For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 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. (Philippians 1:21-23, N.K.J.V.)
The past few weeks have reminded me of how “far better” life in heaven must be than life upon this earth. Visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and Hospices will do that for you. Praying for folks who have lost loved ones will, too.
I’ll start with my dad. He recently spent a week in our local hospital recovering from a variety of physical problems (urinary tract infection, dehydration, a heart flutter, etc.). Even when he was released, he didn’t return home. Instead, he went to the physical therapy wing of a nearby nursing home. He’s scheduled to spend the next three weeks there doing physical therapy. Hopefully, once he completes the three weeks, he’ll be well enough to return home.
On the subject of nursing homes, a few weeks ago I visited a church member who had been placed in one in a county adjacent to ours. We had a blessed visit together, but it was obvious that she wasn’t well either physically or mentally. Now she has been transitioned to a Hospice care facility in another county. I visited with her there the day before yesterday but she didn’t rouse up enough to have a conversation. I did, however, spend the time having a good talk with one of her sons. He confirmed that death is imminent for her unless the Lord intervenes.
That same day I received news from one of my deacons that his sister had died. The news wasn’t surprising because she had been hovering near death for some time, but that didn’t make the pain the family was feeling any less real. Actually, the woman’s death was something of a relief for her. I say that because she just couldn’t get better and didn’t want to go on struggling like she was struggling.
What I’m happy to report is that the common denominator in all three of these cases is that each person is a Christian. One of them is a Christian spending the next three weeks in a nursing home. Another one is a Christian currently residing in a Hospice care facility. And another one is a Christian who is now enjoying the wonders of heaven. In other words, one of the Christians is already in heaven and the other two have reservations awaiting them there. Heaven, of course, is a place devoid of hospitals, nursing homes, Hospices, hospital gowns, i.v.’s, catheters, and oxygen masks. Christian doctors and nurses will be there but there won’t be a need for their services. As David says of God in Psalm 16:11:
…In your presence is fullness of joy; At your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (N.K.J.V.)
Earthly life is hard. If you haven’t found that out yet, just keep living and you’ll learn it. Sometimes we bring the hardness upon ourselves as we make bad decisions and have to reap the harvests from those bad decisions. Other times, however, the hardness just seems to hunt us down like a hunter hunting his prey regardless of the fact that we haven’t done anything to deserve being hunted.
Despite everything, though, the end result for the Christian will be eternity spent with God. This is a promise that we must never let ourselves forget. No matter how hard life gets here upon the earth, this isn’t the final chapter of our book. Death is a comma, not a period, and for the Christian what follows the comma is heaven.
Isn’t it so encouraging that Paul, writing under the inspiration of God, describes the Christian’s death as “gain”? And isn’t it equally encouraging that he describes heaven as being “far better”? I sure do like the sounds of all that. And do you know what it makes me wonder? It makes me wonder just how much is wrapped up in that little word “far”! That deacon’s sister could tell us right now if we could talk to her, couldn’t she? But keep your chin up, Christian, because we’ll all eventually know the answer firsthand. That’s a Bible promise.