For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. … 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, 23-24
Normally if we speak about one person using another, it is not a good thing. It is failure to respect them as human. But it’s quite a different thing to speak about a person being used by God. The apostle Paul wanted to be used by God, and so should we.
Paul at this time was in Rome, being held captive. Yet he was pleased that his captivity had served to advance the gospel. This is because Paul’s purpose in life was for the good news of Jesus Christ to be proclaimed, and he was quite content to be used by God for that be purpose.
For Paul, this attitude extended all the way to the matter of his own life or death. Clearly, he saw the real possibility of this imprisonment ending in his death. But even in death his desire was to glorify God. He was content to live – and work for God’s glory – or to die and be with Christ, “which is better by far.”
John Ruskin once wrote that if we don’t know what we would die for, then we won’t know how to live.
Well, for Paul, what’s attractive about dying is to be with Christ. So there should be no surprise that his reason for wanting to stay alive is the same: it is Christ! And the chance to be involved in fruitful labour for the gospel.
This really is the way to live – to be used by God in the work of the gospel. It’s a dangerous prayer, to pray to be used by God – because what if he answers it! But it’s a prayer that we should pray.