But we don't want you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning those who have fallen asleep, so that you don't grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so those who have fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we tell you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left to the coming of the Lord, will in no way precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with God's trumpet. The dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 WEB)
When Russell called me to let me know his mother had died, he told me that during the previous two days, family members had visited her at the hospital. They talked, laughed, and cried. As the moment of death approached, they sang many of the old hymns that she had loved.
As I hung up the phone, I recalled Sharon telling me months earlier about her cousins wailing in despair after the death of their grandfather.
What a difference in their reactions. Why? Months later, the reason was beautifully illustrated by the words of a child.
I heard Bethany's description of a conversation with her daughter, Samantha, who told her that it would be terrible to live to "infinity" and never die. When Bethany asked why, Samantha replied, "Well, for one thing, you would get really, really old, and that would be no fun at all. And you would get really small and ugly, and then all your friends and family would die, and you'd be all alone and really lonely. And you'd never get to have fun and go live with God in heaven." When her mother asked if she thought it would be a lot of fun to live with God, Samantha replied, "Yes, I think it will be my favorite thing to live with God in heaven."1
It is this understanding of death, expressed by a 7-year-old child, that enables Christians, like Russell's family, to sing songs of joy as a loved one dies, to praise and thank God for His goodness and grace as He takes their loved one home, and to rejoice in a celebration of the person's life and testimony for God, rather than sinking into a pit of despair at the prospect of never seeing the person again. It is this understanding of death that enables Christians to say with the Apostle Paul, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil 1:21, WEB).
How can dying be gain? When dying means you get to spend eternity with the Lord Jesus Christ in a place free of tears, sorrows, sin, trials, and temptations, it is surely gain! None of the material things we have on this earth will last, but we will receive an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that will not fade away (1 Peter 1:4). Spending eternity worshipping Jesus in a heaven that is so magnificent Paul could not describe it--that is gain!
If you should be present right before I die, make sure I hear these words from the old spiritual "Give Me Jesus":
When I come to die, oh, and when I come to die,
And when I come to die, give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus.
You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.
When you hear of my death, do not mourn. Instead, rejoice, knowing that, like Samantha, it will be my favorite thing to live with God in heaven.
O God, I do look forward to that day when Jesus will say to me, "Enter into the joy of your Master." I want to bask in the presence of Your glory. I want to worship Your Son in spirit and truth, free from all the trappings and distractions of this world. I want to live with You for all eternity! Until that day comes, help me to so live my live that it will point others to Jesus. Let me tell them of the peace and joy You offer through Jesus Christ. In His name I pray. Amen.
What about you? Will it be your favorite thing to live with God in heaven?
1 Used by permission.
Copyright 2007, Star Ferdinand.
Star Ferdinand is the author of The Prayerful Bible Study Series of study guides, numerous devotionals, and other Christian writings. You can read more of her writings at starferdinand.wordpress.com.