“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21
At the age of 96, my Dad went home to be with the Lord. I have to tell you those last few days with him were precious days in many ways, but most precious was the way our hearts were drawn to Jesus and heaven. The business of life has a way of blotting out what is really important. There’s nothing like standing at death’s door to remind you that life is fast and fragile, but if you have Jesus and the assurance of going home to be with Him at the end, you really have all you need.
As he spent his last days with us, my dad wanted all of us to sing hymns about heaven and seeing Jesus. These were those old songs that he had sung since he was a boy with words like, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus,” the song said, “we’ll sing and shout the victory.” Or maybe some of you know this one: “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue . . . and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” Dad’s favorite, though, was an old hymn that concluded with these words, “And I shall see Him face to face and tell the story—saved by grace!”
Needless to say, these songs were sung with a few tears in our eyes. But underneath the tears was the solid and joyful confidence that he was moving on to a better place. Which made it easy to reply when someone said to me, “I hear you lost your dad”—“No, I know exactly where he is!”
I will never forget those last few days. They may have been the most significant hours I have ever spent with my dad. And the way he died reminded me of lessons he had tried to teach me since I was a boy. Watching my dad die stirred my heart afresh to live now for Jesus in a way that makes finally seeing him face-to-face a highly anticipated joy. Death for my dad was not a thing to be feared, but a door to all that is far better. He believed what Paul said when he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
My heart was also stirred to think about living now for things that will last forever. I remember Dad telling me years ago, “Only one life,” he would say, “will soon be past, and only what’s done for Christ will last!” Through his life, he had invested heavily in eternal things. And now he was about ready to reap the dividends. None of his money, property, or things meant anything on his deathbed. All he had was what he had sent on ahead—and that was a lot!
And being with my dad when he died also reminded me to build relationships now that make those who will stand around my bedside grateful that they knew me. Just before he went home, my dad looked up at me and said, “Joe, we’re pals, aren’t we?” I’m going to hang on to that memory for the rest of my life!
Which reminds me of what C. S. Lewis said when he wrote, “Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither!”
- Are you living for heaven? If yes, how would you prove your answer if you were to evaluate the way you spend your time, money, and talents?
- Make a list of earthly things that might be keeping you from pursuing eternal priorities. Ask the Lord to focus your heart on heaven in such a way that you will have no regrets!
- Take some time to think about how you would feel if you knew this were your last day on earth. Who would you talk to? Would any of the items on your to-do list be worthwhile activities in light of eternity?