December 26, 2009

By life or by death

I used to think that being put on the shelf by God was the worst thing that could happen to me as a Christian. In my mind, my life had no value at all unless I was doing something.

This was a worldly value, part of the work ethic in my family as I was growing up. My dad often verbally put down lazy and shiftless people. His opinions about hard work became part of my value system. Since then I have learned that serving Christ isn’t only about doing things.

Those who have totally given their lives to Jesus are willing to do whatever He asks. That means seeking His will on each matter and being obedient to whatever He says, easy or difficult. But what if He gives no direction, no go ahead on a project, or no guidance concerning a matter?

In my Christian life, some of the biggest mistakes concern things I did that God did not tell me to do. Whether it was misplaced zeal, disobedience, or assumptions about His will, those actions resulted in trouble and sorrow. While these mistakes taught me to pay attention, I also paid a price. I’ve also learned that following Jesus and doing what He says can also include doing nothing.

Another part of living for Jesus means being willing to also die for Jesus. My first reaction to this is martyrdom, which seems noble in concept, but is horrible in historic reality. God’s people have been mocked, tortured, put in prison, burned alive, cut in half, and stoned to death. My preference would be sitting on the shelf when compared, yet Paul sets a higher example. He says,

For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.  (Philippians 1:19-20)
When my husband was diagnosed with CLL (Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia), we were glad this was the least threatening form of cancer, yet still had to face that often shocking reality that life does end, and it may not end pleasantly. Paul wrote the above verses from jail. His threat was not disease, but dying because he followed Jesus Christ. His commitment to serve the Lord included serving Him alive or dead and, for him, death could have been very nasty.

For us, John Piper’s article on “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” (see sidebar for the link) was both helpful and challenging. My husband continually says that we are all terminal. Piper tells Christian cancer patients that their cancer can be a way of glorifying Christ and pointing others to Him. God amazes me with the opportunities He gives my husband (and sometimes me) so we can do just that.

The actual dying part is another challenge. I’ve heard of people who raised their arms in praise to God as they were slaughtered by enemies of Jesus Christ. Could I do that? Perhaps the key is in what Paul says, that he magnifies Christ in his body by life . . . and in that boldness, his fear of death (who does not fear death?) evaporated into the same determination that Christ will be magnified, no matter what happens to him.

Everyone dies. I will die. What better way to end my life by somehow glorifying God. I am now willing to serve Him no matter what He asks — to work hard or sit on a shelf — but I’ve a ways to go before I can say I’m willing to serve Him by dying.

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