Growing up, my dad would often tell us that we need to “roll with the punches.” I generally took this to mean that I needed to be able to take the hits life would give and keep moving forward. The difficulties of life were certain to occur, but how I responded to those difficulties was a decision only I could make. I could choose to have a positive attitude and continue to do my best in the tasks that lay in front of me. Fighting circumstances never results in a win; fighting things that are under our control can.
In the short-term, human strength can keep you going. It may be for a few days, a few weeks, maybe a few months. But eventually human strength ends. In order to move forward sustainably, we must trust and focus on the One who sustains all life – Jesus.
Paul describes this concept in Philippians 1:21-23. With Christ as his motivation, it enabled him to move forward regardless of how circumstances presented themselves.
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (NKJV, Philippians 1:21-23)
In verse 21, Paul pinpoints his very purpose of living – Christ. Before Paul became a Christian, he persecuted Christians because he thought that was the right thing to do. Then when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, his life changed. He met Jesus. That was the whole and only reason for living.
His all-consuming goal of serving Christ in planting churches, evangelizing the lost, encouraging believers, and writing God’s truth drove him forward. He knew this life was not all that there is. There’s an eternity. Every second that he lived on earth meant more time that he could bear fruit and earn eternal rewards in heaven.
At the same time, Paul experienced persecution and plenty of other unpleasant situations as a believer. Living on earth allowed him to bear fruit, but compared to spending an eternity with His savior on streets of gold without any sin anywhere, nothing could compare. This is why Paul would be able to say that his death would be “gain” to him.
Throughout history, people would give death threats to try to scare people from speaking out on something. But in this case, if any of Paul’s persecutors would say that, he would not have been scared. A threat of death was akin to threatening him with heaven. Paul was not afraid because Paul found his identity and purpose firmly rooted in Christ.
What is your all-consuming goal or goals? Better yet, who is your anchor? It is possible to be a Christian, yet not trust God daily. For many of us, if we were honest with ourselves, the verse that Paul wrote would look more like, “For to me, to live is for self, and to die is scary.”
Quite frequently it is easy to lose sight of the fact that God made us, gave us all the talents and abilities we have, the very air we breathe, and so on. We take these things for granted and then live a distracted lifestyle, just going from day to day trying to make life as fun and comfortable for ourselves as possible, with no thought of eternity.
And whenever we decide to live like that, then death is scary. We may not be scared in terms of our eternal destination. When we are in Christ, heaven is for certain. However, sometimes we just want to wait until later on in life to “get prepared” for heaven so that we have some rewards waiting for us in heaven. But deep down, we want God to be pleased with our lives, and so that is why we would want some time to produce some fruit before we die and go to heaven.
Most of us do not think that way, but sadly it is easy to live that way. Because that is how life goes on autopilot. But in order to be able to “roll with the punches” that life brings, we need to have Paul’s attitude. By making our lives about Christ, we don’t have to worry about the time we die because it will be a gain. Whether we are living or are with Christ, it is a win-win scenario. The more we make our lives about Christ, the more we will desire the far-better scenario of spending eternity with Him, and the more we can move forward in the present.