The great hope of the Christian faith is that we will go to heaven when we pass from this life. Don Piper is a Baptist pastor from Texas who has written the best-selling book 90 Minutes in Heaven.
In 1989, he was returning home after attending a retreat. After crossing a narrow bridge, an oncoming semi crushed his Ford Escort. For 90 minutes, he was dead. He tells the story of going to heaven during that time.
In the meantime, a pastor friend drove by the scene of the collision and prayed for Piper. Piper came back to life and spent the next several months recovering from his severe injuries. The book tells the story of agonizing physical pain and the intense questions of a man who was able to get a taste of heaven only to be sent back to this vale of tears for a while longer.
Piper demonstrates faith that God knows what He is doing and that he was sent back for a reason-to encourage those who suffer and to reassure us about the reality of heaven.
I. We’d rather be with Christ (
One man asked his friend, “What do you think happens when we die?”
The friend replied, “We leave this vale of tears with all of its sickness, sorrow and suffering; and we go to be with the Lord where it’s bliss forevermore. But why do you want to talk about that depressing stuff?”
Paul knew the tension of desiring to be with the Lord but also desiring to be used by the Lord in this realm. He says, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” If I live, it will be because that’s what Christ wants. I will allow Him to live through me so that if I am left in this realm, His power and grace may be clearly seen in and through me. If I live, I will labor fruitfully for Him.
Paul states the obvious. It would be better to die and go be with Christ. It’s almost as if there’s a part of him that would prefer that but also realizes that he’s going to be left here for a little while longer.
It is interesting that the total focus of Paul’s life-as he ponders what’s left of it-is on how he can be used by God to strengthen and bless the Philippian believers.
II. We need to live for Him regardless (
Paul reminds the Philippian believers that the difficulties that befell him probably will befall them as well. He says to them that their faith should not be dependent upon him. He has taught them and attempted to build them up so they can stand on their own two feet spiritually. If God leaves him on this earth, it will be so that they may be strengthened even further. In any case, though, the Philippians were to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. The word conduct, in the original language, is a word that speaks of the responsibilities of citizenship.
They would face persecution; but their ability to face it with faith and confidence, rather than fear, would be a sign to the persecutors that they would be destroyed but that the faithful would be saved. The persecution and suffering of believers is a witness to the world.
Paul never shrank from difficulty and suffering. Later on in the letter, he said,
“I want to know him. I want to share in the fellowship of his sufferings and somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead.”
A Soviet prisoner who became a believer in prison wrote, “Among the general despair, while prisoners like myself were cursing ourselves, the camp, the authorities; while we opened up our veins or our stomachs, or hanged ourselves; the Christians (often with sentences of 20 to 25 years) did not despair. One could see Christ reflected in their faces. Their pure, upright life, deep faith and devotion to God, their gentleness and their wonderful manliness became a shining example of real life for thousands.”
Whether we live or we die, it is that kind of steadfast faith that brings glory to God.