As a man living in a broken world, like you, I see a lot of suffering. Being a pastor affords me the opportunity to see even more than I would otherwise. And those struggling with severe affliction, who find little to no relief, often wrestle with the value of their continued presence in this world. "Why won't God just take me?" "Doesn't even Paul say it is 'better to depart and be with Christ?'" "What good is it to continue on "in the flesh" with so much hardship?" These are very real and good questions. This week I have been reading and benefitting from Richard Baxter's, Dying Thoughts, a pastoral exposition of Phil. 1:23 where Paul wrote, "I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." (Philippians 1:23 ESV) Dying Thoughts is a great aid in guiding and comforting those who want to follow Jesus in life and death, but may be struggling through the tension of living in one world while longing for the next. Baxter's words early in the book give three reasons why this life should be considered desirable. Allow me to summarize.
Because your time here is God's Will
And God's will is best. It may be a hard truth, but while you may desire to leave this world be with Christ, "while this present life continues, the will of God is fulfilled... and that is best which God wills." (pg. 4) Of course such a truth will only be a comfort to you if you understand that God is not just sovereign, but also good, and loving toward you. God's plan for you is good--for you as well as for others.
Because your time here fits you for heaven
To depart and be with Christ is better, but you may not yet be ready to meet the Savior. The soul must be prepared for glory, and such preparation is accomplished here in this life. Even now, in the midst of your affliction, God is making you ready for eternity. Heaven requires you to "born again; to be pardoned and justified by faith; to be united to Christ, made wise unto salvation, renewed by his Spirit, and conformed to his likeness; to overcome all temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil." (pg. 5) God will take you when you are ready, "just as the life of adult age depends on infancy, or the reward upon the work, or the prize of racers or soldiers upon their running or fighting, or the merchant's gain upon his voyage." (pg. 4)
Because your time here benefits others
The days that God gives you on earth are the only days you have to love your neighbor and your brother. Departing and being with Christ is a glorious blessing, but "we are members of the world and of the church, and must labor to do good to many; and therefore we have greater work to do on earth than merely securing our own salvation." (pg. 5) We have been made for more than our own good, and even in the midst of great pain we cannot forget that "we are entrusted with our Master's talents for his service, to do our best in our places, to propagate his truth and grace, to edify his church, honor his cause, and promote the salvation of as many souls as we can." (pg. 5)
Your time here in this world is valuable, even if vexing. Your desire to depart and be with Christ is good, but as long as he keeps you here it is for his glory, your good, and the good of others. Make the most of it.
Be sure to pick up a copy of Baxter's, Dying Thoughts.