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When a poll was conducted among “The Oprah Show” viewers who were asked what their life’s passion was, 70 percent had no idea. Many people are enduring instead of enjoying their lives. Their favorite day is someday: Someday my ship will come in. Someday my prince will come. Someday it is going to get better. Someday my life will change. In another study, 94 percent of those polled said they were enduring the present while waiting for something better to happen.
But here is what people don’t plan on: death. It comes unexpectedly. When you are older, you know it is coming. But when you are young, you think you are invincible. When you are young, you have a different attitude toward death. You think, Oh, not now. Maybe in 50 years. Maybe in 60 years. And that may be true. Yet death knocks at every door. In fact, the Bible says we have an appointment with death: “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment … ” (Hebrews 9:27 NKJV). Ecclesiastes tells us there is “a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2 NKJV). Death may come later, even much later than you expected, or it may come sooner.
Worldwide, three people die every second, the equivalent of 180 every minute and 10,800 every hour. This means that every day, 259,200 people enter into eternity. The psalmist David wrote, “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered – how fleeting my life is” (Psalm 39:4 NLT).
Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, commissioned his servant to stand in his presence each and every day and repeat this statement: “Philip, you will die.” In contrast, Louis XIV of France decreed that the word “death” could never be used in his presence. Most of us are more like Louis XIV, denying death and avoiding the discussion. We don’t want to talk about it. It makes us uncomfortable.
But only those who are prepared to die are really ready to live. That is why we have to think about these things. The apostle Paul summed up his life this way: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 NIV). If someone were to make a statement like that today, the assumption probably would be, at the very least, they are so heavenly minded, they are no earthly good. But I would disagree. My concern is that people today are so earthly minded, they are no heavenly good. It is the people who think of the next world who do the most for this one.
So what do you live for? If you were to finish the sentence, “To live is … ” what would you say? Some might say, “To live is to just live.” They take it a day at a time. Life is mere existence, kind of an animal condition. They have no philosophy to speak of. They don’t like to contemplate the meaning of life. They just live for the moment. They also are very uncomfortable with any discussion about life and its meaning.
Others would take it a step further and say, “To live is pleasure. To live is to have this experience.” They live and die for those things. I wasn’t always a Christian. I rebelled against God. I experimented with drugs. I partied. I spent more time waiting for a good time than having a good time. And I knew the answer was not in those things. In fact, one of the things that brought me to Christ was process of elimination. I began to search and wonder about the meaning of life and the purpose of my existence.
The apostle Paul said, “To live is Christ.” He loved life. And no one loves life more than the Christian. We can enjoy it because we know that God has given it to us. That beautiful sunset … that wonderful meal … the joy of love and marriage … the comfort of family and friends … these come with the signature of the Creator. Christians also recognize there is more. There is more than what we are experiencing on this earth. All the great things we do experience are just hints of heaven, hints of something better that is to come for those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ.
C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” There is another place. There is another time: eternity. And life on Earth, whether it consists of nine years or 90 years, is a nanosecond compared to eternity. It is here on that we decide where we will spend eternity. It is here on this planet that we decide our eternal destination.
Paul also said, “To die is gain.” Another translation reads, “Dying is even better” (NLT). Paul understood what happens when a believer leaves this world. He knew that the body he was living in was just like a tent and wasn’t meant to last forever. He said, “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1 NLT). Paul was ready to break camp; he was ready to move on. He knew that to die is gain, because heaven is better than earth.
Heaven is better because we are moving from a tent to a mansion. It is better because it is immediate. The Bible says that to be absent from the body is to be present with God (see 2 Corinthians 5:8). Heaven is better because when we get there, all of our questions will be answered. And heaven is better because we will be with Christ. Paul said, “To depart and be with Christ … is better by far” (Philippians 1:23). That is the greatest joy: to be with Jesus and never be separated from him again.
But we don’t go to heaven to find Christ; we go to Christ to find heaven. As C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”