Friday, December 7, 2012

Dying thoughts

THE DEATH of an aunt very close to me has led me to think a lot about death and dying lately. The great equalizer, they call death, because everyone dies—the only question is when.

I talk about death to friends. I talk to them about the possibility of me dying early—not that I wish it, but that it can happen sooner than I think. This topic is received with two basic reactions: dismissal ("Stop talking about that!"), the more common reflex response; or excitement ("Ah, to see the Lord Jesus Christ and worship Him in heaven!"), usually from my Christian friends.

To live a full life on earth, one must realize that death, like a thief, can barge in any time. In the greater scheme of things, life is short, and man is but a vapor. "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14).

I want to live a full life on earth—that which is spent for the honor and glory of God's name, enjoying and living in the presence of Jesus Christ. There are so many things I want to do: share the gospel of salvation to friends and family, travel the world, establish my medical practice, and, who knows, maybe start my own family. But I also want to be rid of this life's toils and temptations and to spend eternity with my Master. The apostle Paul dealt with the question of which is better—living on earth or spending eternity in heaven—and he summarized it beautifully in Philippians 1:21-26:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.

Reading this passage makes my heart ache for people who do not believe in a personal God or in the existence of heaven. I also remember friends who think that they can earn their way to heaven—by being good, by giving alms to the poor, by going to church regularly. I pray that God, who can change the hardest of hearts, grant them the faith to believe otherwise. The Bible is clear. We're not saved through good works. We're saved by having faith in Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:1-10). Unless someone entrusts his life to Jesus Christ, death will always be viewed as a tragedy. For the believer, however, death is a celebration, a means through which the poor, needy soul finally finds his rest in the arms of his Savior.

A couple of days ago I finished reading "Dying Thoughts" (or "Directions for a Peaceful Death") written by Puritan writer Richard Baxter. It's a short work written primarily for Christians. It contains a list of directions necessary to "make our departure comfortable or peaceful in the least, as well as safe." (You can read the work in its entirety here.)

I love this:
Remember whose messenger sickness is, and who it is that calls you to die. It is he, that is the Lord of all the world, and gave us the lives which he takes from us; and it is he, that must dispose of angels and men, of princes and kingdoms, of heaven and earth; and therefore there is no reason that such worms as we should desire to be excepted. You cannot deny him to be the disposer of all things, without denying him to be God: it is he that loves us, and never meant us any harm in any thing that he has done to us; that gave the life of his Son to redeem us; and therefore thinks not life too good for us. Our sickness and death are sent by the same love that sent us a Saviour, and sent us the powerful preachers of his word, and sent us his Spirit, and secretly and sweetly changed our hearts, and knit them to himself in love; which gave us a life of precious mercies for our souls and bodies, and has promised to give us life eternal; and shall we think, that he now intends us any harm? Cannot he turn this also to our good, as he has done many an affliction which we have complained about?

And this:
Look by faith to your dying, buried, risen, ascended, glorified Lord. Nothing will more powerfully overcome both the poison and the fears of death, than the believing thoughts of him that has triumphed over it.

And this, too:
Look up to God, who is the glory of heaven, and the light, and life, and joy of souls, and believe that you are going to see his face, and to live in the perfect, everlasting fruition of his fullest love among the glorified.

If you're not sure where you're going if you're going to die tonight, I urge you to seek God's forgiveness and have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who has conquered death to save us from our sins.



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