I have a challenge for you.
First, read this Facebook note by my friend Emily. No, that is not the challenge - I've posted some of Emily's writing before, and if you haven't read it yet I think you'll find it elegant, frank and full of wisdom.
This particular note is about death, inspired after Emily's beloved Grandmother passed away and she began thinking about the whole situation in light of Biblical truth. It's spot-on, and it's stuck with me throughout the week. God has used it to remind me that worldly beauty - which, as you know if you've been reading this blog for a while, is something I put an inappropriate amount of stock and hope in - is nothing...at the end of my life, it'll be gone, and I'll have nothing to show for it.
There's more, of course, but I'll let you read it for yourself. My challenge is this: after you read the note, consider what you put your trust in. Not what you profess to put it in - what you actually do put it in when the scenes of life play out. Ask yourself: will it be there a the end? After I've lived, what will I have to show for it?
--- "Longing for a Better Country"
"It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter because a sad face is good for the heart." -Ecclesiastes 7:2-3
I would dare anyone to visit a nursing home and walk away prideful. They are halls of death, corridors where people come to await their final breath. The names on the doors represent lives...Jane...Norman...decades of life, no doubt, but what does it matter now? They are but shells of their former selves. Perhaps they used to run, but now they cannot even stand. Perhaps they once did great things, but now they cannot even eat without great effort. My heart and mind are sobered and I am taught.
As I pass through these halls, I know that all roads lead here. Whether our lives are marked by wealth, poverty, the extraordinary, or the ordinary, they all converge to this spot, to this door of death. How little we think about it and what a tragedy that is, for it is the destiny of us all and when we arrive, so many of us find that we have been deceived. All those comforts and achievements we fought for have betrayed us. We are left alone with nothing but the sound of the machines and a thin gown. We find that even our bodies have lied to us. We are not strong, for we cannot even sit up. We are not beautiful, for our flesh is deteriorating. We are not smart, for our minds have abandoned us to a dim fog.
These truths must be pondered in life to prepare for death. If we do, we find wisdom. We learn that "the world and its desires shall pass away, but the man who does the will of God will live forever." I John 2:17 And there is One in whom we can hope and trust who will not deceive us or desert us, but draws near to us as we draw near to Him. We must choose Him over the things of this world so that when we meet our common destiny, our hope does not vanish like the finals rays of day, but rather, grows ever brighter like the coming dawn.
Then we will not be surprised or hurt by the desertion of the things of this world, for we did not cling to them in the first place. The simple truth is that we will all die. We will all be humbled and brought low, but it is our choice of how and when. We can ignore this truth and reality and have all that we cling to ripped from our hands, leaving us alone and afraid in our final moments, or we can embrace wisdom. We can release our false hopes now, humble ourselves now, cling to Jesus now, and so someday, meet death not as a thief of all we hold dear, but as a giver of what we have hoped for, but not seen, the fulfillment of our faith.
I have been reflecting on what a strange thing it is for us to say that someone died, as if they did it on purpose, took some kind of action. In truth, living and dying are such passive acts that we have no say in. We do not choose to be born, not do we choose to die. Our hearts beat. We inhale. We exhale. But there is nothing purposeful in that, nor is there anything purposeful in ceasing to do so.
Yet, it occurs to me that there is a paradox here, a reality that so few come to face. In order to have any kind of purpose, we must live to die and die to live. Of course, it is more than the physical living and dying that we cannot escape even if we should wish it. But no, in living to die and dying to live, we focus our hearts, our minds, and our bodies on putting to death our false and transitory hopes, on considering all our profit and gain as loss for the sake of Christ. And Christ is our model. He himself came to this earth and lived to die, but He knew the Father's promise. “He poured out his life unto death,” Isaiah 53:12 knowing that “after the suffering of His soul, He would see the light of life, and be satisfied” Isaiah 53:11
So, we must follow in His footsteps. For His sake, “we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” Romans 8:36 We die to ourselves and this world deliberately, purposefully so that we might live and live just as deliberately and purposefully as we have died. In so doing, we gain the censure of the world and are counted as fools. “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12 And I now find that the wisdom of this truth has never been more clearly authenticated. I perceive it and lay hold of it and exhort you to do the same. If we do, we live it out. We “give what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose.” And we are no fools.
But what of those left behind? What balm do we find for the sorrow of our souls? What ointment to assauge the sting of loss? It is nothing of this world, for we have seen how fleeting it is. Indeed, the changefulness of this world, the sifting of its shores teach us not to build here, but to build upon His future promises. We must be like Abraham, and by faith, look “forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:10 The pain of this world, teaches us to distrust it and admit that we are “aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own”....for we are “longing for a better country—a heavenly one” Hebrews 11:13-16
So, we lift our eyes to heaven. We deposit our trust in His love. We “consider him faithful who has made the promise.” Hebrews 11:11 We build on that promise and long for a better country. And we do not do so in vain, for it is an ever-fixed shore whose sands are not altered by the tide of time nor the winds of change. Pain and sorrow find no root there, and upon it treads our Savior, our King, our Conqueror. On Him we fasten our gaze and to His word we cling, believing and knowing that one day “he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove the disgrace of His people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 25:7-8