During my ministry, it has been my lot to make the acquaintance of several people who were in the process of dying, to witness their deterioration and deaths, and finally to either attend or to conduct their funerals. Among these, there have been a few who have been told, as they should have been, that they were, in fact, dying; that there was no medical cure known for the disease they had; that the doctors could not help them; that they could only make them comfortable for a time and that short of a miracle, they would, in fact, finally die an untimely death.
From those people who knew that their deaths were imminent, I have had the privilege of learning somethings, and of having them share with me some particular insight that we can seldom have so long as we expect to live.
I think particularly of my wife’s younger brother, who learned at the age of 18 that he had leukemia. His leukemia was of the chronic kind, which was not expected to take his life quickly or immediately, but would linger, attacking and withdrawing, progressively growing worse and worse until finally he would be forced to succumb to its attacks. At the age of 23, in the University Hospital in Oklahoma City, he finally did leave his earthly body and go to be with the Lord. He knew that he had no hope whatsoever of an extended life or even a normal life and that because he was dying, he must pack into the few years that he had, not only all of the life that he could, but the kind of life in which he wanted to invest those few precious years. On a few occasions, he shared with me some of the thoughts that went through his mind in quiet times, and by this I learned that the thoughts and the life-style of a dying man are usually much more deliberate than those of an individual who expects to live out a normal life span.
As I have thought of his last days and as I have visited from year to year in hospitals with people whose lives were soon to come to an end, I have asked myself from time to time, “How would I conduct my life if I were dying?” If I came to realize suddenly that I only had a few more weeks, or a few more months, or only a few years to live; if I was told that there was no hope, that there was no cure for an illness that I had in my body and that I must die, “How would I invest my life?”
Then one day I came to realize suddenly, I am dying! I have a disease in my body inherited from my father andhis father before him called sin, and it always kills. There is no cure physically. There is no medical discovery that can inany sense stay the sickle of death that is wielded by sin. It has always seemed to me when someone is told that he has only 5 years to live that this is such a very, very short time left for a man to live on this earth, and yet at the age of 42 years, it is very unlikely that I should have more than five or six times that many years left. My life, too, is very short. The days that I have left on this earth are very limited. Just as a man should consider very carefully, when he learns of the shortness of his life, how he will invest those remaining precious days, or months, or years, I too, should say to myself, “I am dying and because I am dying, I need to take inventory of how I am living.” I need to consider carefully how I am investing the precious years that I have left.
I SHOULD LIVE CAREFULLY
“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil”
By living carefully, I mean I should keep my life clean and pure as best I possibly can. I should walk uprightly before God and before all men. Since I will not have many more years, and since I will leave some kind of testimony behind me, it should be a testimony of good conscience and clean living before God. It should not be a life of offenses, of using, hurting and abusing my fellow man. I should be completely honest in my deportment. I should do business in a forthright and an upright manner so that those men with whom I have done business cannot only see Christ in my life, but can testify in those years after I have gone off the scene that I was a Christian and a preacher who transacted business honestly and uprightly. I should pay my bills and execute my obligations with the utmost of care and fidelity. I should search out, and seek out, and bring out any skeletons from the closet of my past. I should bleach those bones and bury their remains so that those closets will not be opened after death to humiliate and degrade my loved ones, my children and their children and to do damage to the cause of Christ. Not only should I take good heed to the past, I should be equally careful about the present for I may well have no future. I should, by God’s grace, learn to live each day as though it would be the last, realizing that I may not have tomorrow in which to correct today’s mistakes, to erase today’s errors and to seek forgiveness from my fellow man for the sins which I might commit against him.
If I, through carelessness, greed or worldliness, place upon my testimony spots and blemishes today, they may well forever be there for I may have no tomorrow in which to scrub them away. It is great to remember that my soul is cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ and that I shall stand before God spotless, and pure, and holy because of the effect of the atoning blood of His cross. It is equally good, however, to remember that my character and my testimony are things that God has put, to some extent, in my charge and that are what men see, and by them I have the opportunity of glorifying God. So may God give me the wisdom and the spiritual insight to think before I speak, to pray before I act, and to realize that the entries that I make in the records of my life today may stand forever.
I SHOULD LIVE ENERGETICALLY
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). Because I am dying, I should not only live a clean and carefullife, but I should live an active life. Knowing that my sojourn on this earth is very limited, I must invest those few years that I have as diligently and as carefully as I can, attempting to pack into them the deeds and acts that I would have accomplished when my life has ended. Many Christians make the terrible mistake of imagining that their only responsibility is to keep themselves clean in their daily lives, but we also have the responsibility to work. The positive side of Christianity is every bit as important as the negative side. The Lord has given us the commission to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). This is a responsibility that lays not only upon every New Testament church, but it lays also upon the shoulders of every born-again child of God. We have different tasks to perform, but we all have the responsibility to perform those tasks with all our hearts. In James 4:17, we read these words. “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Therefore, if my life is not spent in activity as a child of God, I will have as much to be ashamed of at my death as if my life had been spent in uncleanness.
I must not waste precious time. It is far too valuable an endowment. There is nothing that I can trade for time. I am given only so much. I can do with it what I will, but I cannot keep it. I may choose whether I use it wisely or in idleness, but use it I must. In that I have no choice. My youth, my energy, my talents, my abilities are all gifts given to me by God. To neglect the diligent use of them is one of the greatest sins that I can commit. There are faint hearts that need encouragement, there are broken spirits that need mending, there are fallen brothers and sisters who need lifting. Shall I dedicate my energy to these things, or shall I spend my body and my time upon the fun and games of this world which perish with the end of this life? I hope I may invest myself wisely enough that I shall not stand before God guilty of having turned a deaf ear to the dying pleas of sin-darkened souls.
I MUST GUARD MY BODY
The Scripture teaches us in I Corinthians 6:19-20 that we are not our own, but that we are bought with a price. “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” We are further taught in this Scripture that the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. We should realize, as Christians, that all of the earthly tasks that we are given to do are to some extent dependent upon the well being of our bodies. Our minds cannot exist and function without our bodies. Our voices cannot speak for Christ without our bodies. Multitudes of other areas of service are utterly impossible without the body being used for God. Because we know this, we should realize that we, therefore, become custodians of our bodies as great and precious gifts from God. If I could drive my body into one singular thrust of service never resting, never eating, never sleeping, never restoring myself, but could go forth constantly and continually proclaiming God’s Word and doing the work of God until my body was exhausted and fell down in death, it would be a mistake. One can easily see that I can accomplish a great deal more in my lifetime if in due season I do rest and sleep and eat and restore myself.
Rest and labor should be kept in balance. If all our time is spent on physical restoration, and none upon the expenditure of ourselves, we will accomplish little or nothing for God. On the other hand, if all our time is spent upon the expenditure of ourselves and none upon restoration, we will accomplish little for God. Therefore, we should pray that God would give us wisdom in knowing how to properly rest, how much restoration we need and how much time of recreation we should have for our mental and spiritual health. Let us think of our physical bodies as God’s property over which we have been made stewards, and let us take care that we neither waste them in idleness or destroy them through carelessness.
I should be equally diligent about practices and habits that affect the well being of my body. If my body is the temple ofthe Holy Ghost, then certainly I have no right to put into it anything that will weaken and destroy, or which will possibly shorten the duration of its life. Anyone knows that the use of such things as tobacco and alcohol is harmful to the body, and therefore, for the Christian, whose body is the Lord’s, these things ought to be absolutely and unquestionably rejected.
SOCIAL AND DOMESTIC RESPONSIBILITIES
The Christian is not only a spiritual being, but he is also a social being. The Scripture says, “No man liveth unto himself and no man dieth unto himself.” Among other things, the Scripture is teaching us that our life belongs partially to others even as their lives belong partially to us. We have responsibilities as citizens of our country. Certainly, it is a mistake for a Christian to become so involved with civic responsibilities or political responsibilities that he neglects the spiritual. On the other hand, he should not imagine that involvement in the spiritual relieves him of civic responsibility. He should be a good citizen. He should be obedient to the laws of the land. He should put forth effort to make his country a better country in which to live. These are my responsibilities as a Christian, as a preacher and as a citizen of my country.
I am also a husband and a father. I am charged in Ephesians 5:25 to love my wife, even as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it. I am taught in 1 Peter 3:7 to dwell with her according to knowledge. As a father, I am told to bring my children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I must invest a proper portion of my life in this area. It is sinful for me to neglect my wife and my child and then to excuse this by saying that I am committed to spiritual things. I must do both, and by God’s grace, in proper proportion. May God give us the wisdom to know how to proportion these things also. Many Christians make the mistake of canceling out a great deal of their Christian influence by simply neglecting to be effective in their homes and in their communities. If my child is given reason to feel that my service for God means that she is neglected in an unchristian fashion, then my Christian influence upon her has been deeply hindered. If my neighbors feel that I am so involved in other things that I have no concern about being a good neighbor, again my Christian testimony is greatly hindered. No doubt these complex divisions of our time were includedin Paul’s thoughts when he urged Christian people in Ephesians 5:15-16 to walk circumspectly; which means, of course, to live with consideration of all of the various effects of their lives on the world around them. So may I be diligent and prayerful in finding the proper balance of my spiritual and physical responsibilities of my church life, my civic life, my neighborhood life, and my home life for I must give due account of how all these lives are lived.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF STEWARDSHIP
I am taught by God in the Bible that all the earthly possessions which other men would consider to be my property are in reality God’s property. God has only made me the steward of these things. Because I am dying, I want my stewardship to be exercised just as diligently as the other areas of life about which I have spoken. Should God choose to give me nothing but my daily bread, may I not only be thankful for that, but may I be careful to use it according to God’s will. On the other hand, if God chooses to give me not only the necessities, but a good many of this world’s luxuries, may I use that wealth just as wisely. I am told to lay up treasures in heaven where thieves do not break through and steal and where moth and rust do not corrupt. I should, therefore, immediately channel a large portion of my income, whether it be large or small, directly into the bank of heaven by investing it in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. According toLeviticus 27:30, the tithe is the Lord’s. Malachi 3:8-10 would further assure me that because the tithe is God’s, that I will bring judgment upon myself and upon my family if I am not faithful to give the tithe to God. On the other hand, He teaches me that I basically invoke from above prosperity and blessing upon myself when I do faithfully give the tithe to God. Above and beyond the tithe I should give offerings liberally into the work of God, and I should invest above that a large portion of my income into foreign mission work around the world as well as home mission work here in our country. In this way I assure myself that whether I live out a normal life span or whether I die an untimely death, I shall not lose, waste or consume upon my own lust all of the earthly goods that God commits unto me, but will lay up for myself to the glory of God a large portion of my treasure in heaven, where thieves do not break through and steal.
There is also the question of wise use of the goods which we have in this world beyond that portion which we give directly into the work of God. Some might imagine that we could exercise our responsibility by simply taking all of the earthly wealth that we have and giving it directly into the service of God at one time and then saying, “There, I’ve given all, I have no more.” In some instances this might be good, but in most instances it would not be according to the plan of God. Paul said, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” I believe that a portion of Christian piety is to use our financial opportunities well, wisely, and honestly. We should make proper provision for our families. If possible that provision should include their security if we live or if we do not live. It is certainly true that God is able to take care of them and we must realize that we have utterly no ability to do so except that God blesses and, in fact, takes care of our family and our loved ones. On the other hand, this is a responsibility that God has given us. The Apostle Paul said, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (I Timothy5:8). Therefore, during the time of this life, I should not lay up huge stores of money to be fought over and squandered after I am gone. On the other hand, I should be thrifty, disciplined and wise concerning the use of my material provision for myself and family. Thus, in this area too, the blessing of God can be seen, and I will add to my testimony the evidence of that statement by David, “I was young and now I am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging bread.”
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” If there is a single blessing in knowing the definite time of one’s death, it is that the fact of impending death drives home the absolute necessity of being sure we areprepared to die and after this to face the judgment. As men in this world speak carelessly of living, of dying, and of facingjudgment, we find that there is a vast multitude of religious prescriptions as to how one should live in order to be ready to die. The fact is that most of these religions are sufficient to live by since the evidence of their validity or falsehood isnot seen in this life, but must be examined by the Word of God and seen through the eye of faith. However, when we face soberly and earnestly the issue of death, the examination of our well-guarded religious views becomes an eminent necessity, for what one may choose to live by may be tragic to die by. I should not want to close my eyes in death with any promise of resurrection and future glorification less than the Word of God. We are told in Acts 20:20-21 that preparationfor death and judgment involves basically repentance toward God and faith toward Jesus Christ. This simplymeans that before any man is ready to die, there must be that experience of the new birth in his life. If he is to be prepared to die, he must know that there was that time in his life when God genuinely worked repentance. By this I mean that he has been made genuinely sorry for his sins and that his heart has been turned from those sins and that they have been committed to the Blood of Christ, and also that his life has been committed into the hands of God saying, “Lord turn me from these sins and cause me to walk in the paths of righteousness.” At the same time, before he can pillow his head quietly upon his death bed, he must have the peace in his heart that passeth all understanding which canonly come from a singular faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that says quietly and deep down in the heart, “I have no fear for Jesus is mine. His righteousness was given to me on Calvary’s cross. When I awake to stand before God, I shall not stand in the righteousness of my own works, but in the righteousness of His perfect work which He accomplished and gave me on Calvary’s cross.” This is the faith and the only faith which can cause a man’s heart to quietly say in the evening hours of his life, even as the Apostle Paul said, “for me to live is Christ and for me to die is gain.” I thank God that in my life this has already taken place. All the failures and faults and shortcomings that I have, and all of the things that I have mentioned in this writing previously, that I must continue to work on and to strive with in making my preparation to die, are finished in the work of Christ on Calvary. In these final years, I can say, “It is all done. It is finished. It was completed on Calvary’s cross. It is given to me the free gift of God.” I hope, dear reader, that if your heart cannot rejoice in this truth, that you will search God’s Word and that His Spirit might speak tenderly and precisely to your heart so that you would be brought to this saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
BASIC DIFFERENCES AND COMMON GROUND
I fully realize the fact that I am dying, but perhaps since that death is 25 or 30 years away my death is somewhat different from the man who finds that he is dying in 6 months, or even in 6 years. There are areas in which the likely difference in the length of our lives would cause us to need to make somewhat different preparations. This could be true in areas of financial provision, or even in certain areas of caring for our bodies. However, the common grounds of our deaths are more numerous than the differences. Our cases are made even more similar by the fact that if I had a friend who was expecting to die in a year or a year and a half, that it is very, very possible that although I had no detected or detectable disease in my body, I may well precede him in death. I remember, some years ago, I had a preacher friend who was visiting a dear friend of his who was dying with cancer. In the process of this Saturday morning visit, this preacher said to his friend, “Sometimes I am envious of you, because you are going to get to Heaven before I do,” but that was not the case at all. It was the very next morning that this preacher friend of mine had a heart attack and died, even while the services were about to begin in his own church. His unseen disease worked more hastily than the cancer that had been detected in his friend. Everyone of us should live in constant realization of the fact that though we may expect to have several years to live, today may be our last day. We are, in deed, dying, and because we are dying, because I am dying, because you are dying, certainly we ought to be more careful about how we are living. Our lamps should be trimmed and ready. We should be diligently about the tasks that we want performed when our life is finished. We might not always desire to do the job that needs to be done at a given time, but the question that we should ask ourselves is not so much, “Do I feel like doing this job at this time,” but “Do I want this job completed when my time is finished?”
Yes, my friend, I am dying. I don’t know how soon, but I am dying, and you are dying. Because I am dying, may God give me the grace, may He give me the spiritual wisdom to number my days and to treasure my opportunities and to walk diligently before Him, using my opportunities wisely, investing the moments of my life as though they were huge endowments of wealth and riches, so that when my life is finished and my race is run I might present them “with usury” unto my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.