“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus…” 1 Corinthians 1:4
I digress. Today is a day to digress from Ezekiel momentarily. Today is a day to deal with the heart a different way. Today is a day of heart that hurts and rejoices at the same time. Today is a day to learn not only the meaning, but what it means to handle that living is for Christ and that dying is gain, not just because it’s good to reiterate what Paul says, but because what Paul says is true. To live in Christ is what life is all about. We were created to glorify God with all our being. Christ redeemed us to enable us to live out our purpose in and for God. But dying and how we die is the culmination of that life and whether it really is surrendered and really is about having faith in our Creator. It’s pretty easy to say, “Oh, how wonderful it would be to be with God.” And then it’s easy to not want to leave what we know, and to not embrace the leaving of the ones we love.
Today is a story of learning to trust God for one I love. It’s a learning to rejoice in every breath the Lord gives and learning to rejoice when God takes away that breath because it’s His time to do so, for His perfect reason. It’s a time to learn to trust without understanding why, except that God IS good, or rather God IS GOOD. It’s a time to release someone from seeing in the mirror partly and knowing partly, to rejoicing in them seeing and knowing fully and being fully seen and known. It’s a time to not cause others to weep, but to joy in God’s eternal plan.
It’s so easy to talk about that eternal plan with what seems like joy, and then to turn around and want to divert the “eternity” part when it approaches. But the race isn’t finished until we cross that line. Who wants to keep running a race without ever finishing? Not me.
Paul says there is a reason for running a race. Everyone in the race is running, aren’t they? But who receives the prize? Who takes hold of the prize? Everyone all at once? No. The one who runs it to the end, the one who ran so they could grasp the prize, the one who strives for mastery, who struggles or contends the most for it. That word is agonizomai. Actually, the word used here is sunagonizomai, agonizing together. We’re not in this stuff alone. None of us. Jesus knows what it’s like. Look at the garden.
Don’t think you are alone in your feelings about it being hard to leave this world and to suffer on the way out. Don’t think it’s not hard to walk with someone through this. Jesus knows. He felt it. “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from me.” But that wasn’t the end of the story. “Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Yes, there is agony. Don’t tell me Jesus didn’t walk through agony of body and agony of spirit. He wept blood. But this is the heart of God that He would accept this agony for our sake to return us to Him in glory. But remember also how Jesus asked others to watch and pray with Him? What did they do? They slept. They didn’t know how to agonize together with Him.
It’s ok to weep. It’s ok to sorrow. But it’s better to agonize together by expressing God’s heart for the one we love. If my friend were lost from God, it wouldn’t just be a time to weep over her lostness. While there is still life, it would be a time to share that agony of my desire for her that maybe her heart would understand the longing of God for her. But my friend is not lost. My friend has been found. My friend is on the side with Jesus. She’s sitting in the garden and awaiting the day because it’s approaching and she knows it and I know it and she’s needing those who love her to stay and watch with her.
It’s not a time to think selfishly. Heck yeah, I’m going to miss her like I can’t describe. She’s a God gift at just the right time, not only to me, but to others. But that’s just it. She’s a God gift. She’s God’s first and foremost. She was created to the glory of God, not me, not her husband, not her children, not her friends, not her grandchildren. And she has glorified and is glorifying God before each of us. We can agonize together for God’s glory to shine even more brightly in every day and every hour and every second she is given. This is what life is. Remember, “For me to live is Christ.” Is it really? For my friend it is.
What’s the prize she’s running for? Is it just to have lived a good life? Is that what we run for as believers? Or is the prize really Christ? Is the prize really to finally dwell in the house of the Lord, in His presence forever? What are we running to grasp, to obtain? What is worth struggling for and agonizing for and contending with every adversary over? Was it a good life or is it full unity, with no bars held back, with God? Are we running to grasp and be grasped in the overwhelmingly perfect full fledged life and love of God in Christ? Are we fighting the good fight, the fight that is above all fights, the fight that is worth agonizing together over?
If Jesus could fight that fight alone, when He didn’t want to be alone because God was so worth it, then I can learn from His example. First and foremost, no one has to agonize alone because Jesus ran the race first. He won the prize and grasped the presence of God for us even when no one else understood. Yet, because of that, He always understands and intercedes and is there with us, never leaving and never forsaking us as we walk out our calling in Him. But He also gives our companions the ability to agonize together with us, to not only pray in the garden with us, when we would normally be sleeping, but to encourage us in the race, even from across the world.
The truth of the matter is that we are more than sisters and brothers. I can’t help but think of Proverbs 18:24 where it says, “there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” Which brought me to Genesis 2:24. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” What? Sticking close and cleaving are both from the same verb root, dabaq. They’re both about cleaving. It’s about “deliberate commitment to stick together.” (Skip Moen)
Get the call? It’s about something more than emotions, yet it involves the deepest emotions. This is the culmination of what we really believe and putting it to practice. Who do I believe Jesus is? Am I willing to let Him be all that He is for my loved one? Will I deliberately commit to stick together with her and with Him in the midst of the greatest test of her life? Am I willing to agonize together, to joy together, to be there together, to stay awake and pray, or blog together so that she not only knows that Jesus is with her and understands, but that by the grace of God, I will stay awake in the garden of her journey with her and rejoice with her or just hold her hand, even if it is in my heart and we are 8458.6 or so miles apart (the distance of Manila, Philippines from College Station, Texas)?
Which brings me back to 1 Corinthians 1:4 and beyond. I am so thankful for every minute of my sisters life that I get to share with her. I have been blessed to see God’s grace shed through her to me and to others around the globe as well as her own family. She is running the race well, with her eye on the prize of Jesus Christ. It shows, because He has enriched her life in Him in what she does and how she does it, in who she is and whose she is, in the things that she says and what she knows. Her life is a testimony of the work of Christ confirmed in her. Yeah, that’s my sister. We’re united in him. That’s closer than blood.
Here she is, nearing the end of the race, unless God intervenes differently, which He is free to do and extends that race on earth, but He’s given her every gift she needs. She’s not lacking anything. Her eternal bags are packed and ready for something that’s greater than an international flight. See, in all these things in life, she is overwhelmingly conquering through the One who loves her. Right now, she’s in the final moments of the football game, where her team has already won 74 to 0 and she’s just biding time as the coach shouts from the sideline, “You’ve already won. Keep playing ‘till it’s ours.”
Thank God, our heavenly Coach, never leaves our side. Thank God that He enables us to watch and pray and rejoice with our brothers and sisters no matter where we are, because we can be friends that cleave to one another closer than siblings, because we can truly be united in Christ. And we can rejoice together as God confirms Himself fully in our loved ones lives, making them blameless through Christ, and not only calling them into fellowship with Him here on earth, but walking with them into that full fellowship of joy unspeakable and mercy unimaginable with Him where this will be fully experienced. Yeah, that’s something. That’s something worth living for together. And that is something worth dying for. That’s the race we run. Death isn’t the end; it leads to the fulfillment of attaining the fullness of our prize, or rather our Prize—Christ.
Run well, Sister. Jesus isn’t the only one by your side. You have a cloud of witnesses that have gone on before, that have set an example of trusting faith, of hearing God and doing which is the proof of your believing. And you are a witness to each of us and may we be witnesses alongside of you as we walk this journey with you, because we are not alone. We have Christ and we have the body of Christ in unity and the body agonizes together and lives together and walks together and rejoices together and remains together no matter which side of eternity we dwell in as long as we dwell in Him. You are forever my sister. We’re part of the same body, I’m not sure what parts we are (I’m probably one of the uncomely parts, but at least I’m a part!) Hey, we’re in this together forever because our God is eternal and we live and breath in Him. Let’s do it. Let’s run this race to the end of one life and into the rest of it. The Goal is waiting for us with arms wide open. Whoever gets there first won’t have to imagine anymore what it will be like. You’ll know. And isn’t that what we’ve been praying for and walking towards?