Death is not a dirty word.
I hope this title doesn’t scare you off from reading the first article from our ‘Pastor’s Pen’. My prayer is that these articles will be encouraging, edifying and helpful to the body life of New Life Church.
In 1865, Spurgeon began publication of The Sword and the Trowel, a monthly magazine which not only contained valuable materials on the Scriptures, but also served as wonderful tool to help communicate his pastor’s heart to his own congregation. In the same manner, I pray these articles from the ‘Pastor’s Pen’ will help us as a ‘faith family’ conform into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, and love him more.
The last few months for my family, while on furlough have been conflicted. We always looked forward to spending time with our families and reuniting with them and our friends. But this trip we knew would be different. Before we left, my 14 year old niece was being treated for a rare cancer, Keri’s uncle was struggling with brain cancer and her father was battling with lung cancer. We expected this trip to be difficult and we have not been disappointed. Since then, we have attended Keri’s uncle’s funeral and soon will be preparing for her dad’s.
During this time, we have had to spend a lot of time counselling our children, helping them understand death, the curse of sin as well as their own feelings and how to respond in a biblical way. It has been difficult, not because death has been a stranger to our family (we have been exposed to death in many graphic settings in India), but because it has been close family that have died.
So here are five lessons that I have learnt and shared with my family during this time (with the help of Puritan, John Flavel). I trust these lessons will be beneficial to you.
- Death is harmless to the people of God.
Death is a prerequisite for Christians to enter heaven. It shouldn’t be something that we are afraid of but an event we should look forward too. Only those who are trapped in their sins have hell to fear, as John Flavel says “If you were to die in your sins; if death were to reign over you as a tyrant, to feed upon you as a lion does upon his prey; if death to you were to be the precursor of hell—then you might reasonably startle and shrink back from it with horror and dismay!”
- Death is necessary to fit you for the full enjoyment of God.
"While we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord." If we are to enjoy God fully, we have to go through death, it cannot be avoided. Consider how John Flavel so eloquently describes it. “And who would not be willing to die for the perfect enjoyment of God? I think one would look and sigh, like a prisoner, through the grates of this mortality—"O that I had wings like a dove, then would I fly away and be at rest!" Indeed most men need patience to die; but a saint, who understands what death will introduce him to, rather needs patience to live. On his deathbed he should often look out and listen to his Lord's coming; and when he perceives his dissolution to be near, he should say, "The voice of my beloved! Behold he comes, leaping over the mountains, skipping over the hills!"
- The happiness of heaven commences immediately after death.
It may seem obvious, but I guess we need to ask this question, ‘Do we desire to be with Christ?’ When speaking to my family, I was reminded of the need to help them and myself ‘see’ beyond this material world that surrounds us, ‘for we walk by faith, not by sight’. Our ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb. 11:1). Flavel points out that, “it would have been folly for Paul to desire to die, for the enjoyment of Christ; because he would have enjoyed more in the body than he could have enjoyed out of it...as soon as death has passed upon you, your soul will be swallowed up in life. When you have once loosed from this shore, you shall be quickly wafted to the shore of a glorious eternity!”
- By death, God often removes his people out of the way of great troubles and temptations.
Death is designed to relieve us from the physical, emotional and mental pain and suffering that is connected to this corrupt world we live in. Once we die we will also be delivered from the indwelling sin which constantly troubles and grieves us as believers. Flavel asks, “Thus you will be delivered from all temptations from whatever source; from bodily illnesses and failings; and from all the afflictions and sorrows of this life. The days of your mourning will be ended, and God will wipe away all tears from your eyes. Why then should you not hasten to depart?”
- Why are you unwilling to die?
John Flavel asks these final questions, “If you still linger, like Lot in Sodom, what are your pleas and pretenses for a longer life? Are you concerned for the welfare of your relations? If so, are you anxious for their temporal support? Then let the word of God satisfy you: "Leave your fatherless children to me, I will keep them alive, and let your widows trust in me." Luther says, in his last will, "Lord, you have given me a wife and children, I have nothing to leave them, but I commit them unto you. O Father of the fatherless and Judge of widows, nourish, keep and teach them." Perhaps you are concerned for the spiritual welfare of your relations? Remember that you cannot convert them, if you should live; and God can make your prayers and counsels effectual when you are dead. Perhaps you desire to serve God longer in this world. But if he has nothing further for you to do here, why not say with David, "Here am I, let God do what seems good to him." He is calling you to higher service in heaven, and can accomplish by other hands what you desire to do further here. Do you feel too imperfect to go to heaven? Consider that you must be imperfect until you die; your sanctification cannot be complete until you get to heaven.
But,' you say, 'I lack assurance; if I had that I could die easily.' Consider, then, that a hearty willingness to leave all the world to be freed from sin, and to be with God—is the direct way to that desired assurance; no carnal person was ever willing to die upon this ground.”
I am sure that living in the Middle East, away from your near and dear ones presents a unique set of problems and challenges when confronted with death. Perhaps, living as an expat in a foreign land has helped you understand a little better than most, that our home is not on this earth and “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Php. 3:20). I sincerely hope that these thoughts on death would encourage your faith, and help you to glorify God and enjoy him by remembering that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him”. (Heb. 11:6).