Everybody wants to go to heaven
Have a mansion high above the clouds
Everybody want to go to heaven
But nobody want to go now
Everybody wanna go to heaven
Hallelujah, let me hear you shout
Everybody wanna go to heaven
But nobody wanna go now
I think I speak for the crowd
Nobody want to go now
—Kenny Chesney, “Everybody Wants to go to Heaven”
As followers of Jesus, we have an incredible assurance: we’re going to spend eternity alive with him. I know a lot of Christians who are eagerly looking forward to that day when they see their Savior face to face. Yet, when presented with an opportunity to see him now—when diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness, for example—most choose to fight for life. Does that mean they lack faith?
Not at all. God has us here for a reason. Allowing him to achieve his purpose in us is our privilege and responsibility. He numbers of our days. We can choose to shorten them, but we’d be disobedient to his will.
A decade ago, Pete was in India for a conference. His roommate was an elderly Indian man, a retired executive from the national railroad. Pete described him to me as a “wise, Christian guru.” (I imagined Gandhi with a Bible.) For three days, this man was mostly quiet. The silence wasn’t hostile; there was more a sense of anticipation.
Finally, on the last day of the conference, this wise old Indian spoke:
Do you understand what it means to be a patriarch? I’ve been watching you. God has blessed you and given you many gifts. You’ve already been to heaven (read that story here), and I’m sure you’d like to go home to heaven as soon as you can. With all that he’s poured into you, have you ever considered whether God might want you to arrange your life to stay here as long as possible, and impact as many generations as possible?
We have several friends who have been diagnosed with late-stage cancer. They are all confident in their faith; they’re not afraid of dying. On the other hand, with one exception they’re all fighting to live.
Why do they submit to the unpleasant side effects of radiation and/or chemo? They want to be healed. One woman is hoping to watch her grown children get married and have children of their own. Another has a life work he hasn’t finished, a calling that needs to be fulfilled. Yet another wants more time to put his life in order, to make it easier for the widow he would leave behind.
More importantly, these friends believe that God is using them in their illness. They know that people are watching. Their trust in God, their abiding peace, their ability to continue loving others while they themselves are suffering—all demonstrate God’s character to a dying world.
On the other hand, we know one person who is more complacent. He’s accepted the doctor’s assessment that his illness is terminal, and instead of fighting to live, he’s preparing to die. I want to ask him, “Did you pray about this? Did God tell you to reject treatment?” It’s one thing to accept God’s will with good grace. It’s another to give up.
They remind me of the paralytic at the Bethesda Pool, in John 5:2-9. This man had been lying beside the water for 40 years when Jesus showed up with the will to heal him. Jesus’ first question was, “Do you want to get well?” Not everyone wants to be healed.
When it comes to end of life issues, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Doctors can’t predict the future. At age 84, my dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was given a 4% chance of survival. Then, the chemo made him so sick, he had to stop after only three of the six scheduled sessions. Certainly we continued to pray, but at that point, he figured his life was over. Yet, contrary to all medical expectations, my dad has now been cancer-free for seven years! You just never know what God will do.
That’s why, when making decisions, we need to ask God what he wants! He just may surprise us!