We recently learned that Lisa, my wife’s matron of honor at our wedding, suddenly died. She was in her mid-fifties. Hearing that someone we knew abruptly transitioned to eternity at a young age was a sharp reminder of how short life is. Solomon’s words come to mind:
“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.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.”
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”
Every day, around 190,000 people die. The time is coming when you and I will cross that threshold. There are no guarantees for tomorrow; our life may end just as quickly and unexpectedly as Lisa’s. Reflecting on the brevity of life brings clarity and wisdom.
“O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!”
At the moment of death, all that will matter will be our relationship with God, how we treated people (which is the evidence of our relationship with the Lord, or lack of it), and the spiritual fruit we bore. All the pleasures, entertainment, and the temporal things we obsessed about will instantly vanish. We will hear “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord,” (Matthew 25:23) or “I never knew you, depart from me.” (Mathew 7:21-23). There will be no second chances, no do-overs. There are many in that second group who are now suffering for all eternity who would give anything to have another shot at life.
If given that second chance, I guarantee that they would spend far less time in pleasure-seeking or entertainment than before. Their lives would be marked by “working out their salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)
There will also be some who knew the Bible but didn’t know God who will end up on the wrong side of eternity.
“It is possible to know all about doctrine and still not know Jesus. A person’s soul is in grave danger when the knowledge of doctrine surpasses Jesus, avoiding intimate touch with Him. Why was Mary weeping? Doctrine meant no more to her than the grass under her feet. In fact, any Pharisee could have made a fool of Mary doctrinally, but one thing they could never ridicule was the fact that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her (see Luke 8:2); yet His blessings were nothing to her in comparison with knowing Jesus Himself.”
– Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)
Oswald Chambers was the principal of the Bible Training College near London; teaching theology was a big part of his life.
Do you know God? You may know about the trinity, predestination, or whatever your preferred doctrine-package prescribes, but do you know Him? Critically, does He know you? Does your spirit come alive in prayer? Do you love to pray? When you read the Bible is it merely about studying the text, or does God’s word come alive so that you feel like you’re communing with Him and He’s speaking to you?
What is it that sets your heart on fire? No quoting Scripture or Sunday school answers here. If people (including family), hobbies, sports, work, or entertainment immediately come to mind, it’s possible your relationship with God isn’t what you think it is. That which we invest our time and financial resources in are the evidence of the true love of the heart. Are you on the difficult, narrow path to life that few will find, or the broad way to destruction? (Matthew 7:13-14).
These are tough questions, but it’s better to face them now than when it’s too late.
Many churches aren’t going there for fear of making people uncomfortable. That’s a big mistake.
How is your relationship with God? Hot, cold, lukewarm? If tomorrow is to be your last day on earth, are you ready to go? Is there fruit from your life and have you been investing your time and resources in that which counts for eternity? Is there any sin you’re holding onto? What do you need to change? If changes are needed, please don’t put them off. There are many who live for pleasure and give no thought to their eternal destiny, even in the church. This is a recipe for disaster.
“Jerusalem sinned grievously;
therefore she became filthy;
all who honored her despise her,
for they have seen her nakedness;
she herself groans
and turns her face away.
Her uncleanness was in her skirts;
she took no thought of her future;
therefore her fall is terrible;
she has no comforter.”
Lamentations 1:8-9 (emphasis mine)
So, what is all of this about? Being good and doing a bunch of good works? Burning out for God?
God set Adam and Eve down in a garden paradise. After they fell into sin and darkness, He covered them with animal skins (grace) and set the plan in motion for Jesus’ work on the cross (more grace). The entire Bible can be described as a Holy God reaching out to and even imploring broken men and women to come to Him for healing, forgiveness, restoration, and blessings; Satan’s intense warfare to disrupt God’s work, and our struggles with our sin-driven flesh and the enemy. Jesus came to set captives free, offer abundant life, and shower us with spiritual blessings (Isaiah 61, Ephesians 1). His heart wasn’t to destroy, but to save (Luke 19:10).
God loves us, but, He forces Himself on no one. He didn’t chase the lukewarm or those who wanted the pleasures and sin of this world more than Him in Scripture; He usually hit them between the eyes with truth and let them walk away.
Think of the relationships of your life. If there wasn’t much effort made on either side, did it last? The chances are high that if you wanted to get to know someone but the desire wasn’t there on the other side that the relationship eventually faded. Unless, you pursued them until they either backed you down or warmed up.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
It is the relationships where both sides work at it that last. God already made big steps toward us when Jesus suffered on the cross and was resurrected, opening the door wide to eternal life in the process. The big question is, how are we responding?
If we love God deeply, prayer will be a wonderful blessing where our spirit comes alive. Being broken bread and poured out wine for others is a joy where we can give God back a tiny fraction of the blessings we’ve been given.
The Christian life will also be exceedingly difficult at times. Suffering is guaranteed, there will be spiritual warfare, and we will go through periods of weakness, failure, and sin. There will also be painful stretches where God prunes us so we may bear more fruit and we feel like a dry tree and joy and peace are elusive. The difficult journey of the narrow path to eternal life demands perseverance for the long haul… and love for the One who died for us and has given us so much. Empty doctrine-heads and nice people whose only contact with Jesus is Sunday morning will eventually come to a crisis of faith where they break through into a love relationship with Him or harden their hearts and fall away.
No matter how rough and intimidating the narrow road may be, we are never alone. God has promised He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), have the power of prayer at hand, are called to be overcomers, are blessed with the indwelling Holy Spirit as our counselor, strength, and peace, have all the spiritual weapons we need to overcome in every situation (Ephesians 6), the encouragement of God’s word, and the fellowship of other believers (you are a part of a tribe of other Christians, right?).
If facing these questions has left you a little shaky, the place to start is alone with God. “Lord, I want to know You. Please reveal yourself to me. I’m seeking you with all of my heart. Please convict me of my sin, cleanse my heart, purify my motives, and align my life to your desires. Heal my heart in the places where I’ve been hurt. Show me if there’s anyone I need to forgive.”
And then, “God, show me how You want me to make the short time I have left to count for eternity. Give me your eyes to see, a heart to understand, ears to hear in all things.”
Last week I was in the book of Titus. In chapter 3, Paul commanded believers twice to devote themselves to good works.
“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.”
“And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.”
Broken bread and poured out wine. May He help us to bear fruit for His glory.
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
1 Corinthians 3:10-15