…I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
– Philippians 1:18-26
I have a new appreciation for the Apostle Paul’s words to the Philippian church as he contemplated his uncertain future from a Roman prison.
Going in for heart surgery, I remember thinking the whole thing was quite risky but I don’t remember feeling much apprehension about the real possibility of death. I’d like to say I had high-falutin’ ideals like Paul’s—my desire is to depart and be with Christ… to die is gain—at the front of my mind and on the tip of my tongue. I didn’t get that far in my thoughts. I suppose this is in part due to the difference between a hospital and a prison and the lightning speed of heart attacks compared to the slow actions of Roman governments. What I do recall is a general sense of simply doing what needed to be done and of being safe in God’s hands.
It was for my wife, and my children, and my friends and my brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for me to “remain in the flesh.”
When I woke up after surgery my dearest friend and brother-in-law, Uncle Mark, was by my side. With breathing tube again in place, I was unable to speak, so I wrote to him on a Manila folder: “I made it.”
Maybe Paul could have written the same thing later to the Philippians when he was released from this imprisonment (as Bible historians generally believe he was): I made it… Through your prayers and as I suspected I would, I remain and continue with you all.
Now I know and trust it is better to be with Christ in the fullness of our eternal life and the glories yet to come. But I must say I am mostly thankful to be back with you all.
I will see heaven soon enough. I am profoundly grateful that before that day comes, I will see my daughter Maggie’s wedding day and be able to participate in that celebration. I am grateful to have more days, more months, more years with my beautiful wife, Denell. I am grateful to be able to watch my grandchildren grow and change and amaze me with what they say and do for a while longer. I am grateful to have a few more opportunities to kibbutz with Uncle Mark about church, life and the latest Bruin victory. I am so grateful to have more days to share in friendship and service and ministry with all of you at Covenant. I am grateful to have more days to read God’s Word, to know Christ’s presence in His world and in my life, and to see His work in the world all around me. And I am grateful for the ongoing opportunity to discover with each new day God’s purposes for me and for us, why He decided to bring me back.
Before the capital “G” Gain of heaven, I am truly grateful to have the small “g” gain of remaining here in the flesh to enjoy so many people I love and to glorify God and enjoy Him each day.
With Profound Gratitude for Another Day in which to Write a Letter Like This,