A Million Ways to Die: The Only Way to Live by Rick James
As Christians we talk often about resurrection, but what about our death and the many daily “deaths” that must come first? Through stories and biblical insights, Rick James reminds us that when Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him, He is describing a path of death, not a path to death.
As we learn to embrace the deaths of everyday existence, we lose our taste for lifeless religiosity. Our appetite for a thriving, vibrant life in Christ grows—and our own experience motivates others to live out their extraordinary missions on earth. As James so vividly illustrates, death is not an ending—it’s an invitation to more abundant life.
DEATH: OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME
©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. A Million Ways to Die by Rick James. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.
While neither God nor Scripture ignores or downplays the pain of our suffering and trials, they are unwavering in presenting it to us as an opportunity to be embraced, not a threat from which to hide. A thoughtful examination of a passage in 2 Corinthians explains why: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Cor. 4:10–12).
Let me rephrase this passage with explanation, expansion, and commentary so you can see the concepts in another way:
I endure many hardships. But I think of my trials like “little deaths” because I see how God resurrects, or brings life out of, them. You, Corinthians, are the ones who benefit from this, so I don’t mind if God uses my life and faith as an engine to convert those deaths into life. In fact, once you realize that trials are fuel, or firewood, to be burned and transformed into life, you no longer run from them; you embrace them. This is why I rejoice in the severity of my trials, persevere in them, and embrace them by faith. I never think, “Oh, no … another trial.” I actually think, “Bring it on; it’s just more logs for the fire.”
It is no doubt human nature to avoid pain; it’s definitely my nature. I dare you to spring out of bed every morning like it were Christmas Day, anticipating what new deaths lie ahead and how God will transform them into life. It’s not a normal way of looking at life, but then again neither is returning from a torture session “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).
If Mr. Thomas Kuhn were still alive, I believe he would call this a paradigm shift, a fundamentally different way of viewing life. In fact, when a perspective is so mind-altering and counterintuitive, we do not call it insight, but insanity. It’s not just a different way of thinking, it’s too different—odd different. Apart from faith, James’ sentiment, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2), would have to be seen as gibberish, as would the affections expressed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he said, “Can you sense that I have now a terrible longing for my own suffering?”
However, when you begin to view death as an opportunity for more and greater life, here and now, as well as in the age to come, it changes everything. It reorients us entirely.
In the past year I’ve had the opportunity to share the gospel with something like ten thousand college students, with several hundred of those coming to Christ. This outreach to universities was launched from a book I wrote titled Jesus Without Religion. I can’t prove this, but I don’t think the fruitfulness of the book is necessarily tied to the book itself.
The book took me six months to write, and the very day after completing it, my computer crashed. As it turned out, the “heads” on the hard drive were cracked, and nothing was salvageable. This, at least, is what the repairman told me; I know nothing of the heads, hands, or feet of a hard drive, nothing of basic hard drive anatomy at all. This would have been the perfect time to pull out the backup copy that I’d saved—if there had been a backup copy. But I had nothing; the book was gone, dead and buried, its remains sprinkled throughout the cyber universe—from pixels it came and to pixels it returned.
Yet this perspective of death presented in Scripture ultimately led me to a sense of anticipation. Here, in the teaching of Jesus and the disciples, death (the death of a hope, dream, goal, or six months worth of work) doesn’t mean dead—it means the opportunity for resurrection.
To give thanks and praise in such circumstances is one way in which death is transformed into life. The blackened logs of death consumed by faith’s flame are transformed into wisps of praise drifting upward. Death is a consumable fuel for life, and any experience of death can yield spiritual life if it is embraced by faith. Giving thanks and praise is simply one method of transference.
I do not remember if I gave thanks. I might have sworn. But after regaining my spiritual equilibrium, I did start on page one, with word one, and with considerable anticipation that God would use the resurrected rewrite like Lazarus, drawing many to Himself.
I can’t prove the connection in this particular case, but I know it’s there. I know it’s God’s resurrection power working through a corpse. (Though in my enthusiasm for the metaphor, I have just called my book a corpse, which can’t be good for future sales).
It certainly makes sense to me why an unbeliever would run from death. But for a believer, to run from death is, in reality, to run from life. This is why we embrace death and consider it pure joy in whatever form we encounter it. Death is no longer a dead end or detour to life; it’s a fuel stop. Death, like gasoline, is combusted and converted into mileage, enabling us to get to our destination—the light and life of the great city glowing over the horizon.
I received this in my email, thought you'd all like to read it :)