In the 1997 movie The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins played Andy Dufresne, a quiet banker wrongfully accused and convicted of killing his wife. After 20 years in Shawshank Prison, Dufresne had enough. In one of the most dramatic scenes of the movie, he turns to his friend Red and in exasperation says, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really—get busy living or get busy dying.”
Those words often echo in my head and heart as I teach weekly Bible studies in our local nursing homes. Sadly, when many people move into the nursing home, they get busy dying. They give up. They feel like they have nothing left to give or contribute. So they sit sadly in their wheelchairs and rooms, waiting to die.
Again and again, I find myself taking them back to one particular verse from the Bible: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
The apostle Paul wrote those words as he sat in the city of Rome, chained to a Roman soldier, awaiting his trial before the Roman Emperor. At the time, Paul didn’t know if he would be set free or put to death. Yet Paul writes it was actually a win/win situation. If he was set free, he would be able to share the good news of God’s love with more people. If they put him to death, even better. He would go to the heaven Jesus had won for him.
For Paul, to live was Christ and to die is gain. He couldn’t lose.
Usually as a preacher, I focus on the second part of that verse—that to die is gain. For those who believe in Jesus, we know that when we die, God will give us a home in heaven that is way better than anything we could ever experience here on earth.
But when I am at the nursing home, many of the people tell me they don’t want to be here anymore. They want to go to heaven, but God just won’t take them. That’s when I have to remind them of the first part of the verse—that to live is Christ. In other words, if we are here, it means God still has things for us to do.
Our lives here on earth are our opportunities to live for Christ, who lived and died for us. Every life has a purpose and a meaning. The problem is that when we can’t do the things we used to be able to do—when we can’t do the things we want to do—the devil tries to convince us that we can’t do anything, or at least anything worthwhile.
The truth is that even when we can’t do what we used to be able to do, even when we are living in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair, or bedridden, life still has purpose and meaning. God still has things for us to do.
We can be an example of faith and love to those around us. We can tell other people of God’s love. And if we can do nothing else, we can pray. That seems so insignificant, and yet prayer can move mountains, as Jesus promised. It shouldn’t take long to think of someone who needs our prayers.
Then one day, we will die. When we do, through faith in Jesus, we will receive a home in the happiness of heaven. That is better by far.
But we aren’t dead yet. So get busy living.
Author: Andrew Schroer
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019