The Last Station on the Road to Freedom
"No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward to being released from bodily existence.
Whether we are young or old makes no difference. what are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up - that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? ... Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God's Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.
How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world?
Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death."
I was reading through Bonhoeffer's biography, "Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" today and the previous quote completely gripped me.
If I am to really live today, I am to live with this mindset: "To live is Christ and to die is gain." How beautiful it is to be free from the fear of death. I rejoice that I have life. I rejoice that I’ve been given the gift of existing on this planet. The cliche phrase - “Live today as though it may be your last” becomes a practical way of existence as a follower of the Way. Tomorrow is never promised. If YHWH withholds tomorrow from me, that means I get to be with Him… which means I’ve reached the goal and I’ve seen Him face to face. Which means more than I could even try to write so I just won’t even try... ;)
I wonder what it would be like if to live with such expectancy! I shall choose to live in such a way, for I long to truly LIVE. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” -Our LORD in Matthew 10:39
"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:8
When we adjust our perspectives on existence and dilate our eyes to the treasure that is eternity, I believe we will more fully live the abundant life Jesus speaks about. My reasoning for this is as follows: When we altogether loosen the tight grip we have on our lives, our desires, our ambition, our goals, and taste the reality of what is promised beyond this life, (the true Life that is to come for us that cannot be taken away or destroyed by moth and rust), our actions, thoughts, and very beings will continually release a freedom the world is longing for as we exist among those still in captivity. We will show others the Way. This freedom is cultivated by His grace as He reveals to us the certainty of eternity, the promise of His presence and friendship, the absolute assurance of being with Him where He is - not just for hundreds of years, but billions and billions and billions of years. Completely unbound from the shackles of time... beyond our minds’ grasp. Ultimately free. Forever.
The promise of what is to come offers us greater reason and eagerness to surrender certain things we would otherwise hold tightly to if we thought this life was all there was. Comfort, ease, self-indulgence, safety, a retirement plan, etc. It reminds me of a poem that echoes in my mind frequently:
“Only one life, twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.” -CT. Studd
How kind is the Father to give us these short 70-80 years to dwell on this earth, love and be loved, enjoy His beauty and friendship here, weep with those who weep, laugh, breathe, sing, partake in His Story! So many lives have passed across His gaze over the centuries. Not one individual has gone without His attention fixating on them. He crafted each one and chose in His kindness to give them life and purpose. He cared for each one, not willing that any should perish. Many of those lives chose to reciprocate His love and rob not themselves of the utter delight of knowing their Maker and fulfilling His purpose for them on the earth. Their time is gone now, but the clock is still ticking for you and for me. How will we choose to live?
The glory and strangeness of it all is that, as followers of Christ, we have already died. As Paul writes in Galatians 2:20
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
There is a confidence, joy, and deeply rooted peace in the soul of those who know these truths. When one beholds and experiences the magnificent love of the Maker of the Universe and believes in the unshakable world that is beyond us, lays down his/her life to find it in Christ, there forms within him/her an otherworldly fortitude. This fortitude stands firm against trials, persecutions, wars, famine, suffering, heartache, loss, or any scheme of the enemy because it is rooted in truth. It is rooted in the character and promises of the Father and the lens through which life is now seen is altogether transformed.
I feel compelled to remind us that it would not do us well to live with an eagerness for eternity and miss out on our purpose today because we are so consumed with what is to come later. Yes, what is to come is unspeakable glorious and worthy of our excitement and eagerness. But what is so beautiful is that we get to bring His kingdom here. Today. In this very moment. The more we seek after Him and learn to be silent while He speaks to us, the more insight He gives into how to live as a citizen of heaven here. The Holy Spirit is our Teacher… He is the best one I know. He is more eager than we are to show us how to think, speak, eat, drink, act, EXIST. He will show us how to bring the kingdom of heaven into every context, situation, relationship, thought, and action. We get to be fearless ambassadors passing through, bringing His hope and joy wherever our feet take us and wherever His Spirit leads us.
"If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again." Philippians 1:22-26
"Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10
Stations on the Road to Freedom - Bonhoeffer
If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things to govern your soul and your senses,
for fear that your passions and longings may lead you away from the path you should follow.
Chaste be your mind and your body, and both in subjection, obediently, steadfastly seeking the aim set before them;
only through discipline may a man learn to be free.
Daring to do what is right, not what fancy may tell you,
valiantly grasping occasions, not cravenly doubting –
freedom comes only through deeds, not through thoughts taking wing.
Faint not nor fear, but go out to the storm and the action,
trusting in God whose commandment you faithfully follow;
freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy.
A change has come indeed.
Your hands, so strong and active, are bound; in helplessness now you see your action is ended;
you sigh in relief, your cause committing to stronger hands; so now you may rest contented.
Only for one blissful moment could you draw near to touch freedom;
then, that it might be perfected in glory, you gave it to God.
Come now, thou greatest of feasts on the journey to freedom eternal;
death, cast aside all the burdensome chains, and demolish the walls of our temporal body, the walls of our souls that are blinded,
so that at last we may see that which here remains hidden.
Freedom, how long we have sought thee in discipline, action, and suffering;
dying, we now may behold thee revealed in the Lord.