In the 1997 movie, “The Shawshank Redemption,” Tim Robbins played Andy Dufresne, a quiet banker wrongfully accused 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 didn’t whine or fret or complain. For him 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 get to 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. That sounds crazy for many people in our world. How could death be a good thing? For those who believe in Jesus, we know that when we die, God will give us a home in heaven, which is way better than anything we could ever experience here on Earth.
When I am at the nursing home, though, many of the people I speak to already know that. In fact, they 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. It means there are people in our lives who still need us.
Your life here on Earth is your opportunity to live for Christ who lived and died for you. Every life has a purpose. Every life has 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 you can’t do what you used to be able to do, even when you are living in a nursing home or a wheelchair, even when you are bedridden, your life still has purpose and meaning. God still has things for you to do.
You can be an example of faith and love to those around you. You can tell other people of God’s love. You can give an encouraging word or smile to the other residents at the home.
And if you can do nothing else, you can pray. That seems so insignificant, and yet prayer can move mountains end wars and heal cancer. If you can do nothing else, you can pray for me. God knows I need it.
One day, you will die. When you do, through faith in Jesus, you will receive a home in the happiness of heaven. That is better by far.
But you aren’t dead yet. So get busy living.