Monday, September 14, 2020

Anonymous Asks (110)

“What should a believer do before he dies?”

Some denominations prescribe rituals to be administered by the church in a man or woman’s final moments on earth, and perhaps this week’s question is coming from someone with that sort of ecclesiastical background.

If religious routines are what the dying are calling for, we would not wish to rob them of their comfort, but I should probably point out that we do not find any commands at all about “last rites” in our Bibles. The Christian is neither obligated to perform them nor to have them performed. It may even be that the practice encourages a false sense of security about one’s relationship to Christ and one’s eternal destiny.

That would be very unfortunate indeed. In any case, it’s not the sort of preparation we are going to discuss today.

Death may come in the blink of an eyelash. Those who have not prepared for eternity may find themselves with no opportunity to settle their affairs. Thankfully, certain things may be taken care of today; the Christian does not have to wait until last minute.

Here are four things every believer should do before he or she goes to meet the Lord:

1. Consider Our Reward

Some people think that expecting and working toward a reward is a bit mercenary. I cannot really help that, and I won’t waste a lot of time defending the concept. The reality is that the Bible repeatedly holds out the prospect of eternal reward as an incentive to obedience and holy living. It starts with Abraham, to whom God said, “I am your shield, your reward shall be very great.” Much of that reward was earthly, but the New Testament speaks repeatedly of a reward for the servants of God in heaven, one that is “imperishable”, “undefiled” and “unfading”, and encourages us to strive to accumulate a full measure of that reward, and not lose it.

Believers who have not already done so need to consider the prospect of eternal reward and re-order our lives with God’s pleasure in view. If you have not begun to do that yet, the time to start is now. It’s significantly more important than leaving a will.

2. Leave Our Affairs Orderly

Let me be clear: writing a will is not a bad idea, unless you like the prospect of lawyers and bureaucrats taking the lion’s share of your assets from those you would prefer to leave them to. Part of a believer’s testimony to the world is the way he goes out of it. Making and maintaining a will says you have come to grips with the reality that “all flesh is grass” and are preparing to exit this world in an orderly way, with dignity rather than denial. Jesus taught that it is the fool who hoards good things for himself, always assuming he will be granted the opportunity to consume them. The book of Proverbs says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” That doesn’t mean that every Christian should obsess about how much he will have in his bank account when he dies, but it does mean taking stock of the fruit God has given us and acknowledging our families and extended families with care and consideration in the final arrangements we make.

Most of all, we don’t want to leave behind a mess for our relatives to clean up. That’s never a good look.

3. Settle Our Issues

Do not let the sun go down upon your anger,” wrote the apostle Paul, and “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” And yet far too many Christians live with bitterness about perceived slights or else allow grudges to be carried against them without making any serious attempt to resolve them in this life. The time to settle our issues with others is in the here and now, especially when those others are family members and/or fellow believers. The alternative is to carry those interpersonal conflicts into the presence of the Lord to be arbitrated at the judgment seat. That is not how he wants them handled.

4. Say Everything That Needs Saying

Christians believe our loved ones in Christ go directly to be with him, and have at least some awareness of what may be happening here in their absence. Unfortunately, neither history nor scripture suggest they are able to communicate with us from the spirit realm.

This being the case, if you have things you have never said to your loved ones that would be of benefit to them, the time to clear the deck is now. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” How many times do you hear the story about the child whose father never told him he loved him or was proud of him? Paul writes to the Corinthians and calls them “restricted in your own affections” in contrast to the apostle and his co-workers, who could say, “Our heart is wide open.” The obvious conclusion: the way for the Christian to be with his fellow believers is open-hearted and expressive, not reserved and distant.

When I would visit my father in the months before he went to be with the Lord, he would often ask if there was anything we needed to clear up between us ... not any great sin or grudge, but simply anything that was unclear or unsatisfying in our relationship. The last time I saw him, he was unconscious, and never regained consciousness while I was there. I am happy to say that nothing more had needed to be exchanged between us at that point. He knew how much I love and appreciate him, and there was not a scintilla of reserve or resentment between us.

If you have something on your heart that needs to be said, say it now. You may not get the chance otherwise.

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