Recently, in our house, my youngest daughter started doing two things that had her worlds collide a little bit. She began watching the TV Series House. During this time, she also was told to watch Dead Poets Society. For those of you who don’t know why watching those two things had her worlds collide, I encourage you to watch the movie and watch a few episodes of House, and it should come to mind quickly!
As you can imagine, my daughter really liked Dead Poets Society, and this sparked several conversations around the phrase “carpe diem” and what it meant. Robin Williams plays John Keating, an English teacher who takes a different approach to study than what was commonplace in that private school. Dr. Keating unpacks the concept of “seize the day” when he says, “We are food for worms, lads. Because, believe it or not, every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die.”
Just over a year ago, we embarked on a cancer journey. I was diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer and given only a small promise of three to five years if I fell into the average expectancy rate. A dear friend and mentor of mine, Rick Clapp, recommended a book to me shortly after my diagnosis. That book, Chasing Daylight by Eugene O’Kelly, changed my life. It forced me to think about my own death, which inevitably led to thinking about my life. There was a very stark reality I had to accept: I was in the final stage of my life. Nothing in my power could change that. Today, I’ve had 4 major operations, 27 rounds of chemo, and countless more scans. Some of you may know what I’m talking about.
But Chasing Daylight, written by a man who had been diagnosed with cancer and given three months to live, set me on a mission very similar to the aspiration of Dr. Keating. I could relate to O’Kelly, whose wife had to write the remaining chapters after Eugene died, because I was staring down a journey of the unknown as he did and I refused to live the remainder of my life as a victim of a disease. I determined that I would go down as a fighter.
My conversations with my daughters, wife, friends on the journey with us, and even with our worship pastor, dove deep into what I was learning from looking at Jesus’ life with a new perspective. I mention my worship pastor because I believe that our worship is derived from what we truly believe in our hearts. This drove me to look at Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.
If you are diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and you have a community of friends, you will no doubt hear many (if not all) say, “I’m praying for healing for you…” or something to that effect. We see a similar prayer by Jesus in the garden. “Father, if it is your will, please let this cup pass from me…” is a prayer that in essence is saying much the same thing. When I pray for healing for a friend, I am literally asking God to allow that cup, that disease, that imminent death, to pass from them. Yet, it is what follows in Jesus’ story that caught my eye when I approached that narrative with the perspective of “carpe diem” in mind.
The book of Hebrews tells us that from that moment forward, Jesus’ focus or perspective became myopic. It said that he looked forward into the promises of His Father and saw the day when he would be seated at the right hand of his Father and that sin and death would be destroyed; and because of that joy, that hope, Jesus was fueled with “carpe diem” and turned his face towards the cross and all the shame and warred to the end. He fought off every obstacle, every thought, every temptation, and died willingly. He had accepted that journey.
In the short time he had left, he packed so much teaching and challenge into the lives of his disciples. Not that he said a lot of words, but Jesus spoke through his life, through his sacrifice, through his love even for those who were putting him to death. His life crescendoed in its ability to impact the lives of his followers for the rest of their lives. In fact, his life and its example moved beyond just his immediate disciples all the way to our day as it inspires us to love the Father and love others over ourselves. We know to look to the promises of God and the HOPE that is before us. We can accept that we have no control over our lives, that we don’t get to demand a better ending. While we can ask if the cup can pass from us or from our loved ones, we also know that we may receive the same answer Jesus did: that cup will not pass from us; we must endure the journey with it as a reality. God’s grace and hope is sufficient for us.
So, I pray we take three things seriously from Jesus’ life that will have an immense effect on our worship.
- Be afraid and ask great things of God.
It is okay for us to be human. Jesus reacted humanly as the cross loomed over his future and he asked his Father for release… for a pass. We should do the same. Let’s be honest with our fears and anxiety, they are not signs of a weak faith. Yet, let’s also bring them to God and lay them at his feet to do as he wills.
- Find HOPE regardless of circumstances.
God doesn’t promise the elimination of our challenges, even our afflictions—in my case, my cancer diagnosis. But, God does promise this HOPE. He promises that our sins are forgiven, we have His grace, and we are His children. He will bring us through anything as victors. This is why we must be determined to focus, to become myopic as Jesus was, on that HOPE set before us.
- Invest in others.
Jesus never expected us to do this alone. We were created for relationships, for community. Building healthy, life-giving, sincere relationships is the cornerstone of living life filled with Christ. The church in Acts 2 is built upon relationships first and foremost. Everyone shared everything to meet the needs of everyone. Prayer and worship abounded within this community-driven culture. When Peter was imprisoned, the church met in homes petitioning the Father for his release and rescue. When Paul was imprisoned, he looked at his circumstances and rejoiced and worshiped his Father. Alone? No. He and Silas together worshiped while in chains.
Dr. Keating was right to admonish young students to live their lives fully. But we should also learn one more thing from that movie: it should not take a tragedy to drive us to live our lives this way. This should be the way we live life today, regardless of circumstances. If we do, then we will face our fears and ask God for help. We will fix our eyes on the HOPE that God gives us. We will build healthy relationships and love others before ourselves. And all of this will find us surrendering, rejoicing, and crying out to God in worship. If we do these things, it will surely change the entire nature of our worship. So, while we can, let’s “chase daylight” and grab onto today.
Pete is currently Content Curator at Leadership Network and has served as an executive at Faithlife, a VP at Outreach, and as the Executive Pastor of Discovery Church.