Which to Choose?
September 13, 2022
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21, NIV).
His leukemia was slightly worse but should not require treatment for a few months. We started chatting about the sweltering heat, and he described his work on an outdoor deck. “I got so hot my eyeballs were burning. Never had my eyeballs burn before.” Before he left, I asked him to document his distress level from a chart on the wall.
“On a scale of one to 10 what is your level of stress, anxiety or depression? One means you’re as happy as a pig in mud, and 10 means you’d rather be in heaven.”
I knew his faith, so I should have predicted his answer. He grinned and said, “I’m at zero distress, and I still would rather be in heaven.”
Which to choose?
I am presently straining to memorize Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and every day I face this passage, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Paul goes on to say, “Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two…” (Philippians 1:22-23, NIV).
What person in his/her right mind says stuff like that? We all want to live—in this life. God created us to feel that way. Few of us would choose death now, even with heaven on the other side.
For most of my life, heaven has represented an escape from the terror of saying goodbye. I thank God for that escape, but I am quite happy where I am and a bit afraid of that unknown. Of course, I want to be with the Lord forever, but it’s a timing issue.
Which to choose?
Is Paul serious? Can we simultaneously love this life and long to leave it without feeling like swivel-heads rotating back and forth between the two?
There are times in my life when I am ready to be raptured and kneel at God’s feet. There are other times I so much love this life that I hug the earth and never want to let go. I swing back and forth and can’t really envision both possibilities at the same time. But I am changing:
Because of Jesus.
As experience after experience has drawn me closer and closer to Christ, I am beginning to understand what Paul meant, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23b, ESV). My understanding of heaven lately has become not so much about protection from the end of life as it is an opportunity to be face to face with the One whom I am learning to love more and more each day.
Next spring, I am so very much looking forward to a vacation with my wife on our 50th anniversary, a dedicated time with the love of my life. At the same time, I am filled today with the joy of children, grandchildren, patients and friends. In no way do I need to sacrifice the joy of today in order to anticipate the joy of that future event with the wife I love. I don’t have to give up one joy so that I might gain the other.
Just so, heaven is much more about the Person to whom we are going than a protection from the end of life. My patient was right. It is certainly possible to be happy where we are and long to be elsewhere at the same time.
Let me long for you, even as I love the life you have given me. Help me also to agree with Paul, “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me” (Philippians 1:22a, NIV).