The Greatest Gift, written by Philip Van Doren Stern, is a story about a man who wants to accomplish something in his own life but is so busy helping others that life seems to pass him by. Despondent over what appears to be a very ordinary, if not a wasted life, he wishes he had never been born. He gets his wish, and through the help of a guardian angel he sees the world as it would have been had he never lived. After viewing life from such a unique perspective, he concludes that life is indeed a wonderful gift. Though Stern never found anyone willing to publish the story, it finally found its way into the hands of filmmaker Frank Capra, who turned it into the all-time Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.
I have not had a life-changing visit from a kind guardian angel, but I have had my perspective on life altered in recent years. I have always thought that because of our fallen condition in this fallen world that life, as we know it now, was quite pitiful in comparison to the life that is yet to come. Hence, it has not been very tempting for me to sink my roots too deeply in this present world.
I do not at all mean that my life hasn’t been enjoyable and blessed. To the contrary, I have had a good life, a happy marriage, wonderful children and adorable grandchildren. I have been privileged to meet some of God’s choicest saints in places all around the world. I have been able to work in a very rewarding ministry and develop some wonderful friendships. I feel that what I have done has had tremendous meaning and value. I feel I have had a truly full life! So any time God is ready for me to go, I am ready. I have no sad stories, no regrets about leaving, and no struggle to grasp a few more fleeting moments of time here on earth. It’s been a great journey! (For those who are shocked by this, no, I am not depressed; and, yes, I would like to see my grandchildren grow and have children of their own.) But earnest Christians live with a very loose grip on this present world. Right? We are only pilgrims passing through this land of shadows headed for the real world – the eternal one. Right? This life is inferior at best, and the sooner we slip the bonds of mortal existence and are clothed with the eternal, the better. Right?
Some time ago God began to speak to me about the wonderful gift He has given us in our earthly physical life. It should not be minimized or demeaned. It shouldn’t simply be endured until we are liberated by eternal life. Rather, it should be lived with deep gratitude and respect as a wonderful gift from God. It is good, not because I make it so, but because He has made it so.
God created life and declared it good. God gave Adam and Eve each other and the created world around them to enjoy richly. He considers this physical life sacred and reserves the severest penalties for those who destroy it. The first promise attached to a commandment was the promise of a long life. God often promised length of days as a way of honoring His faithful servants in the Old Testament. All of this is still true, despite the fall of man and the curse of sin.
Obviously, God sees the life He gives us as very good! Don’t confuse God’s gift of life that is good with what the world calls the “good life.” The two are polar opposites. The citizens of this present world chase after the “good life”; grabbing all they can get and holding it as tightly as possible. They generally succeed in keeping it long enough to make themselves thoroughly miserable before losing it all. Christians, however, have given up the “good life” so that they may enjoy a life that is truly good. They do not grab for what they can get but rather hold everything they possess in an open palm. They clutch nothing to themselves. Thereby they can enjoy all things without those things affecting their joy.
If God views our earthly life as good, then His perspective ought to become our perspective. We should see every moment of our life here as a blessed gift to be richly enjoyed. A glorious journey marked by His grace. I don’t need health or wealth or popularity or beauty or anything else to make my life good. All I need is to walk with Him and remain in Him moment by moment. Such a view of life is neither a shallow optimism nor a refusal to acknowledge the deep darkness that life can bring. It isn’t ignoring the curse of sin and its awful physical consequences. But it is refusing to let those things blind us to the ultimate goodness of this life. It is acknowledging that every day is a gift from God—a gift that when received gratefully can transform the most common and ordinary moment into joyful living. It is a statement of faith that says pain, sorrow and trouble do not define my existence, determine my happiness or have the final word!
It is doubtful that anyone was ever influenced toward the life to come by someone who despised the one he or she was living now. Life is good, and as Christians we should demonstrate that goodness to those with whom we interact.
As we celebrate God’s unspeakable gift in Christ this Christmas season, it would be good also to celebrate another of His wonderful gifts—the gift of life. Important celebrations require planning and thought. One Christmas morning, before my family and I opened our gifts, we read the Christmas story, prayed together, and then I read some prepared remarks about how good God had been to our family and how grateful I was for each of them. I then mentioned some specific things about each one that I deeply appreciated. After I finished, each family member did the same. At times we were so overcome with emotion we couldn’t speak. When it was over, we embraced each other and realized anew how wonderful life really is! If you’re alone, read a prepared letter to God and thank Him for the life He has given you. You will not be alone for long! Whatever your circumstance, don’t miss an opportunity this year to celebrate all of life. Because it really is wonderful!