“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on
toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 3:13-14
Recently I had an experience that I won’t soon forget, nor would I ever want too. My friend Ben and I went to visit another friend of ours, John Moorehead, who is in his final days battling terminal cancer. We came to visit and offer whatever encouragement and support we could, but also, selfishly, we came to glean whatever wisdom and truth we could from a man who is facing death with more love and joy than many of us do facing life.
So there we were, reclined in the living room with coffee in hand shooting the breeze, when I asked the question that seemed the only appropriate one to ask at the time. “John”, I said, “how are you doing?” – I must admit that as soon as those words left me mouth I felt so dumb. I mean, what the hell kind of question is that to ask someone whose body is being overrun with cancer. And yet, like I said, it seemed to be the only appropriate thing to ask. And I’m glad I did, because John’s answer was amazing.
Hearing the question, John kindly looked at me and said, “Well Joe, it depends on what you mean. Physically my body is losing and failing me, but spiritually I am filled with an excited anticipation to meet the Lord and have the heavenly body I was made to have, one free of disease and all the other brokenness currently residing in it.”
Just like that, with tears in his eyes, oxygen machine attached to his nose, and a smile crafted in Jesus’ kingdom, John spoke words that allowed everything to be real: the hurt, the pain, the joy, the hope. In that moment each emotion was allowed its place in that room, to be felt and experienced by a middle-aged man dying of cancer and two young adults lost and in search of a clue. It was a powerful moment. It was a kingdom moment. It was a signpost reminding us of the direction we all must travel as we journey with and towards Jesus; the journey that infuses our earthly hurts with kingdom joy and our earthly pains with kingdom hope, and vice-versa. It’s the journey of living in the tension of the brokenness of our world and the healing power of Jesus.
On this journey we all will face the temptation to wander, to choose a much simpler existence. We all will at times desire anything that will numb our pain or distract us from our disappointments. “The journey with me is the narrow way”, Jesus said, “It is a way that most will not choose to go, because the realness of it is both foreign and terrifying. Yet, it is the only way I’m willing to go. Therefore, it is the only way to go if you want to journey with me.” [Matthew 7]
“I am filled with an excited anticipation”, John said, and he meant it. Despite whatever pain he was experiencing in the moment, emotional or physical, John was not going to allow that to shape or change his spirit.
In the remainder of the time he spoke with us, everything John said was infused with that hope in the goodness of Jesus. Whether it was a testimony of his struggles or an encouragement for ours, John always ended by looking towards Jesus and allowing the sight of him to reinterpret the situation; pain infused with hope. And the wisdom he had to offer us was the encouragement to do the same, not on when we come to face death, but as we stare directly in the eyes of life, real life.
In the words of our brother Paul, “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,” John is choosing to, “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
May we all be so bold as to do the same.