyday living requires. The Bible, however, considers spirituality an aspect of work, an aspect of family life, an aspect of prayer. Spirituality, from the Bible’s point of view, is the unseen side of things. Like the radio transmission waves that fill the air around us, so the spiritual dimension is something that exists all around us. You can’t get away from it.
Since God is everywhere, you don’t have to go somewhere to find Him. He’s here with me; He’s there with you. If you take this idea seriously, it can transform every moment of your life. Most people just pay the idea lip service and never act on it.
God is at your workplace. It doesn’t matter if people cuss, if there are lewd pictures on the wall, or if the mere mention of Jesus’ name in a respectful way makes everyone nauseated – He’s still there. We have a hard time taking the “He’s everywhere” notion seriously because the scenes we see in life often seem incompatible with what we know of Him. Yet one of the things we should learn from the crucifixion of Jesus is that God can be present in the most gruesome and ungodly of circumstances.
We have this unspoken assumption that God is so powerful that He wouldn’t put up with some of the scenes we face. That’s why we picture Him more present in a majestic landscape or beautiful building than we do in our living room when everyone’s arguing about what television show to watch. The crucifixion scene also shows us that what God doesn’t enjoy, He endures. He doesn’t like rejection any more than we do. But He’s able to put up with a lot more of it because He loves people so much. Therefore, we should recognize that He is indeed present everywhere – even in life’s worst moments.
Being Sensitive to Others
Each of us is sensitive to the presence of others. We alter our behavior based on whom we are around. Granted, some of us are more sensitive than others, but all of us are sensitive to some degree. Most of us, for example, change our clothes in private. If a stranger walked in on us we’d alter our behavior instantly – we wouldn’t even need time to think. Most of us also alter our behavior in more subtle ways.
Let’s say you are married and that you and your spouse are having lunch at a restaurant with another couple. Your spouse says something that upsets you. Instead of speaking right up about it, you will probably think first to see if it’s something that should be spoken of later in private. In other words, you don’t want to embarrass the other couple. Out of respect for them, you keep your cool. You restrain what you say for their sake.
The point is the restraint and who you’re restraining yourself for – not what you’re restraining. Let’s say, instead of being upset with your spouse, that you become unusually pleased. Maybe you have a thought that makes you remember a particular reason why you hold your spouse so dear. You are overwhelmed with affection. You will probably restrain that, too, for the sake of the other couple. The urge to kiss, the urge to say something very intimate and private – these are thoughts you will suppress for the sake of the other people present. It’s simply a matter of being sensitive to what makes others comfortable or uncomfortable.
Not only does the presence of others cause us to restrain certain behavior, it also causes us to release certain behavior. If a local singer has been told that a big city talent scout is in the audience, there is likely to be a little more effort put into the performance. If a little girl knows that her grandparents are seated in the front row at the dance recital, she’s probably going to put more energy into her routine than if her grandparents had stayed home. The singer and the little girl are energized by the interest shown them. And if they see their prized witnesses beam, the energy just intensifies.
It’s possible for us to practice this same sensitivity toward God. We have all the facts that we need. We know He’s present. We know He sees all of us – from the clothes and skin right down to the deepest thoughts and motives. He’s a person – a wonderful person whose approval we’d like to have. While we don’t yet know everything about Him, we know enough to gauge some of His general likes and dislikes. This knowledge will guide us to restrain certain behaviors and release others. We know that He won’t immediately reject us if we happen to do something He dislikes. Best of all, we know that we have the power to do what He does like – that is, we have the power to make Him beam! That’s a power than energizes us even more.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Being aware that God is everywhere, and caring about His opinion of you, will transform your behavior like nothing else. It will give your life a new dimension. Spirituality ceases to be an activity you engage in, and becomes a way you engage in all your activities. This is the transforming power of heaven.
If you can be sensitive to other people’s presence, you can be sensitive to God’s presence. It’s just a matter of recognizing the differences between God and other people. That God can’t be seen is the first difference, for you usually can see the other people in your presence. That God can see everything about you is the second difference, for people are limited in what they can see of you physically and spiritually. That God is the paragon of all virtue is the third difference, for the rest of us can only strive for that ideal. Keep these three differences in mind and then simply show the sensitivity to God that you show to other people.
In practicing this method of relating to God, you haven’t adopted some strange new theological concept. You’ve simply made practical an idea that is widely acknowledged to be true: that there is one God, invisibly present everywhere and knowing all things. You might think that disciplining ourselves to remember this God shouldn’t be necessary, but it’s part of the freedom we’ve been granted on this earth. That is, we have the freedom to think the way we want. If we want to think more about God, we have to do it. He will not make us.
In case you haven’t noticed, the natural course of the world is just to forget God. In fact, God is the easiest person in the world to ignore. Most of us respond negatively when we’re ignored. We walk away or we complain or we ignore in return. God just keeps on loving, keeps on staying, keeps on planning to take us to heaven. It’s wonderful that He’s so committed to us, but the downside is that it makes Him so easy to forget. That’s why we have to rework our method of daily thinking to include Him.
The method I’m presenting to you therefore isn’t so much a new method, but an adjustment to the method you already live by. It’s an alteration of your consciousness to incorporate God. Almost without thinking, we adjust our consciousness of others as they come in and out of our presence or as we go in and out of theirs. God is omnipresent and that requires a more permanent adjustment. This adjustment is hard to make; that’s why I say it takes practice. It’s so difficult that you will fail at remembering God far more than you succeed at it – especially in the early stages. But every moment that you do remember Him will be a moment that transforms you. And the more of these moments you accumulate, the more transformed will be your day.
What gives this method particular transforming power is the nature you ascribe to this ubiquitous God. In other words, what do you think He’s like? For without some sense of what the other person is like, we don’t fully know just how to be sensitive. If you know a person hates jokes, for example, you won’t regale them with stories from the latest humor book you’ve found. If you know your friend hates beans, you’re not going to prepare a bean salad for lunch. Therefore, the likes and dislikes of the person are crucial to your being sensitive to that person.
The best way to think of God’s character is to think of Jesus. Consider what would make Him smile or frown. Let Jesus be the face of God to you, for that’s just what He was intended to be. (For further help, see the post Practicing the Presence of Christ.)