Dear Dawson, In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul says he "would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord." What's he talking about, and how does that apply to me?
This is an amazing, powerful statement from Paul. It's something that many Christians, if we're honest with ourselves, would not say.
Paul was saying he would much rather leave this earth and his sinful, deteriorating body and go to be where his real home was—in heaven with Jesus. Paul talked about this struggle elsewhere, too. In Philippians 1:21-24, he says, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. … 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 [the believers in Philippi] that I remain in the body."
As we can see from this verse and the one you mentioned, Paul was torn between two incredible desires—to be with Christ in heaven, or to live for Christ on this earth and do all he could to serve Christ.
Some people wonder if these passages mean Paul had a death wish or was suicidal. No, he didn't and no, he wasn't. Granted, maybe he was getting tired of getting beaten and thrown into jail, and maybe his body was falling apart, but Paul knew he still had some work to do on earth. God is not asking us to commit earthly suicide for heavenly gain. Yes, Paul said, "To die is gain." But God has a calling for us here on this earth, and he decides when it's time for us to go home to be with him.
Paul knew that the real place to be, where the real action was, was with Christ—whether on earth or in heaven. He said in Colossians 3:1, "Set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." This means that we Christians are just visiting this planet, that we aren't really citizens here, that heaven is our real home. This theme runs throughout the Bible.
You see, Paul loved Jesus so much that he was homesick. He longed to be in the very presence of Christ. When Paul wrote these strong words about his desire to be with Jesus, he was getting older and his health was failing. His body was deteriorating, but his soul was getting stronger. And each day, it seemed he wanted heaven more. His desire to be with the Lord was so strong he realized nothing on this earth could compare.
Paul's desires should apply to all of us. We shouldn't wait till we're old or sick before we say, "OK, Lord, I'm ready to be with you now. Life stinks, so you can take me home." Paul encourages all of us to focus on Christ, both here and in heaven, even when we're still young and strong. Our hearts should be so wrapped up with Jesus that we long for the day we see him.
That's how 2 Corinthians 5:8 applies to us. We are to fall so in love with Christ that this world pales in comparison. We shouldn't be obsessed with the things of the world—the next boyfriend or girlfriend, the next CD, the next stereo, the next car, or whether we're the most popular person at school. We're really living for heaven by putting God first and foremost in our lives.