Recently I marked another birthday, and as I always do on my birthday, I listened to Frank Sinatra’s album September of My Years(interesting historical tidbit: my favorite Sinatra album and my favorite Beatles album—Rubber Soul—were released in the same year, 1965; but I digress). It’s an album of reflective songs as the singer looks back over his life; Sinatra recorded it as he was nearing his 50th birthday. And as I too reflect, I always have to admit that, in the words of the album’s best song, it was a very good year.
So in recent years I have started a new practice on my birthday. That day in my prayers I do not ask God for anything; all my prayers that day consist only of thanks, praise, and adoration. I don’t even engage in intercessory prayer that day; it’s all thanks and praise to my gracious, loving, faithful Lord and Savior. In the words of Kevin DeYoung, it’s time spent with my Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend. I commend the practice to you. Birthdays come only once a year (it is only once, right?); try it, and let me know what your experience was like.
As I was thanking God for all the blessings he has heaped upon me, it suddenly occurred to me that I was thanking him only for temporal blessings, for blessings in this life only. As great as the blessings of health, family, friends, good food, adequate housing and clothing, and other enjoyments in life are, they are not to be compared with the eternal spiritual and relational benefits that we have in Christ.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism (come on, you knew I was going to go there!) reminds us of the benefits that we receive as believers. In this life, we receive “assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance to the end” (Q36). At death, our souls are made “perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory” while our bodies await the resurrection (Q37). Finally, at the resurrection, believers will be “raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity” (Q38).
“The full enjoying of God to all eternity”: wow! That sinners could have such blessedness is truly amazing. And Jesus’ resurrection assures us that we who have trusted in him will receive this blessing. In the Old Testament, the “firstfruits” given as an offering represented the entire harvest, an acknowledgment that the entire harvest had now begun. So when Paul says in I Corinthians 15:20 that Christ in his resurrection is the firstfruits, he is saying that in Christ’s resurrection our resurrection has already begun! As Ian Hamilton says of Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection, “Just like justification and sanctification, they are never to be confused, but neither can they ever be separated.” Or as Thomas Watson put it, “We are more sure to arise out of our graves than out of our beds.”
So, dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, set your alarm clocks for eternity. How then should we live?
“If you are in Christ, then you are in the eternal sphere of the love of God. This, then, is how you are to live, as God’s beloved son or daughter, knowing that nothing and no one can condemn you, overcome you, or separate you from his love because of your indissoluble union with your Savior.” (Ian Hamilton)
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Steve Hoogerhyde is a Ruling Elder.