Should death be on your ‘looking-forward-to-it list’? Or are there better things to do?

When it comes to upcoming events that I’m looking forward to, stopping breathing is not on my list. To put it simply – I don’t want to die. But please don’t judge me for it.

Some Christians apparently are thrilled about the prospect of their own funeral, even though they won’t care what’s in the sandwiches they serve afterwards.

Like me you may have heard them claiming we should all come to a place of ‘maturity’ in our Christian lives where we would rather die and be with Jesus than live here on earth. They give the impression death is something to be warmly welcomed, a wonderful carrier that will usher us into the presence of the Lord, which is far better than the struggles of life here.

But are we really expected to see life like that? As though life is just a waiting room for eternity? Please, ‘no’! But it’s easy to see where this ‘death wish’ thinking comes from.

Paul the faithful apostle was able to say he longed to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. For him to live was Christ, he said. And to die was gain. Life, nil points, death and eternity thereafter, ten points. Death scored much higher.

I’m glad Paul reached that place of peace in the face of his upcoming demise. But I’m not there, and for the next couple of decades at least, I hope I don’t arrive at that destination of happy resignation.

I don’t view death with the delirious delight of a five year old about to board an airplane flight for the first time. When it comes to expiry, I’ll be wanting to eek out every last breath. I remember the sinking feeling when, as a child riding a fairground ride, I saw the attendant place his hand on the lever that meant my fun was almost over. That’s how I feel about life.

So how do I square this with Paul’s enthusiasm for dying? It’s because of the context of his remarks.

Over an extended period, as a follower of Jesus, Paul had experienced terrible pain and persecution – and a series of unjust, kangaroo court trials that were corrupt to the core.

Though enjoying a measure of freedom at the end of his life, Paul was still under house arrest in Rome, and life was not what it had been. He could no longer embark on missionary travels. He could no longer visit the churches he founded.

So perhaps the exhaustion and frustration of it all made the glory of eternity shine all the brighter. Being with Christ would be a welcome relief under those circumstances. Little wonder he anticipated it with such joy.

But that’s not my experience, and so I have no desire to die just yet.

Surely we are designed and made to want to hold on to life for as long as we can – the resilience of the human body testifies to that truth. I’ve watched as impossibly fragile seniors, their bodies riddled with cancer, little more than skin and bones, fight on for weeks and months, clinging with vice like tenacity to the gift of living. Death, while it is a defeated enemy, is still an enemy.

A profound example of this can be found in the way Jesus prepared for his own death. At the last supper, he bids his friends goodbye in a poignant covenant meal. There will be wine shared again, he promises, but it will be the vintage reserved for the fullness of the Father’s Kingdom. There’s a parting. He carefully prepares for the worst – the cross.

But then a little later, in the shadows of Gethsemane, Jesus asks the Father if there is any other way the great rescue can be accomplished. Hopes for the best are expressed. They’re denied, for he must drink that cup of suffering to the full, but he asks repeatedly anyway for another way. Ask for the best. Prepare for the worst.

So when death finally makes an appearance in my life, I want to be able to face it down with courage, and be able to gather my family and friends and say goodbye.

In the meantime, I want to live to the full, for and with Christ, today, and hopefully tomorrow and for many days more too. Death, kindly take your hand off that lever, right now.

This is adapted from Jeff Lucas’ book If you Want to Walk on Water, Consider Staying in the Boat (CWR)

Jeff is still some way from his afterwork years. His passion is to equip the Church with practical bible teaching, marked by vulnerability and humour. And he does so as an international author, speaker and broadcaster. Check him out at Jeff Lucas.

 

Comments

  1. This is the Gospel we proclaim: To me to live is Christ and to die is gain! However we hold our loved ones dear. So to be practical we need to have as much of the burden of ‘missing’ us taken from off their shoulders and copies of what steps they need to take once we have passed over Jordan! To have made our wishes known in writing and lodged with our solicitor and next of kin. For example, the funeral director to approach, the church and minister we would hope to have take the service – music, hymns, those invited to participate etc; the venue for the refreshments; the newspaper(s) in which details of our decease etc. be announced. Not to have left such necessary instructions can add to the burden of grief and loss felt at the time and to an unnecessary delay caused by not knowing where to turn, what to do, and an avoidance of ‘hurt’ feelings.
    These are just some of the ‘to do’ notes I have readily available for my nearest and dearest. And there’s more……………….

  2. I have thought for a long time about this and feel that Philippians 1:23 does say we should long to be with Christ. Not long for a funeral or a painful illness but what follows death is the vast majority of our future if we belive our lives are eternal. But death is not our only longing nor is it Paul’s. He talks about fruitful labour in the verse before and he clearly has plans for his future ministry. Later in Chapter 2 he talks of ‘shining like stars’ so he clearly wants to serve God as long as he has breath. He has both a positive view of earthly living with all its potential for enjoying God’s gift of life but he also has a security in knowing that death will bring about the glories of eternal life. Surely we should live both to the full and allow God to decide when we move from one to the other. Meanwhile, I agree with Jeff – let’s enjoy all the blessings of life but let’s never forget the blessing that’s laid up for us in heaven. We have the best of both worlds.

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife