A few months ago I sat at the hospital bed of my dear friend Andrea. We were as comfortable as we could be, given the clinical nature of her room, and the daffodils were just beginning to flower in the hospital grounds. Here was the promise of new life. Imagine my shock when my friend turned to me and said, ‘I know I am dying.’ It was not what I expected to hear, and I was stunned by her honesty and bravery in sharing this with me. I held her hand and prayed a brief prayer, not quite finding the right words.
I came home in shock and tears. How was I going to handle the next hospital visits? I am wary of platitudes at the best of times, but also of using Bible verses as aspirins. Then I remembered that on my bookshelves in my office at home was a copy of Sharon James’ book The Dawn of Heaven Breaks – Anticipating Eternity. I reached for it and reminded myself of the contents.
Here was a book written for the very situation I found myself in. It says on the back cover, ‘If you or someone you love is enduring trials or even facing death, this book will help to provide courage to persevere in the faith and hold on to the hope that the believer has in Christ. It will also help and encourage all of us to prepare for eternity.’ This was it – the very resource I needed. It was my constant companion on every subsequent hospital visit. Sometimes I just read aloud from some of the Bible texts in the book, sometimes I referred to thoughts from the book in our conversations. But to be honest, I think I benefitted the most – from re-reading the book and from contemplating eternity in the face of death. Eternity really is something to look forward to!
As part of the book, Sharon James pulls together extracts from the writings of long ago and more recent days. Here are some which I found moved and comforted me as I watched my friend face death after a long fight with a rare cancer. I read most of them in the hospital while I was with her or in the waiting room before going in and see her.
“To be lifted from a bed of sickness to a throne of glory! To leave a sinful troubled world, a sick and pained body and be in a moment perfectly cured and feel yourself perfectly well and free from all troubles… You cannot imagine what this will be like.”
John Flavel (1630-1691), Puritan minister and author
“The hope to see one another on the other side of the grave is entirely natural, genuinely human, and also in harmony in Scripture… It is true that the joy of heaven consists primarily in fellowship with Christ, [but] it also consists in fellowship of believers with each other… Jesus himself pictures the joy of heaven under the symbolism of a banquet where all will sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Matthew 8:11, Luke 13:28)”
Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), Dutch Reformed Theologian
“Christ himself will lead us, scarcely knowing where we are, through the waters; when we open our half-bewildered eyes in brief wonder, the first thing we will see will be his welcoming smile. His voice will say, as a tender surgeon might say to a little child waking after an operation, ‘It is all over.’”
Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), pastor and writer
“The saints shall know that God loves them, and they will never doubt the greatness of his love and they shall have no doubt of the love of all their fellow-inhabitants in heaven. The saints shall have no fear that the love of God will never abate towards them, or that Christ will not continue always to love them with unabated tenderness and affection.”
Jonathan Edwards ((1703-1758), American preacher and theologian during the Great Awakening
“The Sun of Righteousness has been gradually drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as he approached, and now he fills the whole hemisphere, pouring forth a flood of glory in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the sun, exalting yet almost trembling when I gaze on this excessive brightness, and wonder why God should deign thus to shine upon a sinful worm.”
Edward Paysen (1783-1827), minister in USA in times of revival. He wrote these words to his sister shortly before dying of TB at the age of 44.
My friend died peacefully with her dear family by her side. It was a privilege to spend time with her in the days of her final journey and to be reminded along the way, that death is not the end, just the beginning of something new and exciting, prepared for us before the foundation of the world. Something to look forward to.
All extracts are used with the permission of Sharon James, the editor of the book, and the publishers, Evangelical Press.