How would we live if we really believed God alone was our portion in life and in death?
Much of my time the last several months has been spent near those who are dying, and their loved ones. In heartache and pain I have witnessed this, yet it has done much spiritual good for my soul.
Death is a reality that we don’t often like to consider. In our minds, we set up our lives as if they are permanent. We don’t want to face death- not our own, and not the death of those we love.
Yet, as I have considered this, I am finding that for those who love Christ more than life there is special blessing found in death, and in being near to the dying.
Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 “A good name is better than a good ointment, and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.”
The day of death is better? The house of mourning is better? Sorrow is better? Oh Lord, how can this be?
Not many people die or experience grief with this attitude, and I am afraid that most people miss the purposes God has for suffering. We have our mind on this earth, clinging tightly to our jobs, family, health, and possessions. I believe the painstaking reality most people face with great anxiety and dread on their death bed is the realization that God has not been their portion- this life has.
In prosperous and greedy nations, far too many people are just like the rich man in Luke 12:19-20 who said to himself “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’”
We need to consider this warning from Jesus Christ while we still have life: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds (Matthew 16:26-27).”
A time is coming when whatever we have gained in this world will either abruptly or slowly slip between our fingers like oil. We will pass into a much more important day, in which we will give an account of our lives before God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
How do I want to respond when my time comes? If illness befalls me and settles down for a long and weary season upon my bed, what will I say? What would be the condition of my heart before God?
What landmark are you aiming for? Graduation? Marriage? Children? Retirement? A vacation? Dear friends, a far more important day is coming, and I want us to be ready for it.
You see, I don’t want to slip away from this life with hands gripped firmly around it. I want to develop an attitude that glorifies God in the midst of all suffering and trials in this life, so that when my time comes I can be a bright and shining light for His name. I want His praises on my lips, with a full and satisfied heart, recognizing that He was all I ever had, and that He is all I need in the life to come. I don’t want to sort my priorities out when it’s too late.
I want me and you to be able to say this:
2Corinthians 5:8-10 “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ…”
Whether in living or in dying, I want to make it my aim to please Him.
How can we become people like this?
A look through Psalm 73
Psalm 73 takes us through a journey that most of us experience.
Psalm 73:3- “I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked…always at ease, they have increased in wealth.”
How often do we set our eyes on prosperity and increased wealth? We are envious of people who do not even have Christ, yet somehow we regard them as fortunate for having temporal ease and happiness.
When we strive for holiness and to please the Lord, and yet experience tribulation, is this how we respond?
Psalm 73:13-14 “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence; for I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning?”
We might feel like we would never respond in this way, but we need to prayerfully examine our hearts. If God took your health, your spouse, or whatever thing is precious to you- would you be tempted to say: “God…is this how you repay me for my service to you?” or “What have I done to deserve this?”
If so, we need to examine our core beliefs about who we are, who God is, and what our lives are all about. We need pure motives and a true love for the Lord, not obeying Him so that we can get what we want from this life, but because we adore Him and offer our lives freely into His sovereign hands.
As the psalmist ponders these things, God graciously reveals deep truths to his heart.
Psalm 73:16-19 “When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; you cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment!”
In a brief moment a life lived for worldly pleasure results in destruction. Dear friend, look towards those with glamour, comfort, and high-profile lives, and in wisdom discern their end: Absolute loss of all good, and eternity in Hell. “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”
This realization worked humility and repentance in the psalmist’s heart.
Psalm 73:21-22 “When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.”
I love this raw and unreserved confession of sinfulness within. If we recognize sinful attitudes and idolatry within ourselves, I pray that we would make it ours.
Now, let us pay special attention to the beautiful end of this Psalm. I believe it provides a key answer to the question of how we can be the type of people who both live and die to glorify Christ.
Verse 23 begins with the word “Nevertheless…” That word says so much. It is as if to say: even though I have been greedy, even though I was bitter, though I was foolish, though like a beast, Lord…
“Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand, with your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory (Psalm 73:23,24).”
God is so merciful to guide His children out of self pity, false doctrine, idolatry, or whatever else is keeping us from living fully for His glory. He goes on to proclaim:
“Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:25-26).”
This is the crux of the issue; it is what we all desperately need to realize: God is our all, and all we have is His. We might sing it, we might confess it, but do we truly believe it and live it? Does it impact our lives?
There is nothing in Heaven that compares with Him. Do you simply want eternal life instead of death, peace instead of despair, and reward instead of punishment, or do you really and ultimately just want Christ? Is He all that your thirsty soul wants from Heaven?
And on earth, are you living to behold and to magnify Him, or are you pursuing your own aims? Could you let it all go and be satisfied in Him? Would He be enough?
And if your flesh began to fester, and your heart to give way, would He be your strength and portion enough for you?
These are hard questions, and I confess they hurt to ask. I know I’m not where I ought to be. But lately as I’ve considered the plight of those who are dying, I have had to ask myself: Where would I be?
I so want Him to be my all. If destruction came to my house like it did to Job I would want to join him in saying “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:20).”
This is an unnatural response that could only come from a person who has prepared themselves for times of trouble. It’s the response of one who knows that all he ever had was God, and that all his good comes from God’s hands. Only a man who knows that he deserves nothing, and already possesses far more than he should have ever hoped to attain can respond this way. Only those with hearts set on what is eternal can praise God when the temporal withers and falls.
Oh Lord, make us this way. Let us not wait until it’s too late to make ourselves ready to meet You. May we be able to speak these words in truth:
Philippians 2:20-21 “According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Philippians 3:7-8 “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”