So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. -Psalm 90:12
I shared with my brother-in-law that I was going to preach a sermon on the topic of what it means to die well. He shrugged and mumbled something I could not understand. Let’s just say that I have come to grips with the fact that the title (Dying Well) is not very sexy or appealing to the masses. But preach on this topic I must.
We all die. Yet it appears to me that we spend so very little time thinking and preparing for this unrelenting reality. In fact, our American culture goes OUT OF IT’S WAY to avoid thinking about or dealing with death.
Death? Funeral home.
If we are fortunate enough we may just need to miss a couple hours of work when someone we know passes away.
Whenever I perform a funeral it seems to me that people are almost itching to go get a stiff drink or watch a baseball game on TV. ANYTHING besides dealing with the reality of their own mortality.
Although we don’t like to talk about death God tells us that wisdom is gained when we reflect on the fact that our days are numbered here on earth (Psalm 90:12).
So where do we turn for an example of how we should think about death? The first person that I thought of was the apostle Paul. I am not aware of any one who ever suffered as much as Paul yet at the same time was filled with such joy.
In Philippians 1:21-24 we read these stunning words from Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which shall I choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”
Paul was in prison while he was writing these words. The idea of death was no stranger to him. The one constant whether Paul lived or died was his passion to know and be with Jesus. Which leads me to this thought. The primary reason that heaven was considered “gain” to Paul was because Jesus was the passion of his life. Paul desired heaven because he desired to be with Jesus. Which leads to a challenging/convicting realization. If we do not consider death as “gain” could it be that we love something or someone here on earth too much?
This coming Sunday my primary text will be Philippians 1. But I plan on sharing a few other truths from God’s Word along the way. Here is what I have come up with so far:
One of the things that troubled me most about the way my father died is that there were times when he did not seem certain of his salvation. My father was one of the most godly men I have ever known and I have no doubt that he is in heaven. I believe that it was his dementia that caused him to lose confidence in God’s Word as he slowly passed away. It breaks my heart that my father had to deal with those doubts at such a difficult time.
One of my recurring prayers is that God would grant me the strength and peace to face death with a faith like Paul’s. As a pastor I pray the same thing for the people I love and serve. I pray that in their time of greatest need that they would know “the peace that surpasses all understanding.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed at the hands of Nazi Germany wrote these lines in one of his sermons, “Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up – that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? ….Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.