October 19, 2017

What makes it hard to die?

A man had a large estate, a fine home and a good piece of property. His wife, his children and his grandchildren were alive and with him. This man said to his pastor, ‘These are the things that make it hard to die.’

God immediately prompts me with the same question: What in my life makes it hard to die? Unlike many my age, I do not have a bucket list. There are no activities or goals that I ‘must do’ before I die. However, I have a to-do list that includes quilts I’d like to make, fabric and patterns to sew into garments, several books to read, and a long list of people for whom I pray.

This tells me something about priorities. It also reveals my roots. My parents demonstrated the importance of using what you have, of not wasting anything. The only way I could turn off my desire to ‘finish’ projects before I die is to give away the projects — I cannot take them with me! I’m thinking the only way I would be ready to leave this earth would be if I had nothing left to do.

What about my prayer list? Can I take that with me? There is no biblical evidence for people in heaven praying for people on earth, so I doubt it. God does say eternity will have no sorrow or pain and He will wipe away all tears. That tells me that the concerns for which I pray will not burden me after I die. These thoughts help me to have a more positive answer to that question of what makes it hard to die!

Yet today’s devotional verses speak of a different kind of dying. The author headlines this quote from the Apostle Paul:

“I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:31)

He is writing about the certainty of resurrection, then in this verse he hints that he is daily learning to ‘die’ to those things that rob him of that eternal anticipation. Dying daily is not a physical diminishing, but a detachment of affection and value from all that tug at me, that make me want to stay here rather than be with Jesus. Dying daily puts all desires, concerns, values, and that bucket list into the hands of God. It is saying, “You know what truly matters for my life, for this life and I am going to trust You with it.”

Paul later wrote these words:

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 4:16–5:10)

The growth and renewal of the inner person ought to happen even as I age. The sure knowledge of eternal life with Jesus appeals to me, yet while I am here my goal is to please Him, not finish my projects or check off a bucket list.

One other quote also challenges me. George Whitefield said, “The time is short. I try to keep all my affairs so arranged that, if I were to die at any time, they would be no trouble to those who come after me.” Most of us eventually need to take care of what someone we love has left behind. It is a difficult task, one that I do not want to leave with my children. How much better to keep my affairs in order!

Jesus, You came into this world without ownership, as did I. You left this world the same way as I will, without anything — except You won victory over sin and death! Because of that, I will have the same victory. This seems to be the best answer to the question of what makes dying hard. Rather than cling to whatever I cannot take with me, I need to focus on what I will gain —the glory of finally putting sin, pain and all struggles aside and being able to gaze into Your face. I need to concentrate less on the “I lose” file and more on the one that says “I won.”

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