Living for Christ versus longing for death

Well, today marks my 200th post on this blog. Granted, not all of them are devotionals. But it’s still pretty cool, I think. I had no idea it was getting so big.

Today’s verse is Philippians 1:21.

21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.

You’ve got to love Paul. The guy had a way with words. When he wrote this, he was in prison. And if you expand the section of verses where this specific verse came from, you can see just what kind of a perspective he had on life.

Philippians 1:20-24

 20 For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.

What would life be like if all Christians had this attitude? What would my life be like if I had this attitude? Can you imagine how incredible it would be?

And it’s not about being unafraid of dying. That’s part of it. But I still think that there will be some trepidation in death no matter how much faith you have. It’s not as though anyone can prepare you for what it will be like, after all. The only person who ever came back from the dead chose not to tell us what death will be like en media res. But some people use this verse to hammer home the concept that Christians shouldn’t be afraid of death, and that is very true. That is definitely one way to look at it. But if you look at this section, it’s talking more about life than death. And actually, it’s not even referring to death in the context of death as we normally think about it because for a Christian there’s no such thing as death; there’s just relocation.

While we live on earth, we live for Christ. When we leave earth and go to heaven, we live with Christ and have more life than we can imagine on earth. But while we’re on earth, we can accomplish things for Christ. There’s the difference. That’s the point I guess I want to focus on this morning.

As long as we’re alive, that means God has something for us to do. If we wake up in the morning, that means God wants us to live–and to live for Him. His will isn’t a static thing; it’s dynamic and fluid. While the basic tenants of His will stay the same from day to day, the way it manifests in your life might look different. For example, God’s will for my life yesterday was to go to work and work as hard as I could at my job while reaching out to the people around me and telling as many people as I could about Him, either verbally or nonverbally. Today, His will for me is going to look very much the same. Friday, it’s going to change, because I am leaving at Noon for a brief few days in Colorado with my awesome parents so His will for me will probably include being a courteous driver and being patient while my mom turns down the volume on my music in the car (j/k).

When we wake up in the morning, it’s not an accident. God always has something for us to do. Sometimes we know about it ahead of time. Most of the time, God just expects us to roll with the punches and think on our feet, which requires some knowledge of Scripture and a keen ear for listening to the Holy Spirit.

And while God’s will includes being prepared for death, it doesn’t include longing for it. It doesn’t focus on it. If we just sit around waiting to die or waiting for God to come back, why are we even here? What’s the point of our earthly existence if we’re just going to sit on our blessed assurance and wait for the end?

Paul had it figured out. While he wanted to go home and be with Christ, he knew that staying down here a bit longer would be more beneficial to the people God had sent him to. He recognized that God had a purpose for his life, and he wholeheartedly embraced it.

God gave us life — and those of us who believe in Christ, we have new life! So why don’t we live for Him? Instead of living a life that doesn’t fear death, how about we live a life that’s not afraid of living?

Our life (and death) isn’t about us

The verse for today is Romans 14:8.

8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

I think sometimes Christians get the idea that if we live to see another day, that just means we have permission to live however we want to live. It’s easy to think that because our vision is so narrow. Oftentimes we can only see our own life or the lives of the people close to us.

But according to Romans 14:8, if we get the opportunity to live another day, that means our purpose for that day is to honor God.

Once we decided to follow Christ, that means our lives are no longer our own. We don’t belong to ourselves. Granted, we didn’t belong to ourselves to begin with, as God is the Creator of all. But if you proclaim to be a Christian, that means you have given your life Christ. And that means, you live for Him.

So where do we get off thinking that we get to live for ourselves?

As Christians, our lives need to be about following Christ. My life needs to be about doing what Christ did, saying what Christ said, loving how Christ did. That’s what Christian means. We follow Christ.  We live for Christ.

But so many Christians never get there. They decide to believe that Christ died for them, which is great. That’s awesome, really. But they never take it any further than that. They believe that Christ died for them, but they never get to the point where they understand that He lived for us too. Christ didn’t just die to save us from our sins. He lived for us to give us an example of how to honor God with our lives.

Being a Christian isn’t just about fire insurance. It’s about living a life that brings honor and glory to God with our words, actions and thoughts. Is it easy? No. But as a Christian, it’s what we’re supposed to do.

Once we decide to follow Christ, we need to follow Him. Otherwise, we shouldn’t say we are Christ followers. What’s the point? If you’re not going to follow Christ, why call yourself a Christian? Does that make sense to anyone because it confuses the heck out of me.

But once we get the living for Christ thing down, there’s a flip side we have to consider. Because of course, if we live for Christ, you have to know we also need to be ready to die for Him too.

American Christians don’t really grasp this concept. So a couple of kids get picked on because they wore a Jesus t-shirt to school. Maybe some teenagers have a hard time about holding a Bible study on their campus. We think we’re persecuted? American Christians haven’t got a clue.

More people are killed for their faith in Christ today than in the days of Rome. In China. In the Middle East. In Indonesia. Killed just because they have chosen to believe in Christ. Christians have acid thrown on them. They are stripped away from their families and imprisoned or exiled. They are executed.

But those people understand that if they live, they live to honor God. And if they die, they die to honor God.

So how does this apply to us in America where we are free to believe whatever we want?

Well, you don’t have to be martyred to die for God. I’m thinking right now of one of the dearest people I ever had the privilege to know. If there are any readers of this blog who aren’t from Kansas, I don’t know if you’ll know of Judge Paul Clark. But he was a pretty big deal around here.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quit calling him Judge Clark even after he retired. He is the coolest person I have ever had the honor to know. And he loved God with all his heart. He lived for God every day. He is the kindest person I think I’ve ever met. He always made me smile because even though he couldn’t keep a rhythm to save his life, he still clapped at all the songs during the worship service.

Judge Clark died last Friday. He’d been ill for a long time, and so many of us had been praying that God would heal him. But God chose to bring him home. And I’m so thankful. Because Judge Clark is finally able to get that new body he’d been wanting for so long.

But if you want an example of how to die for God in America, you should look at Judge Clark. He never lost faith. He never got angry. And he used the time he had left to encourage others, to bless other people, and to keep telling people about what Christ had done for him.

You see, Christians get so caught up in living their lives that they think it’s all about them. Well, life isn’t about us. Our lives don’t belong to us. Our lives belong to Christ. So our lives should be about Christ, just like our deaths should be. And whether that means quitting your job and being a missionary . . . or leaving everything you know and love to go to school far away . . . or maybe it means plugging away at a job you don’t necessarily love but believe it’s where God wants you . . . whatever it is and wherever you are in life, your life belongs to God.

Whether you live or die, you belong to God. So whether you’re at the beginning of it or the end, make it about Him, and you won’t regret it.

Orbus non sufficit

The verse for today has been used over and over again, so unfortunately it’s become something of a cliche. But that doesn’t make it any less true — or any less convicting if you actually sit and think about it.

Mark 8:36

36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?

It’s a good question. Jesus said this when He was telling the disciples about His upcoming execution (the disciples either didn’t believe Him or they didn’t undertand what He was saying, which is pretty much par for the course for them). And when He called the crowd to join them, Jesus explained to them that if any of them wanted to be His followers, they had to leave everything behind to do it.

True Christianity is such a paradox. The more you fight to hang on to your life, your possessions, your selfish desires, the faster you will lose them. But if you give all of that over to God (without worrying if it will be restored or not), you’ll find more joy and more happiness than anything you could have attained on your own.

So what purpose is there to gaining the whole world? What purpose is there to gaining wealth and power and status on this crazy, broken-down planet we live on?

Well, okay, let me back up before I start sounding like I’m an advocate of living like a monk. I’m sure living that way has its perks. I’m sure having no earthly attachments must make it easier to focus on God. Does it? I don’t know. All I do know is that I’m not called to sell everything I own and wander around. At least not yet. Though if God ever told me to do that, I would do it. After all, He gave me everything I have, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly through parents and friends.

I have nothing by my own merit. Every good thing in my life has come from God. And the same is true for everyone.

You may feel like you have worked to earn the things in your life, but who gave you the strength to work? Who gave you the intelligence to think? Who has orchestrated every moment of your life to bring you to where you are right now? Do you really think that life is full of coincidences? Do you really believe that you just happened to learn the things you needed to learn so that you could get the job you just happened to get so that you could impress the people you needed to impress to allow you to get where you are right now?

I’m not old. But I’ve lived long enough and have experienced enough to know that there are no coincidences in life.

I’m thankful for everything that God has given me. I have a house and a car and a job. I have food to eat and hobbies to pursue. And I have ambition to improve myself, to make myself better today than I was yesterday. And I am not saying that’s bad. I think it’s good to want to better yourself. I think it’s the right thing to do, actually. The Bible tells us that we need to live excellent lives and to do every task as though we were doing it for Him. With that sort of a work ethic, you can’t help but do well, especially in the lazy workforce we have now.

So what happens if we end up with wealth and status and power without seeking it? Do we throw it away?

No. But we do have a choice as to what we do with it.

You have to also think about the examples in Scripture about wealthy people who were used for God’s glory. Like Job. He was the wealthiest man in the world but he was also the godliest man at the same time, and he became the object of Satan’s attacks for that reason. And when it was all over and He had never been unfaithful to God, God gave him more than He’d had before Satan struck Him down.

It’s not a sin to be wealthy. It’s not a sin to be powerful or to have status above other people.

It’s a sin to think you got it all on your own. And it’s a sin to make those things the center of your life.

If we aren’t careful, wealth and power can become idols in our lives. This is especially relevant in America where we seek both of those things with all the strength we have. But let’s be honest, guys, we can’t take either one of those things with us when we die. And what good will earthly wealth do us in heaven? In heaven, the streets are paved with gold. That should tell you what God thinks of earthly wealth. It’s so common in heaven, He’s used it to pave the streets. And what power can you possibly attain on earth that will translate to heaven? The only power and authority we have comes from God anyway. It won’t be any different in heaven.

Wealth and power are illusions. Living for them is a waste of time because when you finally obtain them, you realize that they were never real.

Living for Christ is a completely different matter. If you’re one of the people who God has specially positioned to have both earthly wealth and authority, you have a unique role to play. Just because you have wealth and status doesn’t mean you have to be selfish. As much as Christians don’t like to talk about it, this world runs on money. And everyone needs money to survive — to buy food, to get from point A to point B, to do ministry. Ministry is expensive, not just in time and effort but in dollars.

So you wealthy Christians out there, have you ever thought about what God might be calling you to do with your money?

Want to prove that money doesn’t matter to you? Give it to God. Find a church that is doing God’s work (real, biblical work and not just some religious cause) and invest there. Invest in ministry. Invest in missionaries. You may think you won’t get a return on that investment, but you will be truly surprised what God can do with a couple of dollars.

Want to prove that status isn’t your god? Be humble before your subordinates. Lead by following. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.

You can gain the world if you want, but the world won’t ever be enough for you because it isn’t real. Living for wealth is a waste of time, just like living for power. But if you live for Christ and live the way the Bible teaches, God fills up the emptiness in your heart. And not just full — overflowing. And pretty soon you’ll have so many blessings you don’t know what to do with them all.