My blog posts tend to be about thoughts I've had or things I've done, but this one is going in a slightly different direction because I'm going to write about stuff going on in my heart, not just in my head. Feeling a bit nervous about this as I don't really have any idea who reads this blog (if anyone) and it's not like me to be that 'out there' with my inner workings. But here goes...
I've started attending a Discipleship Explored course at my church, in which we're going through the book of Philippians. This is a letter written by a missionary called Paul, who traveled around Europe sharing the message of Jesus with communities, to a church in Philippi, whilst he is in prison in Rome (essentially on death row) for his work in the name of Jesus. In the passage we looked at this week, Paul talks about the many things going against him at the time, and yet how he can be glad and full of joy because these things are working together to spread the Good News of Jesus. This all builds up to a well known and frequently quoted verse,
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Philippians chapter 1 verse 21.
For starters, I find this verse quite difficult to get my head around in literary terms, it's incredibly concise and I would even describe it as poetic. Seeing as I wouldn't consider myself a very wordy person - I fall over my sentences and either struggle to get to the point or am extremely blunt - my usual response to this verse is something like, 'Quick, move on, too difficult.' However, moving on wasn't really an option at Discipleship Explored, we were encouraged to think together through what this meant for Paul and what it may or may not mean to us.
I think (although I am no theologian so please do not consider this definitive), that Paul had experienced such love, grace, transformation, power, mercy, joy and much more, from and through Jesus, that he was filled with love for him and gained a single-mindedness of devotion to Christ as a response. To Paul, life and Christ were synonymous. Life was all from Jesus and for Jesus, the one and only thing that he absolutely could not live without. Yet, he was also 100% assured that when he would eventually face death, that would bring him nearer to Christ for eternity and so dying was not a fear but a gain.
Pretty challenging stuff.
Then we were encouraged to think through, honestly, how we thought our friends and family would fill in the blank about us, "For to me, to live is ...". After that, we thought about how we would personally finish off the sentence.And this is where I have to begin exposing my heart, the many answers I had to this question were pretty shallow and all led to the same conclusion. Every time I tried to finish that sentence, it went something like, 'For to me, to live is - to have people around me, for them to think I'm funny/attractive/kind/hard-working/clever/have good taste/talented, to be busy, to look nice and have a nice looking house'. The bottom line of all of these things, I desire to be loved, and accepted.
That doesn't sound so bad, right? Actually, I think maybe it does, and here's why. In purely human terms, I know that I do already have many people who genuinely love and accept me, so why do I still crave it? The fact that this desire manifests itself so often shows that I am not satisfied even when it is fulfilled. Such an insatiable need as love and acceptance can never be fully met if I look for in other people, as we are all broken, weak and finite. Furthermore, it is futile for me to put so much energy into achieving the love and acceptance of anyone but God Himself, when He who is perfect, and completely capable of satisfying my thirst, has already done everything necessary to show me that He loves and accepts me exactly as I am. Jesus Christ who is fully God, became fully human and lived a life of extreme love, graciousness and sacrifice, which should have meant He was worthy of total adoration and glory, yet instead He made Himself nothing and took the death of a common criminal, the death I deserve for my rebellion against God. In doing so, simply by trusting in Him I do not experience the separation from God I deserve. Instead, when He rose on the third day it showed the metaphorical cheque was cleared, and His payment earned me the total love and acceptance from the Father which belonged to Jesus.
So I feel challenged in all my many moments of weakness, to look in the right direction to remember I could not be more loved and accepted, and to stop investing so much energy in those things which will never quench my thirst. I fully recognise that this is not an easy task, but maybe as I slowly grasp it, I will be able to echo Paul's sentiments:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.