What is it Like to Die? Part 1 – Basic Stuff You Need to Know

Originally published in August 2014

When I had my heart attack, I was dead for about 30 minutes.  I do not have a specific memory of that experience, maybe because I was sedated when it happened.  I have some impressions that I will share in later posts along with my thoughts on death and what happens when we die.  This series will “get into the weeds” a little bit and I hope you will hang with me.  It’s stuff we don’t often think about and it may be the most important stuff I say in the blog.

Let’s start with a fundamental truth: our spirit, or soul, lives forever.  Once you exist, you never cease to exist.  At death, your soul is freed from your body, but it doesn’t perish.  Take a minute to let that sink in.

Jesus told us that, when we die, our souls will be taken to heaven where we will spend eternity with God or we will go to hell where we will spend eternity separated from God.  Heaven is a place of joy and fellowship, hell is a place of suffering (we see the consequences of decisions we can’t change) and darkness.  Hell isn’t something we like to talk about, but Jesus talked about it a lot.  It is real and he doesn’t want us there.

What heaven and hell have in common is that things happen, but time never passes.  Imagine the most peaceful and joy-filled time of your life, you look at the clock and it is stopped.  The peace and joy continue and time remains stopped.  Can this go on forever? Yes, it does.  Now imagine the worst time you ever had: fear, regret, panic, suffering and pain.  Imagine being trapped in that time.  You keep checking the clock and time has not passed.  Can this go on forever? Yes, it does.

So, the big question you should be asking is: How do I make sure that, when the time comes, I am going to heaven and not to hell?  Do  you meet the entry requirement?  To get into heaven, a person must be perfect without ever having sinned.  God is perfect and he cannot allow imperfect souls to be around Him.  That’s a problem because, on our own, we are not perfect.  That’s where Jesus comes in.

The consequence for our imperfection, or sin, is eternal death. Or, as Paul says, the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). When we sin, we earn death. Paul also confirms that we all have sinned and fall short of God’s perfect standard (Romans 3:23). We like to think that “sins” are the “big things” that we don’t do. But, the truth is, that sin is every time we do not follow God’s law perfectly. By that standard, I can’t begin to count how many times a day that I sin.

God knew that His standard was unreachable when he set it, that is why He planned an alternative. For us, because we sin, death is the necessary outcome. But, what if a person did live a perfect life? That person would not have “earned death” and would be entitled to go to heaven and spend eternity with God. That person is Jesus. He lived a perfect life, yet he gave up his life for us on the cross. Jesus died the death that we are all condemned to die. God allows us to claim Jesus’ death on the cross as the death that we should have received for our sins. Then, because the price for our sin has been paid, God wipes out its consequences and we can enter heaven as if we had never sinned. The Bible calls us “righteous” meaning that we now have right standing before God.  When we get to heaven and are asked, “Did you live a perfect life?”  We can say, “I have accepted the perfect life that Jesus lived for me.”

The last question is, if you don’t have this right standing with God and are sure you will go to heaven when you die, how do you get it? You simply need to ask. There are many versions of the “sinner’s prayer” that you can pray. I will give you one here. There is no magic formula. You are committing you life to God and asking Him to forgive you and change you. Will there be changes in your life? You bet. Will it always be smooth sailing? No. But, I can assure you that a life spent on earth at peace with God and eternity in heaven with Him will far outweigh any temporary problems you may face.

Here’s what you can pray. Don’t be afraid to be honest and fill in the gaps.

“Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Please take my life and make me the kind of person You want me to be.”

This prayer is from the Cru Web site.  If you want more information, follow this link.

If you have prayed this prayer for the first time, welcome to the kingdom of heaven! If you have prayed this prayer or something like it to recommit your life to Jesus, welcome back.  Now,  scroll back to the top of the page and click the header to go the blog main page if you are not there already.  Read the posts on daily prayer and daily Bible reading and get started.

A Simple Plan for Daily Bible Reading

You may have tried reading the Bible from front to back.  Genesis and Exodus are pretty exciting, but you fell asleep in Leviticus and gave up in Numbers.  You’re not alone and not without hope.

I recommend that folks try a daily reading plan where they read the Bible in a year.  That way, you are getting regular input from the Bible and you get to see God’s big picture.  You also aren’t just picking and choosing the good parts and avoiding the parts that make you uncomfortable.   I have done it for over 15 years now and it stays fresh.  I am always seeing something new.

Start by finding a Bible that is designed for annual reading, like the One Year Bible or find a reading plan that breaks it down for you.  I use the Olive Tree Bible app on my iPad and they have a host of reading plans you can select.  My preference is a plan where I am reading through the Bible chronologically with readings from the Old and New Testament each day.  There are so many choices available to you.  Visit your local Christian book store and they can help.  (I work for Family Christian and I know we have many options.)

Begin your Bible reading time with prayer, either as part of your devotional time or just ask God to open His word to you as you read it and make you sensitive to what He wants you to learn.  You will begin to see that God uses the regular input that you are receiving to shape your life and attitude for the better.  Paul calls it a “transforming” of the mind as we see life from God’s perspective and not our own.

As I said in an earlier post, the purpose for this time is to get regular Bible input that gives God the raw material to build positive change in your life.  As you read, you will have questions or ideas that you want to look into.  Keep a Bible reading journal (it could be part of your prayer journal if you have one) where you write down topics, questions, and ideas that you would like to investigate more deeply.

For the purposes of your daily reading, focus on what the Bible passage is saying and ask how it applies to you.  What truths can you apply to your life?  Does the passage identify sin that you need to confess?  Maybe it will give you direction in a problem that you are trying to solve.  Nothing jumps out at you today?  No problem, just stick with it.  The more you read the more it will begin to apply.  My physical therapist told me that the work I did one week would begin to show next week.  Bible reading is a similar cumulative process.  Give it time to build up.

It seems like Bible reading should be more complicated, but it isn’t.  It is a matter of discipline to read the Bible daily.  If you will do it, you will see the result in your life.  You can’t read the Bible daily and not be changed by it.

Now you have the two basic tools for spiritual growth and preparedness: prayer and Bible reading.  There’s more and I will talk about it in future posts.  If you are doing these two things, leave a comment with your approach and suggestions.  If you’re not, why not start today?

A Simple Plan for Daily Prayer

I suppose there are all sorts of complicated plans that you could develop for Bible reading and prayer, but I figure that the harder I make it, the less likely I am to do it.  So, I keep it simple. Simple is good for me.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to call this “devotional time.”  It is time spent with God talking to Him and reading His word.  I will talk in other posts about the kind of Bible study where you dig into specific topics or questions.

Start by picking a consistent time.  Many people like their devotional time in the mornings before they start the day.  My time is in the evening as I close my day.  The reason was more by default than by plan and you can read about it here.  [Editor’s note – since writing this, I have changed to a morning devotional time.] If you can take time in the morning, I think that is a good choice.  Whatever time you pick, be consistent.  You want this to become a habit and that takes a period of consistent repetition.

Open your time with prayer.  Putting aside all the theological stuff, prayer is talking to God.  Does God already know you and what you need, sure, but He likes to hear from you.  Haven’t prayed in a while.  No problem, a simple model to get you started is the acronym ACTS.

“A” stands for acknowledgement or adoration.  Begin by acknowledging that you are talking to the God of the universe.  It doesn’t need to be overly formal.  As you read Jesus prayers or the Psalms, you will get an idea of how to start.  You may just start with, “Dear God, thank you that you want to spend time with me and that you care for me.  Please guide me as I pray because I am new at this.”  The more comfortable you become the easier it will be to get started.

“C” is for confession.  We all fall down.  Even the best people fail and normal people mess up all the time.  God’s standard is perfection.  He is perfect and he wants us to be perfect.  Of course, we can’t be perfect on our own and I’ll write more on that later.  I like to think of confession as “clearing the air” with God.  He knows where I have failed, I know where I have failed, let’s get it out there and admit.  The great thing about confession is that I can ask for forgiveness, cleansing and healing.  Tell God where you have failed and where you need Him.  Can’t think of anything to confess?  Ask God to show you.  If you keep in mind the two greatest commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself, you will probably have enough to get started.

“T” is for thanksgiving.  What are you thankful for?  How has God blessed you?  Let Him know that you noticed and you are thankful for it.  The Bible teaches that we should be thankful in all circumstances and not just for the good things.  You may not be there there yet, but there are things in your life to be thankful for.  As you grow in this area, you will be able to thank God for the struggles and trials because He will use them to make you look like Jesus.  As hard as it may be to believe, that is His ultimate goal, that we become more like Jesus every day.

“S” is for supplication, a fancy word for “asking for stuff” that rounds out the acronym and makes is easy to remember.  You may have thought of prayer as only asking for stuff, I hope this helps you see that there is more to it than that.  At the same time, you might believe that asking for stuff is selfish or wrong.  It’s OK to take your cares and concerns to God and ask Him to get involved.  You can pray for yourself and for other people.  God wants you to bring your cares and concerns to Him and He will respond.  Keep a prayer journal.  Write down the things you are praying about and asking God to get involved in and then write down how He responds.  It is a great faith-building experience.

I always close my prayer with “In Jesus name, amen”  The “amen” is just how Christians traditionally say “OK, I’m finished praying now.”  The “in Jesus name” is important because Jesus tells to pray in his name.  So, I’m not going to change that.  Again, there is a lot of theology that supports it.  But, basically, it is through Jesus that we have the right to pray and ask God for anything.   That’s enough reason for me to close with ‘In Jesus name, amen.”

There you have it.  As you grow comfortable with prayer, you won’t need this model.  Just like building a relationship with anyone else, as you build your relationship with God, you will find that you have a lot to talk about and that you and God are talking all the time.  Pick a time and place and get started.  Commit to it now.   Next I will talk about a simple Bible reading plan that I have used for years to get daily input from the Bible.

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Pray Now

Mark 9:14-28:  [14] *And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. [15] And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him [Jesus], were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. [16] And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” [17] And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. [18] And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and *they were not able.” [19] And he answered them, “O *faithless generation, *how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”[20] And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it *convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. [21] And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. [22] And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But *if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” [23] And Jesus said to him, *“If you can! *All things are possible for one who believes.” [24] Immediately the father of the child cried out * and said, “I believe; *help my unbelief!” [25] And when Jesus saw that *a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, *“You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” [26] And after crying out and *convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” [27] But Jesus *took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. [28] And when he had *entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” [29] And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

One of the things I have noticed as we are going through this process is that I don’t worry about the outcome.  [You can read the original series of posts from 2014 starting here.]  At this point, it appears that God will heal me completely and that I will walk again. There have been enough worrisome things happen to us that I might fret a little about what is next or what we will do.  But, instead I find a peace that passes understanding and the assurance that comes from knowing that God holds the future.  He has already determined what will happen and my responsibility is to follow His leading and cooperate.

This conclusion is not based on some blinding revelation from God but, rather, on the years I have spent building a foundation of prayer, Bible study, and studying God’s character.  I believe in an unchanging God who loves me unconditionally and who will work all things together for my good because I am called according to His purpose  (Romans 8:28-30).  All of the truth that I have stored up is now ready to use and God has the raw material to build this situation into the outcome that He desires.  I could not imagine coming into this situation unprepared.  I would be overwhelmed with questions about why bad things happen to good people, why it feels like God is punishing me, and what would have happened if I died.  I will talk about all of those topics over the next days and weeks.

When you go on a vacation, you probably plan for it months in advance.  A journey like I am on starts in a heartbeat.  You must always be ready.  I chose the scripture for the opening because it highlights that important point.  Mark tells us that Jesus told the disciples that they could not cast out the unclean spirit because this kind only comes out with prayer.  But, as you read, Jesus did not pray, he simply commanded it to leave.  The disciples couldn’t command the spirit to leave and apparently did not think to pray.  Jesus, as the Son of God, clearly had authority to simply banish the spirit.  But, Jesus was also a man of prayer.  This event was the day after the transfiguration.  Jesus was undoubtedly up early and in prayer about his day.  He was ready when he encountered the boy with the unclean spirit.  The spirit came out with prayer because Jesus had gone into the situation with prayer.

My goal is to live in a state of readiness.  I don’t know what I will encounter, but I know that there will be trials and temptations along the way.  And, sometimes, there are experiences like I have had that are completely unforeseeable.  On June 12, I never would have expected to be where I am today.  Without the years I spent in prayer, Bible study, and learning about God, I never would have been ready.  This has been the greatest physical challenge I have ever faced.   The spiritual battle has been ferocious,  there is an adversary, and for some reason he does not want me well.  But, I am trusting the grace and mercy of my unchanging God to lead me through this process and bring me out stronger and better because of it.

What should you be doing?  I will talk in my next post about my approach to daily Bible study and a simple outline for jump-starting your prayer life.  Think of it as preparing your “life’s journey emergence suitcase.”  You want it filled with prayer, Bible and a firm knowledge of who God is.  Sometimes you will pull things out of it as you need them and sometimes you may be called to live out of it for a while.  Either way, you want it to be ready.