“He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
Can you hear the tune of it… “This world is not my home; I’m just a-passin’ through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue… and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” Hmm… Is that so? Seems to me I feel pretty at home. It’s only when life gets hard or someone dies that my perspective is shaken up a bit and re-focused…
A sister in Jesus died this week. She had not intended to. She was sure through all the treatments that the Lord would do a miracle, defy the doctors’ prognoses and heal her. We were kept updated week by week through the prayer bulletin on her ‘progress’ but never a word was said about the possibility (probability) of death. After all, we wanted her to live. We were to pray for healing, and that was that. She has been healed by the Lord now; it was not exactly the way many had hoped. Will their disillusionment fuel bitterness toward God, resistance to the Gospel, flight from church and prayer and all things ‘religious’? It won’t be the first time or the last. This is the third such death in recent days here…while others suffer stoically convinced they will be healed.
When is it ok to acknowledge: ‘She’s dying’ and to bring comfort and encouragement and remind ourselves of the hope of Heaven and cheer her on to enter the gates triumphant? When do we call a spade a spade—not till it’s turning the dirt we’ll rest beneath? I don’t mean to be callous but I have seen too much of this denial of sickness that is regarded as ‘faith’, and then when death comes unexpectedly, there is devastation, disillusionment, confusion, even blame-casting as we put the incident out of sight and mind as tidily as we can despite its inconsistencies with our belief system.
Is death really an indicator of failed faith? A shame? A tragedy? Has the Devil really scored a victory when a saint is ushered from this sin-sick world and forever removed from his reach?! Can God not raise up others to continue the forwarding of his Kingdom especially as it relates to the ones we love so much?
Those hearing the medical reports could see the signs of death’s approach. It was as though the demolition team were setting up camp at the landmark building next door. The signs were posted. ‘City Hall’ was petitioned—‘No please don’t tear down our cherished heritage home’—Petitions were denied. What value then in denying the inevitable, that this dear building is slated for destruction and its occupant will be moving on? Why not redeem the opportunity to affirm her citizenship and ours, to encourage and cheer on, to say our good-byes and learn from one so near to glory…We could certainly use the perspective! Does faith really necessitate denial of physical realities like cancer? Can faith not be evidenced in other ways, like going through suffering without demanding relief, confident in a Saviour who is with me to the end…
I’m all for praying for healing. God does intervene. He does miraculously heal and extend life. But where is the putting it in His hands and leaving it with Him to determine the extent of our days? Where is the peace and acceptance when the petitions are denied? Where is the teaching that to be ‘absent from the body is to be present with the Lord’(II Cor.5:8) —the eager expectation of better things? Why do we fight so hard to avoid the ‘far better’? (Phil.1:23)
Of course we are human. We instinctively fight to live. We are loathe to let go of the ones we have shared this lifetime with….We had a ‘dry run’ to the hospital ourselves two weeks back, summoned to my mom-in-law’s bedside just in case her situation didn’t improve. She was willing to think death might be imminent and she just wanted her children near. There was opportunity to talk, to listen, to cherish, which could have been lost had she refused to reckon with the possibility of death. The urgent crisis was resolved. She rallied with the attention of kids and grandkids from near and far. But her diagnosis is terminal… She is ready to die but busy loving and being loved in the meantime. I admire her matter-of-fact attitude toward death. It is not something to be avoided at all cost. She has never wanted to grow old and be a crotchety old woman dependent on other’s care. She has gone for prayer for healing but she would love best to see her Saviour. In the meantime she cares and prays for a multitude of offspring as she waits…
Paul talked like that: “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight…and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (II Cor.5:8) But he was busy investing in people’s lives, seeking the Kingdom, making it his aim to please the Lord and he left the matter of whether he lived or died to the Lord. He was intent only on honoring the Lord in his body, whether by life or by death (Phil.1:20). I like that.
Of course this is all pretty theoretical until my turn comes…but I like to think that there is value in reminding myself of a perspective that is alien to this world…we are not citizens here. This is not home. If I am completely comfortable and intent on maintaining perfect health and accruing resources to make the duration of my stay comfortable, what’s up with that? That’s our culture’s mindset isn’t it?! A ‘certain rich man’ did that and was designated a fool for laying up treasure for himself but failing to be ‘rich toward God’(Luke 12:15) He wasn’t thinking that this night would be his last. And what was he amassing all that stuff for anyway? How aptly the King James version puts it: “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” When I head home, I can’t take it with me.
So I’m thinking it’s a good thing to face the possibility of death squarely without squirming out of it with the ‘I’m going to be healed’ clause. Jim and I are always tossing around the idea of who will go first. He has volunteered. I assure him he’ll be fine without me and it would be better to let me go first. Yes, I’m just being selfish. The point is not pleasing myself, I suppose, but cultivating a Kingdom-seeking mentality, a desire to be with Jesus but at the same time an intent to please him with my life in the meantime.
Herein is a tension. He died for us so that ‘we might live with Him’ (I Thess.5:10) which is not ultimately a hope for this lifetime. But He has given us His Spirit as a foretaste of the real deal to come, as a comfort, as a living, breathing “God with us” reality. We know in our hearts as the modern chorus echoes: “There must be more than this.” And so there is. But no spiritual experience in this lifetime, no miraculous healing or soul salvage can fill the ache to truly be in His Presence as He has wired us to be from the beginning. If we get sidetracked staking our hopes in anything in this world or the benefits we can enjoy in this lifetime “we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Cor.15:19).
And every so often a window to Heaven is opened and our Home there seems nearer and dearer, usually through pain and loss. Once upon a time when we were young we stood over the casket of our own four-month- old on a rainy morning in a lonely cemetery singing “Jesus Loves Me” with a huddle of friends and family…It was a brush with death that forever changed the way we see life. It made Heaven a more familiar, welcome hope for us. We visited the grave this past weekend to scrub away the gathering moss and algae and to read again our second-born son’s name: Josiah John followed by the inscription: “He is healed by the Lord”. Only after he had died did we learn this was literally the meaning of the name Josiah. John adds to that: “the Lord is gracious”. Yes. Our God is gracious and our God heals. And we, the “people of His pasture” and “the flock of His Hand” (Ps.95:7) can entrust our lives to this One who is our Keeper in this lifetime and the next. We can trust Him who has pledged Himself to us ‘in sickness and in health’—this One who died to be our very life (Col.3:4) We do not grieve as those who have no hope beyond the grave (I Thess.4:13). And by His Spirit we have hope that the best is truly yet to come for it is not death to die…
Please take a minute to listen to this beautiful old song, newly rendered, which brings into perspective the hope that awaits us:
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just
It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore
© 2008 Sovereign Grace Praise
Come Weary Saints album.
(Sample/buy here. I own a copy; it’s good stuff!)
Music, Chorus and Alternate Words by Bob Kauflin.
For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (II Cor.5:4,5)
…and a few more tidbits for thought…
As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way… we are treated as dying, and behold we live, as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet possessing every thing! (II Cor. 6:4-10)
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable…For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” I Cor. 15:50,53,54
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then [cometh] the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy [that] shall be destroyed [is] death.I Cor.15:22-26