Dying Before Dying

"For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Philippians 1:21...."Only believers obey and only the obedient believe." Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A fellow pastor posted this story from one of his devotional readings the other day. When James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the captain of the transport ship sought to turn him back. As the long boat bobbed in the green waters, ready to row the small party ashore, the captain called out, “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages.” Calvert looked up from the long boat and ended all discussion with a simple reply, “We died before we came here.”

What an inspiration! What a life lived out for Him! How much do you and I really know about such a life? Where is the witness of Paul's words in Philippians 1:21 shining through in us?

The term "wrestling with God" has become very popular in church circles. We like to think of ourselves like Jacob at Peniel, engaged in a great struggle with the Lord until finally, we yield. We tend to think of this as very spiritual, but as Richard Blackaby writes, "It sounds deceptively spiritual......we misguidedly believe we can do something as ludicrous as grapple with our Creator." Too many of us enter into "the ring" with God on a daily basis and over almost anything. Anything that our flesh is reluctant to undertake...to surrender to...to obey Him in. In those places where we fight Him, we like to say that "He's been speaking to me about that." In other words, the Father is making suggestions to us, hoping we'll listen and follow them. What we're really doing is justifying our disobedience, seeing it as our "just not being ready for that." It's not the sin of disobedience, it's just that we haven't come to the right place yet....we're wrestling with Him over it all. As Blackaby says, that's deceptively spiritual. We've been deceived if that's our line of reason.

That's why the story of James Calvert cuts to the quick. The islanders that Calvert and his party went to were indeed dangerous beyond words. Many were those they had already killed. Yet Calvert and the rest could go to them because they had already died to the fears, the dangers, and all the possibilities that went with them. They were not afraid of death because they had truly died to all its power over them before they would ever set foot on that shore. I'm reminded of what someone said about the fearless apostle Paul after he had been stoned, left for dead, and his body carried outside the city he had been ministering in. Miraculously, he stood up, and walked back into that city again, and preached the truth of the gospel anew. They said, "What is there to fear when you've already died and walked away?" Death could not keep him because it could not keep His Lord Jesus Christ. Neither can it, or its threat keep you and me.

Danger abounds in this fallen world we walk through. Yet for each who are His, He has called us with a purpose. That purpose will have "many dangers, toils and trials." Many will threaten our very lives. Even the lives of those we love. What will we do in response? Wrestle with Him over whether we will obey? Come up with some reasons for our disobedience that sound very spiritual to our flesh, but are sin in His eyes? Or will we like Paul, Calvert, Jim Elliot and his fellow missionaries, and countless other martyrs, "Die before we die?" Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged naked on a meathook by the Nazi's, but he had died to all before he died on that gibbet. Every threat, ever danger, every fear, has its power broken when we die out to their grip on us, and are held instead in the grip of His love and life. Resurrection life over which the threat of death has no power. That threat could not hold Him. It will not hold us. To live is Christ, to die is gain. Can we not only say that.....can we live that?

Blessings,
Pastor O

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