It was a stormy sea and the two men stood on the rail of the ship. The ocean waves kept crashing over them leaving their bodies soaked, salty, and shivering with cold. The younger of the two was ‘puking his brains out!’ His elder counterpart tried to comfort him. However the young man was trying at least to keep his saliva down. He had already vomited up the last several meals of the week. It seemed all that was left was for his tips of his toes to migrate up with the next ‘heave’ and be forcefully ejected from his throat.
‘There, there, young man, spoke his companion. Not to worry you will get better, I assure you.’
To which he replied, ‘oh no, I think I may die I feel so sick.’ He turned and gave a vigorous but empty heave. The toenails were next.
‘Oh now, don’t be so melodramatic the old man shot back. This voyage will not lead to your death, I assure you.’
He knew the old man was trying to comfort him, but it was not helping. He looked back at him, and though his face was drenched with sweat, he was pale and clammy cold. He spoke. ‘Oh no! Please don’t say that. The hope of dying is the only thing that is keeping me alive.’
I can imagine that the hope of dying would have been preferable to staying on that ship forever, sick with no healing in sight. I have often felt that way about the challenges I face in mission work. No, I am not depressed about the work, nor am I suicidal in any way, shape or form. But nonetheless it is an emotional and spiritual challenge to see my way forward in the midst of so much suffering.
I cannot begin to really explain just how I feel other than to say that it is only God who could keep me doing what I do in the way I do it. I do get tired of caring and feeling. One more incurable tumor, one more lethal infection, one more untreatable, un-diagnosable swelling, one more orphaned child, and one more victim of domestic or civil violence, none of whom seem to have money and look to me expecting I can find the resources they desperately need.
I break out in a cold sweat like the man on the deck of that rocking ship. Indeed the hope of dying is what keeps me alive. I know that there will be an even greater hope in death, than in life. So I hold on to life, knowing that I can’t, and should not even try to hurry death. Besides, life is so much fun when you get to help others live and live so much better. It is even more fun when you get to spend other peoples’ money doing it. However, if I thought this was an endless cycle of pain and suffering I am seeing, I would surely have died a long time ago, if not in body at least in spirit.
I believe the apostle Paul had a similar slant on life when he wrote: Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Paul had given his life to making Christ known. It was his sole purpose for being. Paul had choices. The choices of making Christ known and knowing more of Christ. The more he knew of Christ, the more he wanted others to know. And the more he wanted others to know, the more he himself wanted to know. In order to know the most, meant he had to die. But if he died, he could not continue to make Christ known. What a chicken and egg mess that is!
So the hope of dying was what kept Paul alive. He knew that death was inevitable and so he must accomplish what he could while still alive and so living was absolutely necessary and hoping to die made it…, well now we get complicated!
Suffice it to say, what we have in Christ far exceeds anything we can have on earth. That great hope is that I will one day be with Him and see Him as He is. That is what keeps me living…, the hope of dying in Him. John wrote: 1 John 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
No matter what you are going through, remember there is hope in Christ and that is reason enough to live today. And there is also hope in Christ in death and that is reason enough to die. Enjoy living…, knowing Christ and making Him known. Don’t fear death, neither hurry it. Stay on the ship! It is only a brief voyage to make Him known and in the end, you have all eternity to know Him.