I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately; not in a morbid, fatalistic sort of way, though. I’ve been giving serious thought to how I would live if I knew I would be dead soon.
I have an acquaintance who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. He’s been through chemo which bought him a little time, but he’s been told that when–not if— cancer gets its second wind he will have only a short time to live. I’ve been thinking about him and praying for him. I regret that I didn’t take the time to get to know him better. He’s a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. He’ll give you the shirt off of his back and help you out in any way he can. Now he can’t work and struggles to find the energy to do much of anything. I still have never heard him complain or feel sorry for himself. From where I stand he is a man of incredible faith and fortitude, a man I greatly respect.
There have been songs and movies about people who try to cram a lifetime of activity into their final days. Tim McGraw’s song encourages us to “Live Like You Were Dying.” I’ve been giving thought as to what that would mean for me if I were to find myself in a similar situation. Would I ride a bull or jump out of an airplane? Would I climb a mountain or swim with sharks? Would my list of regrets include dreams never realized and chances that never were taken? Perhaps.
But I think that the things that would weigh heaviest on my mind would be the things that matter most. Did I treat everyone with respect? Did I give them my full attention when we spoke so that they felt valued? Did I show the love of Jesus to those with whom I came in contact? Was I willing to do anything within my power to help those in need? Did I put others before myself?
And what about my calling? Was I committed to growing in God’s grace as a disciple of Jesus? Was my life built around a commitment to be a disciple and make disciples? Was I faithful to do everything God wanted me to do? With so many questions, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. I must confess, I have fallen short in every one of these areas. And I will, no doubt, continue to fall short.
But that doesn’t need to lead to regret. In God’s economy, the past is the past. What matters is only today. Jesus told us, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (Matthew 6:34, ESV). We don’t need to concern ourselves about how we will live our lives tomorrow; God only asks that we live for Him today.
So, I wondered, what would my life look like if I lived today like I may not have tomorrow? How should I live today so that I can stand before my Maker and say with full confidence, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV). Dallas Willard wrote, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.” God’s grace allows us to live now and with purpose, not in order to be saved and forgiven, but because we are saved and forgiven.
I believe that I would treat everyone as equally important, without regard to how I would be treated in return because, in fact, everyone is equally important to Jesus. There are no losers in the Kingdom of God, only winners. And one’s social status on earth is irrelevant in Heaven. Therefore, the lenses through which we see others need to be calibrated to eliminate our near-sightedness. We need to be able to see people as Heaven sees them, and not with our narrow–and sinful–societally-influenced-short-sightedness.
I believe that I would act with far less self-interest. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV). It is infinitely easier to make the choice to “look out for number one!” It comes naturally. But it is more rewarding to do good for someone else (Acts 20:35).
I believe that I would speak more boldly about Jesus and my relationship with Him. I would be less concerned about what people might think of me because the message of the gospel is far more important than anyone’s opinion of me. Their perception of me is insignificant in relation to what they do with the knowledge of Jesus and the salvation He has provided. My eternal destiny has been long since determined. The discomfort of an awkward conversation, the embarrassment of being mocked, or the pain of being beaten or killed–as many are–is nothing, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NASB).
I believe that I would be more grateful for the blessings that I have been given. I would earnestly search for even the smallest measure of goodness I experience; I’d seek it out like buried treasure. I would frequently express my gratitude to God and others. I wouldn’t allow myself to focus on any negatives that may occur in my life. Joy would be my prevailing attitude; it would be obvious to everyone who sees me. “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
The fact is that I haven’t been told that I have a short amount of time to live. I’ve not been diagnosed with a terminal disease. I may live for another 50 years or so. Or I could die tomorrow. We have no guarantees! “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14, ESV).
Excuse me, please. I think I have a few things that I need to take care of.