We’ve all been on the other side of the phone and heard those humbling words that a loved one has died. The death call is a very sobering reality that drops itself awkwardly into our trivial and entertainment-centered culture.
As a pastor, I’ve been given a front row seat to death it seems. I never spent much time around death until I began in the ministry and just in my short five year pastorate, I’ve received “the death call” over a dozen times. I usually drop what I’m doing and go visit the family, offering them the comfort of presence and being available to hear the stories that will also aid in the fast-paced planning for the funeral. But no matter how many times I’ve rushed to the bedside of a dying or recently departed soul, it has never seemed normal. You can feel the air of death in the room and the body of the person you loved now looks like nothing more than a decomposing corpse. But I’ve learned through these funerals that death can teach us a lot about life. The following are a few things the death call teaches…
It keeps you sober-minded about the things of God
The wise king Solomon said, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
Everybody loves a good wedding where there are smiles on everyone’s faces and life seems like a blank slate before this new couple, but the atmosphere is totally different at a funeral. Even in our light-hearted culture, most people don’t want to look weird being happy at a funeral. People come to a funeral with a little more openness to God’s Word than they do to the wedding. This is because death reminds us that the only things that really matter are the eternal things. One of my favorite hyphenated Bible words is the word ‘sober-minded.’ Sober-mindedness is not the same as being a stick-in-the-mud or a sourpuss who always views life from a ‘glass half-empty’ perspective.
To be sober-minded is to think rightly about the things of God. The death call often adds a certain gravity to your spiritual disciplines. You pray more earnestly and think more deeply and counsel more seriously because you can see that these things are the stuff of eternality. It’s almost like an invisible portal opens up connecting this temporal world with the eternal.
It was there in the garden of Eden that our first parents chose their will over God’s, and we’ve been dying ever since. But Scripture doesn’t tell us to adopt the mentality of our culture and ignore death altogether. The Bible calls us, instead, to let death’s cold and heavy hand rest on us for a while so that we let it teach us a thing or two about life.
It reveals your vapor-like existence
Moses says in the only Psalm attributed to him, “For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy,or even by reason of strength eighty;yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:9-12).
If you long to have a heart of wisdom, let death teach you to count your days. My wife’s family has adopted a popular saying: “The days are long, but the years are short.” Just when we seem to be wearing ourselves out in the busyness of life, eternity comes knocking when we get the call that someone has died.James tells us, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14b). There is wisdom found in learning that, “you are from dust and to dust you shall return.”
It reminds you to be urgent in evangelism
One of the worst feelings a believer can ever have is that nagging guilt that you didn’t share the gospel with a loved one before they died. The death call reminds you to take things seriously and never let a soul leave this world without presenting a clear gospel message and calling for a response.
It displays sin’s true colors
Just recently after consoling a widow in our church over the loss of her godly husband and reading some of his gospel-centered journaling, I was struck by this. Headed home from the new widow’s house, I passed a car blaring the filthiest music from the car stereo. As I listened to the words of the song being sung and its celebration of our culture’s sexual “liberty”, I was shocked by the alarming contrast between holiness and sin. It was as if in that moment, the shimmering and sexy picture of sin became grotesque. The sheet was peeled back for a moment and I saw sin’s truly ugly character and how it deceives us with promises of lasting happiness, but only makes us slaves to guilt and shame and brokenness.
It makes the Scriptures come alive
Funerals are often the pastor’s most fruitful of times in ministry because people are opened up to the counsel of God’s Word and seem to hang on its sweet promises and heavy warnings. Preaching a wedding is very different than preaching a funeral because wedding guests are more focused on the happy couple at the front than on God’s message. When preaching a funeral, pastors stand above the lifeless corpse at the front and give their hearers the raw truth of God’s Word along with the amazing depth of comfort it gives.
Reader, I hope you don’t receive a call anytime soon that a loved one has passed. But don’t be so quick to brush aside the thought of dying in order to get to your next errand. Live each day with the sober-minded reality that death brings so that you’ll make the most of your brief life. As the old C.T. Studd poem states in a constant refrain, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ shall last.”