Learning to Die Well
She was eight years old and had leukemia. Her parents were in the kitchen fixing coffee when she asked the question. “Brother Steve, my parents won’t talk about it, but I have a question for you.”
“Okay, Lisa. What is it?”
“Am I going to die?”
There it is. The one subject we do not want to talk about even as Christians. Not with our sick children—or our healthy ones either. Not with our older saints who are clearly ending their journey in this life. Even when a sick person asks, we quickly assure them they will get better. We do not talk enough about dying. It is the one part of our Christian life that we do not equip the church to handle.
As Christian leaders and teachers, we put great emphasis on how to live for Jesus. We talk about treating people well, making behavioral decisions that follow Jesus, and serving people the way the Good Samaritan did. These are all important and help us to live for Jesus. But I believe it just as important to teach believers to die well. And we do not do that nearly as effectively … if we even attempt it at all.
So here are some brief suggestions for talking with our church family about dying well in Jesus.
Finish strong. We need to talk about Caleb, who was still fighting God’s enemies at 80 years old. There should be no retirement from Christian service. No talk of rest because we have put in our time as a Bible class teacher. Even as physical limitations become more real, we can utilize these brothers and sisters as powerful prayer warriors. Staying active in kingdom work leaves little time to obsess about dying.
Remember that our conversion was a death experience. Christians have already died. We were crucified with Christ and now live by faith in the One who loved us and gave himself for us (Gal 2:20). Our crucifixion happened when we were baptized. Rom 6 uses language like “baptized into his death,” and “buried through baptism into death.” We are very much dead men walking. We should be inviting people to come die with Jesus. Dead people are not as afraid to die.
Leaving a legacy of faith does not just happen in life, but in death. The real demonstration of our faith in God is seen when we face death. Our family sees the reality of what we believe as death approaches. Our church family does, too. Some of the strongest testimony and witness to Jesus comes at these times.
Recognize that death is our enemy, but remember that Jesus has defeated death through his resurrection. Just like we will overcome death. That is how Paul spoke of death in 1 Cor 15. Tell the stories of those who died for their faith. Most of the apostles. Men like Polycarp and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
And as for my conversation with Lisa … I told her that it did seem as if she was dying, as all of us were. We talked about heaven and about being with God. She promised that if she died before me she would wait for me and ask God to let me in. And I promised if I died first, I would wait for her. It has been a long time since Lisa died, but she taught me a lot about faith that day. It has helped me to live well for Jesus. It is going to help me die well for him, too.