By Elizabeth Prata
We are told many times in our wonderful Bible to live well. We must walk uprightly says Psalm 84:11. We should ‘give heed to the blameless way’ says Psalm 101:2. MANY other Psalms advise the believer to walk in God’s ways.
In the New Testament, Romans 12:3 tells us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Ephesians 4:1-3 spends a good amount of time instructing the believer to walk rightly. In 1 Peter 1, we are explicitly called to holiness. We must pursue it. And so on. We know all this, right?
We must live well.
We must also die well.
Death is always a shock. Even for the believers who possess eternal life and the hope of seeing Jesus one day and reuniting with His previously departed children, we’re shocked when death occurs. For us, one day, the warm hand of the Lord will curve around us and carry us to eternity. Yet it’s still a shock to our system to have a cognitive reality become real and present. Our minds know, but we don’t really KNOW until it happens near to us.
For the unbeliever, it’s worse. They hardly ever think of death. Their mind won’t go there, it’s too painful. When the icy hand of death visits near to the unbeliever, the pain of not comprehending it is too heavy to bear. They have no hope and thus, when it happens near to them, they grieve hopelessly.
Sometimes death comes like a lightning bolt, quickly and instantly. In 2006 the world was shocked and saddened to hear of Australian zookeeper ‘Crocodile guy’ Steve Irwin’s death by a stingray dart to his heart. His companion on the filming shoot said ‘if he’d been five feet one side or if he’d been coming from another direction or if the sun had been somewhere else, it wouldn’t have happened’…If-if-if. That is how the unbeliever sees death, something that can be managed. Handled with just the right set of circumstances. Death’s intrusion into a life is so unwanted that the mind supposes it can be avoided if…
Yet God is sovereign over all things, including death, which He conquered for humans on the cross. For some, there is no time for goodbyes. As Adrian Rogers said in his sermon “The Perils of Postponement”, some people climb into a car to go somewhere not knowing it will be the last drive they ever take. Do not boast of tomorrow, for it may not come.
Death could come suddenly as it did for Steve Irwin, or it could come agonizingly slowly, as Alzheimer’s does to people.
In between, the Lord is gracious to some. He marks some believers for a number of days that is shy of a full life span, but graciously allows death to make its presence known at the door for a little while prior to entering eternity. Goodbyes can be said. Hymns can be sung. Arrangements can be made. And before the pain of watching a soul’s light fade out becomes unmanageable (or even sinful), He takes them to His bosom.
Our church was given that grace last month. One of our elders’ wives was taken to her heavenly home. The time span was about 6 weeks from undiagnosed to eternity. An unknown brain tumor captured our lady’s life, but during the days she and her husband family were dealing with it, and though she never left the hospital after the surprise diagnosis came down, she was the very model of a Christian dying well.
We are called to live well and even die well, trusting Jesus from the moment of conversion to the moment our eyes close for the last time. How do we die well? Allow me to post some of the comments and updates shared publicly about our elder’s wife’s last weeks.
-God’s name already is being honored in how they are handling this challenging and difficult news.
-Her physical suffering was horrific. Yet she did not complain. Not once during the 7 weeks.
-Those who knew her best praised her as a “tremendous mom and she excels in so many areas.”
-She even comforted others, patting their hand, and reminding that “God is in control.”
-The sweetness of loving Jesus permeated her speech. Even as strength faded, her nods and whispers of love and trust in Him were frequent.
-It was clear to see that God was being glorified by how she and her husband walked through this suffering.
Her husband wrote: “Several weeks before we ended up at the hospital [she] was thinking a lot about the beginning of the Heidelberg catechism and was stirred by it. So, she decided to write up some of the answer to the first question on our board in our kitchen. The first question is: What is your only comfort in life and death? This picture is what she wrote (with her flowers in the corner).”
Jesus was her comfort in life, but she did not know that her death was near and that this bookend of life would also be her comfort in a few short weeks. This chalkboard reminder was not a response to a dread diagnosis, but was her response in all of her believing life, to trust Jesus in all:
We die well by living for Jesus. A family member wrote, “As the end approached, We were listening and singing along to hymns for about the final 45 minutes in her room at hospice yesterday. The moment she went to be with the Lord she was listening to Rock of Ages (the Amy Grant/Vince Gill version). It had just gotten past these lines…“
“Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling
Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling.”
This is a beautiful paragraph from J.C. Ryle. The first sentence of this paragraph the Lord has powerfully pressed home these last few weeks. Ryle says:
“If you are a true Christian, you are far nearer heaven than you think. This very day if the Lord should take you, you would find yourself in paradise. The good land of promise is near you. The eyes that you closed in weakness and pain would open at once on a glorious rest, such as my tongue cannot describe.”
Here is a quote from RC Sproul that another elder read during one of the church services when we received an update:
“God is our refuge and our strength in times of trouble his promise is not only that he will go with us into the valley even more important is his promise of what lies on the other side of the valley God promises to go with us for the entire journey in order to guide us to what lies Beyond the Valley of the shadow of death is not a box canyon it is a passageway to a better country the valley leads to life – life far more abundant than anything we can imagine the goal of the vocation of death is heaven itself.“
And then, we received the news. “It is with profound grief and joy that we share a message to our church family this morning:“
“Yesterday (11/24/22) [she] went to heaven. She went to fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. She saw the Lord Jesus and heard those wonderful words: ‘Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.’ Thank you all for the thousands of prayers that have been made for her. Her faith was so strong. I thought this was really good from Tim Challies (who lost his son Nick 2 years ago). He said: ‘The apostle Paul insisted that to live is Christ, and to die is gain. There is gain to be had in death, and it’s the gain that comes when we are released from all that is evil and awakened to all that is good. I would not summon Nick back to this world if I could, for that would be to rob him of the greatest of all gains and to force him to experience so much loss.'”
Our lady fought the good fight, she finished the race, she kept the faith. The LORD graciously gave her an opportunity to witness to the peace of Christ. May much GOOD come of it.
“We are not doomed to an ultimate conflict without hope of resolution. The message of Scripture is victory-full, final, and ultimate victory. It is not our doom that is certain, but Satan’s. His head has been crushed by the heel of Christ, the Alpha and Omega. Above all suffering and death stands the crucified and risen Lord. He has defeated the ultimate enemy of life, vanquished the power of death. He calls us to die, but that call is a call to obedience to the final transition of life. Because of Christ, death is not final; it is a passage from one world to the next.”
Such peace does not come the day after the dread diagnosis. It does not come while lying on the hospital bed. It does not come when hospice looms. It only comes from loving the Lord and pursuing Him all the days of your believing life. So that when these moments come, He is the Rock upon which we stand.
We will meet again, dear lady, we all will, freed from the shackles of sin and death and surrounded by the glory of Jesus and joy eternal.
The Lord granted us who watched these last few weeks, a beatific vision of how to die well. Dying with peace, and trust, and assurance of a better country. It was a grace He gave us, even as we say so through tears.
If you do not know the Lord today, please heed these words: death comes for us all. Sometimes it is sudden and there is no time to prepare your soul for it. Steve Irwin only had time to say “I’m dying”. Was it with surprise? Anger? Grief? We will never know.
Other times death creeps in slowly and agonizingly and causes blasphemy and curses (Mrs Job!). In other cases it causes one to look back rather than forward (Mrs Lot!). But it comes.
Our lady died with a blessing of the Lord on her lips. This is the difference Jesus gives.
Knowing the Lord Jesus is the ONE THING that matters most in this world. Here is an 8 minute video from Paul Washer quietly explaining what Christianity is and why you need Jesus.
She fought the good fight, she finished the race, she kept the faith. Till we meet again, sweet lady.