"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." Philippians 1:21-26
I have, on more than one occasion, wanted to just go be with Christ.
Of the times I recall wanting to do that, it seems that all of them were high stress, turbulent, trying, wearying times. I just wanted an escape from the harsh realities of this life, and going to be with Christ sounded good....real good. I didn't really think about what this meant, and at no point did I ever think about wanting to die intentionally or otherwise - I just longed to be with Christ to escape the craziness of life (probably, since these times occurred when I was a little younger than I am now, I was thinking that maybe the rapture would just hurry up and happen). I certainly wasn't a fan of dying (still not) - dying bothers me. Being dead is not something I am afraid of - it's the getting dead part that I don't much care for. Be that as it may, I have often wondered whether that propensity to want to just go and be with Christ really came from a pure motivation. I've concluded that it didn't come from a pure motivation - it came from a selfish one.
It's a struggle that we will all struggle with: the promise of an incredible reality beyond this life that involves living forever with the King over every King, and Creator of all that is. The possibilities and promise of this reality that we hold to be true are limitless, and just pondering them can leave us breathless.
But they can also leave us lifeless if we are not careful.
If we continue to look at our forever-life in the literal presence of Christ as an escape, then we will likely miss the point of why Christ left us here to begin with. Thankfully, Paul didn't miss the point.
One of the appreciations I have for people in the Bible (notably Paul) is their struggle. They are people who are often conflicted, torn. Especially Paul. This apostle was constantly walking the tension-filled tightrope of balancing polar realities: the worst of sinners vs. seated with Christ in the heavenlies; loving the good vs. not doing the good that is loved; and, yes, wanting to go and be with Christ vs. remaining on the earth.
For the last of these tensions, Paul offers a clue as to what sways his desire toward wanting to remain on earth rather than woefully long to depart and be with Christ (though, he admits, it would be far better to be with Christ). The reason he wants to stay is because of others. He knew that the reality of his life in Christ would be a light, a flame, a necessary piece for people to rub up against and sense the reality of the living Jesus. He knew he would one day get to realize his longing to be in the literal presence of Christ forever.
But not now. There were others that needed to know about the reality of the living Jesus.
Yep, I like it that Paul was torn. I can relate. None of us that know Christ can help but be torn between wanting to go and be with Him and staying here on earth. But I also stand grateful for the model he gave us for why he wanted to remain. He was motivated by selflessness. And that was a model he learned from the One he loved so much, and he articulates that even more clearly in the words of the following chapter (see Philippians 2:1-4).