I previously pastored a church in the midst of a sizable population of the elderly. And while our church had begun attracting more and more young singles and young families and enjoying a bit of a baby boom, we were still smack-dab in an aging community in a state that sees most of its young adults exit its green pastures for ones socioeconomically greener. So I have had the heavy privilege of helping a few older folks pass to the other side. I’ve lost count of the funerals I’ve officiated.
Sometimes it is a great joy ministering to an old saint departing into glory. Sometimes it is a great heartbreak when the one mourned has given no indication of saving faith. Even more heartbreaking is sharing the gospel with folks basically on their deathbeds who see no need for Christ. I think of two men in particular in their final days. I sat at their bedsides praying for them, understanding they did not have long. I told them about Jesus and what he’d done and how trusting in him would mean so much gain, from the forgiveness of sins to the life everlasting.
You would think that even a spurious reception would be likely! You’d think if any time lent itself to a bet-hedging, what-could-it-hurt bit of life insurance for the soul, this would be it. Of course, I never “pitch” the gospel this way, as if one just needs to say a prayer or some magic words — as John Piper has said, “Christ isn’t won by the flip of a coin.” The gospel isn’t some good luck charm you can add to the hunches you call hopes. But I just used to figure if any situation would give way to even a “Well, what could it hurt?” Pascalian wager-taking, literally nearing certain death would do it.
But no. One fellow told me that I could pray for him but he wasn’t interested in doing anything religious himself. He’d never done it before; why do it now? The other fellow just sort of entertained my notions as the requisite “last rites” or some such things, but gave no response to the invitation to repent and believe in Jesus.
My mind goes to my friend Richard. He passed away four years ago. He was 32 years old. And by grace he was totally abandoned to Jesus. When you listen to his widow Erin talk about the turning point for them as far as dedicating their marriage to the glory of God concerns, she will say it was not when Richard was diagnosed. It was during a frustrating car ride home one day in a thunderstorm. Circumstances in their lives led them in that car ride to through tears and faith say to the Lord, “Whatever you want, whatever will magnify you, that’s what we want.” Richard had his seizure that led to his diagnosis a few days later.
What makes Richard different from these old coots who go out shaking their fist at the things of grace? Well, God. But also: Richard decided to die before he got old. He decided to die before he died. May we all do the same. Remember that Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).
Die before you die. There is no chance after.
— C.S. Lewis
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.”
— Ecclesiastes 12:1