A good friend of mine, Garrett died suddenly from a massive heart attack at age 51 six months ago. Woke up on a Sunday morning at home, getting ready for church, collapsed and died. My high school friend John at 47 years old suffered from liver failure, which he told almost none of us about, and died a month ago. My 37 year-old cousin Michael was driving to visit family in NY this Saturday and somehow (we still don’t know how) veered off the road and crashed into the back of a dump truck parked on the shoulder. Michael and his future brother-in-law died, Michael’s son was considered brain dead, but is now potentially making a miraculous comeback.
Why do I mention any of this? Why all the talk of these deaths? Because death is not a “whether” … it’s a “when.” Death is not a question. It’s inevitable. The only uncertainty about it is timing, and perhaps its cause. Notwithstanding its inevitability, these three deaths in particular during the past six months have jarred me. They’ve refocused me. They’ve caused me to take stock. My reading this week from Romans 9 through Romans 14 did as well, in a way that was aligned with the impact of losing my friends and my cousin.
The thing is, and my apologies for perhaps being a bit dark or morbid, each of us teeter on the edge of life and death every single day. The countdown clock has already started for each one of us. The question is, at what number did the countdown start? So, maybe that’s not quite the right question … since death is unavoidable, it seems right that we shouldn’t focus on it, obsess about it, plan for it, per se. Maybe instead of counting on death, the question is how do we make our life count.
Romans 10 gave me a bit of a calling card to align myself to in this vein. In verses 11 through 15 …
As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
To me, this speaks to the importance of how we live, rather than how we die. Death, a “when” not a “whether,” is going to have it’s say and impact. It’s a future for us that can’t be averted. Life, well that’s a blank canvas of sorts. Paul tells the Romans that God will accept anyone who calls upon His name (see Romans 10:9 to read what this means) BUT, how can they call on His name without being told or shown by someone how to do it? And THERE lies the point. How do our lives serve as the telling or the showing? It has everything to do with how we handle life before the inescapable WHEN of death. It has to do with delivering good news in whatever way God calls us to and equips us to.
Both of my friends and my cousin lived a different amount of time on this earth, but all of them lived 100% of their lifespan. In some sense, they didn’t die early, they died right on time based on the plan of their Creator. So will we. How, then, will we live before the WHEN occurs?
Who will we touch? Who will we invest in? Who will we impact? Will we show others the way to God? Will we show them God through our lives? Will we choose to be sent?
WHEN our lives are through, what will we look back upon as our legacy? They say that our life flashes before our eyes when we’re close to or at death. What will the highlights be? What will others say in testimony to our influence?
We all have relationships that aren’t what they should be or where they should be. Why? While we live, before the WHEN, we have the power to change them. Will we? We have people that pass through our lives at odd or random intervals. They may slip by without us noticing them or touching them or helping them. Why? While we live, before the WHEN, can we peel ourselves away from the routine of life in order to make someone else’s life less routine? We all have unfinished business … hobbies we want to create, projects we want to finish, experiences we want to have … we may reach our WHEN without ever pursuing them. Why? Let’s try to identify the rut in our lives and choose to pull the wheels of life out of them and familiarize ourselves with something new.
More importantly, WHEN we die and get to heaven, will there be people who will not get there because we didn’t take the time before our WHEN to share Jesus with them? Will we leave behind a heritage that is marked with an exhaustive effort to leave no stone unturned and no one behind, or will our complacence mar what could have been? Will our extensiveness yield maximal opportunities for those to “call upon the name of the Lord” and be “saved?” Or will our lack of effort rob others of eternal joy? This isn’t about going out and engaging every stranger (or non-stranger) in a knock-down, drag-out battle for eternity … though it’s not necessarily not about that either. But it IS about living a life befitting of our love for others and having the greatest possible effect before we die. Not whether, but WHEN.
As Paul reminds us, while we live, if we don’t do this, who will? We have one life, one chance to live a life of impact. Our death isn’t “whether” it’s “when.” Before that time … what difference can we make? What difference will we make? The only thing that stops us is us.
The countdown clock has already begun. For my friends Garrett and John, and my cousin Michael, the countdown is over. Unfortunately, but unavoidably. We still have sand in the hourglass, the countdown continues. What unfinished business do we not want to leave when our WHEN comes about? Can we think of things or people that are our unfinished business? Let’s commit to praying this week and asking God to show us what our unfinished business is. Then let’s go finish. Time if of the essence. It’s not a question of “whether” it’s a question of “when.”
Soli Deo gloria!