If you had just one more day to live, how would you live it? What would you do?
None of us knows when our time on Earth is up. It could be tonight or tomorrow or even within the next few minutes. Scripture tells us that what’s important isn’t how we start our walk with God but how we end it. What matters is how good your relationship with God is here and now, not how good it used to be or how good you hope it might be some day. Where your soul is here and now determines where and how you’ll spend eternity.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Read it again: Where your soul is here and now determines where and how you’ll spend eternity.
And again: Where your soul is here and now determines where and how you’ll spend eternity.
Some words bear repeating because otherwise they can be easily overlooked.
Where your soul is here and now determines where and how you’ll spend eternity.
Every morning, I ask God what I should write about that day. He usually gives me a range of topics, but occasionally he’ll point to just one topic. Today, he pointed to death.
When Jesus gathered his followers for one final meal before his execution, he told them not to cry but to be happy for him because he was going home. Jesus clearly didn’t think of death as something to fear or mourn, but rather something to celebrate and look forward to, and so should we.
But old habits, as they say, die hard. I don’t know about you, but I was raised not to talk about death unless absolutely necessary. And then, if the unmentionable happened to someone we knew, we would use the term “passed away” rather than “died”. It sounded less, well, terminal. We were atheists, and death was a taboo subject; we never spoke of it as something that would happen to us. Any mention of it was with averted eyes, hushed tones, and a sad shake of the head, followed by a quick change of topic.
Today, as a born-again believer, I could talk about death all day. In fact, the thought of dying actually makes me excited because, like Jesus, I think of it as the way to get home to my Dad and to all those who love him and love me. Maybe the older you get, the more amenable death becomes. Or maybe the more I get to know about heaven, the more I want to be there.
We know from Jesus, Paul, David and others that heaven is so amazing, it’s worth any amount of suffering during this lifetime. God has shown me what awaits me in heaven if I, as Jesus puts is, “endure to the end”, and there’s nothing on Earth that comes even remotely close to what I’ve seen. Not that heaven is completely different from Earth – not at all! – it’s the perfection of what we know and love here on Earth that makes it so wonderful.
You shouldn’t talk about death without talking about heaven, because the thought of heaven erases all fear of death and makes the suffering endurable. It also puts death in the correct context – that of being a transition phase from life on Earth to life in heaven rather than a punishment or a failure (which is how the world tends to view it). This is what I was missing for me as an atheist, and what made death so fearsome and unmentionable. There was no vision of heaven to temper the pain and horror that I used to anticipate were the main characteristics of death. As a child, everything I knew about death I’d learned from horror movies.
We need to talk about death every day, openly and cheerfully, like Jesus did. We don’t need to dwell on death, but we do need to remember that it can happen at any time, and when it does, our soul needs to be ready for heaven, not primed for hell. Am I looking forward to the physical suffering that might accompany my transition from this world to the next? No, not at all. I’m not a masochist. I don’t seek out pain for the sake of it, hoping that my contrived suffering will atone for something I or someone else did. God’s justice doesn’t work that way (just ask him; he’ll tell you). Jesus wasn’t a masochist, either. The last thing he wanted to do was to suffer physically, but he accepted that, as the Messiah, suffering was his lot. At the same time, he also had faith that God would get him through it as quickly as possible. And so God did.
If God let me know that I had just one more day to live, I would, first and foremost, immediately choose to forgive anyone and everyone I had anything against. I do that every day now, anyway, but I would be especially conscious of doing it if I knew that my time was almost up. Choosing to forgive those who’ve hurt you is the best way to stay closest to God. What I would do after that point would be up to God’s guidance and would be completely dependent on my physical location and abilities. I have no idea what God would advise me to do, but I would certainly do it the best I could, knowing God would be supporting me in my efforts.
Come to think of it, maybe this is how we should live every day – continuously choosing to forgive and continuously asking God’s advice and taking it, knowing that he’ll support us. Maybe this is how we should live every day as if it’s our last. Jesus knew his time was coming, David knew his time was coming, Paul knew his time was coming, and maybe we will, too, but maybe not. Maybe just to be sure, we should adopt the “live every day as if it’s our last” mentality, continuously choosing to forgive and continuously following God’s advice, just as Jesus did. I can’t imagine there’s any other way to successfully “endure to the end”.