Thoughts of Approaching Death
All quotations are taken from the New King James Version.
‘The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years’, Ps. 90. 10. A hymn says, ‘Life at best is very brief’. Compared to eternity our life is just a little blip on the screen of time. During 2004 a woman died at 115 years old and was reckoned to be the oldest woman in the USA. She was reported as saying before she died, ‘Dying is so hard. I hope I do it well!’ It was not reported whether she was a Christian or not. Kenneth Hildebrand wrote a song years ago in which he said, ‘If I live well, praise the Lord! If I die well, praise the Lord!’
It is possible to die well, at peace with God and man, with a sense of having accomplished the will of God in one’s life. Paul wrote at the close of his life, ‘For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’, 2 Tim. 4. 6-7. He was executed for his faith, probably beheaded, in Rome. It was a triumphant entrance into the glory of heaven. Paul died well.
The preacher in Ecclesiastes states, ‘A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death better than the day of one’s birth’, Eccles. 7. 1. Parents rejoice over the birth of their little one. It is new life, fresh and vigorous, radiant with hope. But who knows how that life will turn out? That baby may grow up, turn to the Lord and live a productive, fruitful life with a happy marriage, blessed with children. But that child may go the other way, become a rebel, defying God and man. He may come to death early with a wasted life. Remember Samson’s last days after a strong beginning. The beginning of a race is important and exciting, but it is the end of the race which will determine who ran well. The day of death is more important than the day of birth. Then the quality of one’s life will be revealed. How important it is to live wisely!
A Confident Death
Hear the words of Paul, ‘I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. Finally there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness’, 2 Tim. 4. 7-8. He is facing death but he radiates confidence. It is a triumphant cry. He has triumphed in the fight against the devil, the flesh and the world. It has been a fierce battle but he has won. Life has been a marathon race, requiring focus on the goal and strong endurance. Paul has run well and finished the race. He has not compromised God’s truth. He could exhort Timothy; ‘Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me’, 2 Tim. 1. 13. A triumphant life is a faithful life, faithful to the Lord and to His word. Will we be able to finish life triumphantly as Paul did?
Preparing for Death
You need to prepare for death from the day of your birth. I heard an elder pleading with the young people to give themselves to God early. He said, ‘Do not waste your life. Do not wait until old age to begin to serve God. Old age is a time of declining health, energy and vision. Make wise choices while young for a fruitful, meaningful life.’ Good advice! A wise life will have a wise goal. The decision to put God first in your life is the most important decision you can make after conversion. It will affect all of your other decision-making for eternal good. This decision to love God above all else will lead you to consecrate yourself to God and His service. Paul pleads with believers, ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God’, Rom. 12. 1-2.
Years ago at a Bible camp in Minnesota a young man came up to me after a meeting and said, ‘Uncle Don, I have been saved for some time but I have never given myself to the Lord. I would like to do that now’. We prayed together and he poured out his heart to God. His life now for over forty years has been a blessing to the people of God. That decision set the course of his life toward God and the things of God.
This decision should lead you to a disciplined life. You begin to realize that life is precious; it must not be wasted. All that would encourage the sinful tendencies within must be rejected. Be merciless here; avoid media and any influences that arouse the flesh within. The thought-life must be brought under Christ’s control. It is in the thought-life where sin begins, Jas. 1. 14-16.
A disciplined life will schedule regular times of study, meditation on God’s word and prayer. There is no short cut to spiritual life and maturity. To love God is to love His word. A disciplined life will use time wisely. The good will need to be put aside for the best. Time will be planned and scheduled with the help of a good calendar. Always the things of God will have priority. Every day will have opportunities that must not be wasted. For a healthy life you must also make room for exercise and relaxation. ‘See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, (literally, ‘buying up the opportunities’), because the days are evil’, Eph. 5. 16-17.
A godly life will be marked by a good conscience, ‘Now the purpose (goal) of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience and from sincere faith’, 1 Tim. 1. 5. Any sin must be confessed and put away if one is to maintain a good conscience. To die well you must keep your conscience pure. A forgiving spirit is vital for spiritual health and blessing. An unforgiving, bitter spirit will sour your life and defile others, Heb. 12. 14-15. During the course of life you are sure at times to be offended by others and to cause offence. We must be forgiven by the Lord and by others and we, in turn, must be forgiving, Eph. 4. 32. It is sad to see a Christian come to the end of life with a heart loaded with bitterness.
To die well you must be accepting of your lot in life. Paul could write, ‘I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content’, Phil. 4. 11. At that moment Paul was a prisoner in Rome awaiting trial. Some people are always complaining, unhappy about their work, the climate, or their church. With old age will come physical limitations that are hard to accept. You may find your hearing going and your eyesight dimming; your energy is diminished and your aches and pains multiply. Maybe early in life there was the tragic disabling handicap. It is hard not to look with envy at those who are well. Submission to the trials of life and acceptance of them is not easy. But to be resentful and to bemoan your lot only increases the pain. There are always others who are in worse circumstances. A man who is in a wheel-chair is very thankful, saying, ‘I am so thankful I have the use of my arms. If my spinal injury were higher I would have been paralysed completely’. His life is marked by thankfulness. To die well you must accept the circumstances of life and realize God is working on your behalf for our good and His glory, Rom. 8. 28. And the glory of heaven is ahead. The apostle himself declares, ‘We are confident, yes, well pleased, rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord’, 2 Cor. 5. 8. By God’s grace begin early in life to choose wisely. Then if the Lord hasn’t come you will die well, and die triumphantly!
Make us Thy mountaineers,
We would not linger on the lower slope.
Fill us afresh with hope, O God of Hope,
That undefeated we may climb the hill
As seeing Him, who is invisible.
Let us die climbing.
When this little while lies far behind us,
And as the last defile is all-alight,
and in that light we see
Our Leader and our Lord,
What will it be?
This article first appeared in the Uplook Magazine January 2005 pages 27-28.
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