For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. … But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
–Apostle Paul, Philippians 1:21-24
Waiting. Sometimes I find it harder to wait than other times. Perhaps it has to do with what I’m waiting for and the circumstances I’m in at the time.
“Wait until your dad gets home” was a phrase I heard from my mom from time to time during my growing up years. That was anxiety-filled waiting. My wife and I will be vacationing to a Caribbean island this Spring; that is excitement-filled waiting. Christmas is coming, there are presents to buy and decorations to set up. That is an activity-filled waiting.
During Christmas we celebrate the Advent season. This season, the four Sundays before Christmas, is when we remind ourselves of those generations of Jews who spent their lives waiting on the Messiah, and when we remind ourselves that we, too, wait on His return. As the Bible tells us, it is an activity-filled waiting. We are to go about the business of building a relationship with Christ and following Him into the world to love others with His love.
Paul felt torn, “hard-pressed from both directions,” in his waiting. For him, to die and be with Christ was better, to stay for the sake of the Philippian Christians was necessary. Wouldn’t it be instructive to talk with him about that? It would be for me. I don’t think I’m waiting very well right now. I am desperately impatient to be in union with Christ.
Paul says he was taken up into the “third heaven” (2Corinthians 12:2). “After that experience,” I would ask him, “how do you continue to wait so well?” He had an earlier encounter with Jesus, later he was “caught up to the third heaven”; it must have made waiting so very difficult. He must have certainly experienced a momentary fulfillment of the great hope we who follow Christ have: to be in the presence of Love Himself. What he must have felt! How can he honestly then say he is “hard-pressed from both directions”?
How is Paul able to not cry out with the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord?”as he yearns to be with Jesus.
Of course, God, if Paul is unavailable I’d enjoy talking with Moses or Elijah. Both had direct encounters with God. But, perhaps the best conversation would be with Jesus, Himself. After all, He came to earth, “emptying Himself” by fully taking on human nature subject to pain and suffering and temptation, deprived of glory until the end.
Jesus must have felt “hard -pressed from both directions,” too. Yet, He endured, suffering the burdens of daily life, which we join Him in His suffering, thus participating with Paul in “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Christians suffer for and from the world, pastors additionally suffer for and from His Church. It is hard.
So I wait, and not well right now. My impatience makes me restless, wanting to hurry time along. I would still like to have that conversation with Paul; however, the strength to wait well will only come from Jesus. Advent will be particularly good for me this year; it reminds me to wait well.