Sydney has been sick for a few days, so we have logged in the hours watching Top Ten Beaches in Caribbean, a Baby Story, Jon and Kate plus 8 and the Food Network. The beaches on the one show were exclusive, secluded, indulgent and what I would consider a personal paradise. Our version of Paradise is at best only an inkling of what I imagine God created for us. Fruit at our finger tips, fresh water never filtered, soft ground to walk on so no need for shoes, cool ponds for dipping, and a perfection that only He could conduct. And the best part, His glory shining through us, a constant walk with Him and the ability to talk to Him for as long as it took. No time restraints. And no reservation required. A place of paradise where work, self, suffering, pain or oppression were not part of the mix. His grace was sufficient to live on and with, in the garden. We were graced to be a part of God's domain in paradise. This picture from a few years ago is when our family was blessed to go on a family trip to what William and I would consider a slice of paradise. The same place we spent our honeymoon, only this time 25 years later and with all six kids. We knew we were coming to a place in our lives and our children's lives, where all of us being together like that was, yes, Paradise indeed. We sat on this porch every evening looking out, watching the waves, quiet, contemplating and enjoying being side by side. Our little paradise moment forever etched in my mind.
I recently spent a few hours with a close friend. I was helping her with a computer site, me?, and we got to talking about the Lord. Then some of the others who work with her came in and joined in. Two hours go by and we are still talking about God. I told one of them this is what I pictured it to be like in paradise and will be again one day. No bother with what time it is and you can just talk to the Lord all you want. If we all could/would only spend all of our days in paradise conversing, co-laboring and mingling with God what a world this would be. We have been given the burden however because of our consequence to "till the land" and work. Which would indicate to me the work, jobs or duties we were given in paradise were not considered work, but joy. Perhaps this is what God means when He says My joy is your strength. When we walk, work and serve in His joy it is His strength that sustains us in our fallen world.
As I was walking today in the balmy cool morning I noticed the new growth on the trees, the green grass that is emerging through the brown, people out working on their homes, squirrels hunting for food and all was well in our neck of paradise. "Livin the dream" as some folks say. One of the trees had these pollen like streamers hanging from each end of its branches that looked like bright green chandeliers. They were long and clustered together like the crystals on an ornate crystal light fixture. Then I passed under a type of pine where the branches grew only on the top of the main branch coming from the trunk and nothing pointed down. Everything pointed to the heavens so it was flat on the underside of each branch like a canopy and ceiling. It was really sort of like something out of a storybook. I thought about how hard we all are working to get back to paradise. How hard we are all working to make our own paradise within our dwelling places. Paradisaical notions that WE can create an idealized place where we live positive, harmonious and timeless lives are all only temporary appeals to our senses. One hurricane away from wreckage. We have confused a place of contentment with a land of luxury and idleness twisting human descriptives into the meaning of Paradise. Are we able to grasp the concept of paradise within? In Luke 23:43 Jesus says to the thief while nailed to the cross," Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise". Here the commentary says this "garden place" refers to the state of blessedness from death to resurrection. In 2 Cor. 12:4 Paradise is identified with the place of blissful fellowship with God. And in Rev. 2:7 John reveals more of Jesus when Jesus says,"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." There is a lot going on in this verse, but I think it ties in with this idea of paradise within rather than lost. Jesus is asking us to develop our spiritual ear when he says "He who has an ear". Well we all have ears, but what He is revealing is that He will talk to us. Just like He did in the garden. He is asking us to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church. And the church is us folks. When forced to choose, obey God, not man! A wise believer takes the time to listen with his spiritual hearing to what the Spirit is saying to him. Someone who hears and follows the voice of the Holy Spirit does not need to fear the deception that leads to abandoning God. He who hears will walk where Jesus requires and asks and will grow in the things of God. He who overcomes, gives us hope that we can overcome, and is also a military term suggesting combat against forces of the evil one. All believers are overcomers, and those who remain faithful in the midst of persecution gives proof to their faith. The tree of life symbolizes spiritual sustenance to maintain eternal life. Paradise, a Persian word for garden, designates the heavenly garden of God where the perfect fellowship that God and humankind enjoyed before the Fall. I am coming to a greater understanding of what true paradise is and how we can achieve it. Listen, trust and obey. I spin an endless web of words that only end up entangling me in my own web of misconceptions or unbelief. When all I have to do is listen, trust and obey. The product of those three ingredients is paradise within. I listen closely to His Word, His prayers and His Voice. I trust that He is who He says He is and can do what He says He can do. Then I, with His help and to the best of my ability, obey. Obedience for me is multilayered. It has to do with obeying as much as it has to do with submitting, relinquishing control, submerging to His hand, emerging within His grip, stepping aside, allowing Him access, spiritual agreement, covenant making, subjecting to His Will, adhering to His plan, correlating to His mindset, deciphering His message, accepting, embracing, complimenting our established relationship with Him and I am beginning to think this list could go on forever. I think you get the picture.
Paradise may be lost according to Milton, but for brief moments or for long extended times our relationship with God is what connects us back to Paradise. He gives us those glimpses of paradise within us in Him. I am finding it more and more satisfying and important to journal these times of paradise in my life. It can be as simple as talking to a friend for two hours, noticing something about a tree on a walk, or as grand as hearing His voice, His call. He tells us we only see in part, and what He reveals is so beautiful so, "I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by His side". I can only imagine when all I'll see is forever staring back at me. Don't just continue to exist without being a light in the darkness. Let your paradise shine for all to see His Glory that is within thee. Your Paradise awaits.