Saturday, January 15, 2011

Good Pressure

But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:22-26, NKJV).
Paul knew that he could not lose anything of value through death. He also knew that by remaining alive he would continue to fulfill God's design for him. At the same time, he understood that by dying physically he would be brought into the glorious Presence of his Lord, so he was torn. Continued service or enter Heaven? Understand that he would never take his destiny into his own hands. He knew he was not his own, but was bought with a price - Jesus' crucifixion. What he was expressing was his heart-felt inner conflict, not a plan of action. This gives us insight into his priorities, and by doing so, provides us with both immense comfort, and indescribable anticipation; a synopsis of being in Christ. 

For it is only by being in Christ through faith that we are assured of living purpose. Nothing that happens to us is by accident. It is all, every part of it, fraught with meaning and according to divine plan, customized by an Infinite Intelligence precisely, lovingly, for our best possible good. And not just for our good, but for the good of those around us in the world, and especially in the church. That is why we are likened to a Body, with the Lord as the head. Each one of us, once saved, is gifted by God to minister in some unique way to that Body, and there is no end to the diversity of gifts and service, because there is no end to God's goodness.

There is immense comfort in these incredible truths, knowing that there are no accidents, and no meaningless suffering in the life of a child of God; knowing "…that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28, NKJV). And in this comfort there is strength, and endurance, and patience, and a child-like ability to "[trust] in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths." (Proverbs 3:5, 6, NKJV). The world does not, nor cannot, have this assurance until the inherent enmity against God comes to an end by the human heart coming to the Cross of Christ.

Nevertheless, there is a heavenly tension, a good pressure, between this abiding comfort, and the indescribable anticipation of knowing our ultimate destiny. For we are destined by Christ Himself to come boldly into the very Throne Room of Heaven, where there is eternal blessing, sweet fellowship with one another and all the saints, joyous worship of our King, and no pain or death or sorrow or sin. No darkness in this fallen world could obscure the light of heaven that informed Paul's perspective. And we are given every reason and confirmation in Scripture that it should not obscure our perspective, as well.

There is a false saying that it is possible to be so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good. No one immersed in the Word of good could possibly come to that discouraging and completely erroneous conclusion. The opposite is true. As one devoted brother of the past has so famously prayed, "Lord, stamp eternity onto my eyelids!" By focusing on Heaven we see the earth in proper focus, and we know beyond doubt that everything in this life is ephemeral, impermanent, and shadowy. The only thing that matters is a person's relationship with Christ. And that is worth any risk, then, to bring that light of Christ to the world, or even to one other soul.

It is irrefutable fact that "mere Christianity" has been the driving impetus for reform, humanitarianism, and sacrificial service on behalf of others. More hospitals, orphanages, and universities have been founded by Christians than any other group. Through faith in Christ, history has been irrevocably changed by those very individuals who had the same conflict between serving on earth and entering heaven. As C.S. Lewis has written, "Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither."

We also see that Paul's love for the church at Philippi served as yet another motivation to live a fruitful life. He recognized honestly, without any trace of conceit, that they needed him. He had no doubt that he could minister to the flock through his apostleship and teaching in a way that honored his God and edified them. And it is clear that he was convinced they felt the same way.  For he was confident of this, and knew that he would remain and continue with [them] all for [their] progress and joy of faith, that [their] rejoicing for [him] may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by [his] coming to [them] again.
Apply this attitude in your life, accept that good pressure and let it energize you to live a courageous and bold life in Christ, being confident that living surrendered to His Spirit you will accomplish His purposes for your life, and the moment your part is done, He will bring you home, embrace you in His loving arms and say, “…Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord."(Matthew 25:23, NKJV).