One thing in advance: No! I am not depressed or have a negative view on life! To be quite honest, I love life, as much as God gives me the strength to, and as much as i can see Him working in it. Life is good, God created it, he gave it to me as a gift and He sustains it. I am thankful for every minute i get, every breath i can take, every thought i get to think (though i would love there to be more godly ones). I am so thankful for each day. A great part of the reason why i am so thankful and content with all is what i want to bring before you here.
I was recently again speaking with a brother who suffers from cancer. We had a long talk about faith and what reality has become. In our time together i was thinking about reality had become for him and how that was any different from where i am at.
On the outside there are some obvious differences: I am younger than he is, i am (as far as i know) healthy, he has cancer, he is married, i am not, etc. Death has just become a reality for him, not that he will die now, but if the treatments should fail he knows what the end of that is. So he lives a different life now. The day before he heard about this diagnosis he was a normal guy with a family, planning to get ahead in life, attending church, making plans for the future, dreaming dreams of his kids growing up, and all that. The next day all this comes tumbling down, like a house of cards. What has changed?
Well, he now has more information about when his death might happen. Maybe he can’t count on another 30-40 years anymore and rather has to plan around 5-10, unless God’s plan includes a full recovery (which in his case is, humanly speaking, likely). All life comes to an abrupt standstill, as if running against a wall of stone.
“How would i react? What would i say? Would i still be content in Christ?” Questions like those come into my mind all the time. Ministering to people in need also ministers to me. It’s a by-product of walking in the light (1 Jn 1).
So the question is still “what has changed in his life?” You see, i wanted to find out with what i can encourage him. But how do you encourage a guy who faces death? And then it hit me, right there: nothing has really changed. “Woah, hang on, but you can’t say that!” Well, think about it, we are all dying. That is the unfortunate reality. You never think about it, because you love life more, but if there is one thing for sure on this earth, it is that everybody has to die. And who guarantees you another day? I mean, really, don’t we live as if there is a Hezekiah kind of guarantee (who was given 15 years) of a set time, “at least another 20 or 30 years”. We all have a “best before” date. But nobody will ever know when that is, only God knows.
You see now, knowing this stops him to be a freak in this society. He is not the abnormal guy anymore, he is now the guy who actually has come closer to reality than you or i have come so far. I know, he is sick, i am not. So from that vantage point i seem to be further away from that reality, but that is not true. My life is in God’s hand, all days have been written out already (Ps 139:16). It might well be that i am going home to Jesus before he does. There are no guarantees.
The so what
“Ok, that just sounds a little pessimistic and morbid”, you might think. I hope to show you how seeing this encouraged me to live a life more to God’s glory than before (and i hope i could pass that on to my friend as well).
The one question that will inevitably arise out of this is “what sort of life would you live if you knew you were to die tomorrow?” Have you ever thought this? I have before this. But as quickly as this thought came, as quickly did i burry it again, because the answer to this is uncomfortable. The answer to this would include me doing what i actually knew i have and should do. It would mean that i stop living selfishly and stop investing in my little straw kingdom. You see, we don’t like that. So we live on, in a fantasy world we created for ourselves. We live as if we were to live forever on this earth, in this form with all we have now. Whether you are Christian or not, you should be able to see how silly this assumption is. We all know that death comes to all. It is part of life, part of our human condition of sinfulness, as direct result of Adam’s and our sin.
Are you seeing already where this is going? If i stop living my life as if i have another 40 years (which i might, or might not) and start living as a “dying man amongst dying men”, then my days will be much fuller with ministry to others. I believe this understanding should get even the most lethargic pew warmer of his behind and finally begin to be what he is called to be, an “ambassador for Christ” (2 Cor 6:20). A similar answer we can find in 2 Peter 3:11-12. The Apostle is showing how the second coming of Christ will make an end to what we now see. No timeframe is given. It could be today, or in thousand years, or whenever. In other places we read about Christ’s coming “like a thief in the night”. It will be unannounced and sudden.
Your life might find it’s earthly end then, whenever that is. Or it might find its end here on this earth tomorrow in a car accident, a stroke, cancer, HIV related issues, a house breaking … the possibilities are endless. There is not a guarantee. Please understand this. It is very important to understand God’s gift of life, every day anew. This is important to understand His never ending grace and mercy, every day anew.
Another friend of mine was just 2 weeks ago diagnosed with HIV. He is a child of God, a pastor in fact, who got this disease not because of anything he had done wrong. He went through so many difficult situations in the past two years: he lost two children in infancy, his grandmother (who raised him) died, his wife suffered from depression because of the loss of the children, he got sick all the time. And now this. What does a guy like that say about life, reality and God?
With tears in his eyes he stood before me, after he just heard the news of his test results. He said to me “Thomas, you know, my life has changed so much in the past two years. I realize now that everything has been given by God. I don’t just know it, i know it now. All things come from Him, every day is a gift, and all things in that day”.
I was fighting my tears as i tried to encourage him. Inside of me i was broken because of this tragedy, after all he went through and after all his faithful and godly example. But i was also broken over the this man’s faith and love for God, which put my own life in the correct light. You see, he began to live according to reality, i was still living in my self-created dream world. But my saved and changed nature screamed out that he is right! He is so right!
What it is about
There is so much more one could (and maybe should) say about this. I have only started touching the surface of a deep, deep ocean of truth. One thing is realized is that it is not really about how i live (please track with me on this now), but about how i die.
Why is that?
Firstly because of what have said until now, the reality of living each day as another present from God. But there is also another reason: you can live a fantastically Christian and churchian life, just to fall away on the last lap, deny the faith and your creator. This happened so often in history. Take Charles Templeton, for example. What does his life now mean? He died not being able to ever repent again. And on the other hand you get the people like the mother of one of my seminar y professors, who died with the Bible open to God’s promises, praying for her children (even though they only got saved after her death). Her faithful dying (over the course of her life) left such a huge impact in many peoples lives.
So i ask you again: how is your dying? Are you busy faithfully following God, being overwhelmed by His great gifts He gives every day: live breath and everything (Acts 17:25). Are you living in faith to His promises? Do you really know these two things, that God is good and that He is sovereign (as another seminary professor’s last sermon outline read)? How will people look at your dying in hindsight? Will it be with apathy because you lived a life all for yourself and by yourself? Or will they remember you as content in God, thankful and cheerful for all you received from Him. Will they remember you as praying for others and calling them to faith in the one reality most people don’t want to open their minds to? Will you die with your Bible in your hand and God’s promises in your heart?
And just to balance this out again. If you are a believer in Christ Jesus, you understand that eternity awaits every human being, either heaven or hell. We are all eternal beings. We all live with, marry, speak to, sit next to, walk past eternal beings. As a believer in the fact that Christ has died for your personal sins, you know that He has bought forgiveness and sonship for you, by His blood and death. As a believer in God’s unfailing promises you know that you have an eternity with Christ to look forward to. As a worshiper of the risen Christ you understand that you will rise to eternal life with Him on that last day. As a faithful son of God you know that this world is only a passing stage, a pilgrimage. You are greeting from afar the promises of life eternal, at the fountain of life, in the fully revealed glory of God.
You see, dying is not so bad a thing anymore, is it? Know that if you are covered in Christ, if your found in Him and known by Him, this world is as bad as it gets. An eternity of glory, love, light and perfection awaits you.
But if you are an unbeliever, than this world is as good as it gets. If you are there, cancer and HIV will mean the end of this world for you. There is no hope. But in Christ, there is hope abounding; never ending hope!
So, dear friend, how is your dying?