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?

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What really matters

Sometimes it is difficult for me to distinguish the difference between my life and my actions. It’s very easy to get caught up in thinking that you are what you do, and it’s even easier to label people (yourself and others) by your job description or by your talents or by your accomplishments. Tony is a lawyer. Sarah is a dancer. Jake is the winner of the race.

I think we label people because we can’t see inside them. So it’s easier to identify people by putting labels on them, either to help us distinguish them from the crowd or to keep them safe in a box where they won’t threaten us. Either way, people are far more than how their labels describe them. We usually just can’t see it.

Every individual’s life is precious. There’s no denying or disputing that. Every person is unique and special and God sacrificed His most precious blood to save us.

Conversely, our actions are repeatable. Our accomplishments can be bested. Our job descriptions change, sometimes like the wind. And our talents aren’t really that unique, if you think about. Any “new” talent anyone has probably isn’t truly new; it just hasn’t been seen before.

I got to thinking about this when I read today’s verse of the day.

Acts 20:24

24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

I find this interesting because Paul (who is speaking) was a pretty important guy. He was educated. He was intelligent. He was a Jew among Jews, which at the time meant he was pretty special. But none of those things mattered to him after he started following Jesus. I’m sure Paul accomplished a lot in his life, but the only thing that mattered to him after he started following Jesus was telling other people about Him.

This really made me wonder about the worth of my own actions.

My life, as in who I am inside, is precious to God. I get that. But what about my actions? What about the things I have done that haven’t been for Him?

Anything I have done only for myself really has no bearing on God. The things I do for myself are small and insignificant because they only benefit me — and most of the time I don’t know if it’s an actual benefit or not.

But the things I have done for God, not matter how small they start out, they usually end up ballooning until hundreds of people are blessed or encouraged. And most of the time, I never intended to accomplish anything like that. I just knew I needed to do what God had called me to do, and I did it. I had no idea how He would use it.

There’s an old hymn (I think it’s a hymn) called “Little is Much When God Is in It” and I think that’s very true.

We only have a limited time on Earth. Compared to eternity, it’s not even substantial enough to classify. The Bible just calls it a vapor, a puff of smoke. One moment here, the next moment gone. So in that limited time, what are we going to accomplish? What talent are we going to pursue? What job are we going to do? And what is the point?

Paul felt like his accomplished life would be worth nothing if it weren’t directed at doing God’s work, at finishing the task that had been appointed to him by God. I agree with that. And I agree with it in the perspective of my own life. The things that I have done for myself won’t last. But the things I’ve done for others in God’s name? That’s a whole different ball game.

I know many Newtonian Laws passed out of vogue with the advent of Einstien’s Theory of Relativity and the craziness of Quantum Physics but as far as I can tell, every action still has an opposite and equal reaction. What we do on Earth effects what our lives will be like in eternity. Our choices on Earth directly effect our lives in eternity. I don’t want to say that Earth is the proving grounds of Heaven, but it kind of is. If you can choose to live your life for Christ while you are mired in the darkness of this world, if you can see past the temporariness that is life on Earth and realize that what is coming after Earth is so much better, if you can live for eternity now while you’re dying with every breath — heaven will be a rewarding place.

I know my life is precious. But my actions are useless, futile, and small until I do them for God.

C.T. Studd wrote a poem that I think pretty much sums up what Paul was saying:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

In the grand scheme of life, our actions will either make us greater on earth or bring us greater reward in heaven (which usually means we are made more humble on earth). The next promotion won’t last. The next “new” talent will fade into obscurity. The next accomplishment will pass as soon as someone does something better or greater. But the things you do for Christ remain and will be remembered forever, if not by people then by God Himself. And that is what really matters.