Dying Well

DyWell(This was presented as a Wednesday Study)

Tonight I present to you a study I’ve never presented before.  I have thought about it often, and Carrie reminded me that last fall I mentioned it, but never followed through.  Monday I thought of it again as one of the most important things I want to leave with you (This before I was aware of how serious David’s condition would become.).

In our society people are willing to talk about almost everything.  Things that used to be taboo are now discussed openly (Sex, drug use, etc).  But there is still one thing that is forbidden to discuss… death.  This topic scares us as is evidence by how we soften it with words like… “passed away,” “early demise,” and “deceased.”  I’ve heard comedians muse about every topic you can name… except one… death and dying.  This topic is off limits because it isn’t funny.

In Christian circles we talk about it a little more, but it is still not brought forward as often or in as clear of terms as it should be.  Usually it comes from the preacher as part of an invitation to be saved, and thus is almost used as a tool of emotional manipulation to get people to make a decision.

But even in Christian contexts there is an element of death and dying that has been ignored… dying well. Let that sink in.  Of all people, Christians should be able to die well.  At one time this idea was set forth to believers and was called “Dying Grace.”  Dying Grace is that which God imparts to the believer in the time just before they leave this life to enter His presence.  And that is what I want us to consider tonight: Dying Grace and Dying Well.

Consider this from R.B. Thieme[i]

Life hangs by a slender thread that can be snapped at any moment.  Does that thought frighten you?  Cause you dread and panic?

God never designed dying to be horrible or frightening for the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.  To the contrary, God designed your dying moments to be the best, the sweetest part of living.  In dying grace, He graciously supplies every need to make this a time of supreme happiness and tranquility as you anticipate meeting the Lord of Glory face-to-face.

Your dying moments are highly valuable to God. They are His final opportunity to honor His infallible Word in your soul. With Bible doctrine in your soul, you appreciate all the fantastic blessings of dying grace so that your dying moments are glorifying to God.

Foundational Thoughts:

Our ability to die well is directly proportional to how we have lived our life. In other words, the life we have lived for 20… 40… or 80 years will profoundly effect the last hours of life on earth.  If our life has been filled with seeking God, honoring Him, and glorifying Him… that will be intensified in our final ours.  However, if our life has been filled with a marginal faith, or no faith… a weak relationship with God, or no relationship with God… then that too will be intensified as we inch closer to taking our final breath (See “Last Words” below).

Here is the point: What we believe will determine how we live.

Follow Up Point: How we live determines how we die.

It may be that as people approach the final hour that reality… the ultimate reality of eternity… sets in.  We’ve heard people describe their life flashing before their eyes when they cheated death… meaning that they remember a lifetime of events compressed into an infinitesimal flash.  So it may be that how life was lived fills a person’s final hours with either sweet joy (Dying Grace) or mournful regret.  My prayer is that we experience God’s Dying Grace.

My uncle was dying of cancer.  He was given, at most, six months to live.  But God granted him six years.  A few weeks before he died I asked him how he was doing inside… in his heart.  He told me, “I’ve wasted it.  The doctors gave me 6 months… God gave me 6 years… & I wasted them.  My mother wanted to go to church… I wouldn’t go.  The doctors wanted me to counsel & help cancer patients… & I wouldn’t do it.  I’ve wasted the time God gave me.  I wasted it all…”

The Scripture (“Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly” {Colossians 3:14}):

Note: The more of God’s Word we have in us (Memory of heart) and the more we rest in God’s Truth, the more God will use His Truth to support, strengthen, sustain, and encourage us in life and our final hours.

Mt 10:28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Jn 14:1 Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go & prepare a place for you, I will come again & will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

1 Cor 15:50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh & blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, & the dead will be raised imperishable, & we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, & this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, & the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Phil 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, & to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23  I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart & be with Christ, for that is far better.

1 Thess 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died & rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring w/ him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven w/ a cry of command, w/ the voice of an archangel, & w/ the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together w/ them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, & so we will always be w/ the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another w/ these words.

Lk 16:20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered w/ sores,  21 who desired to be fed w/ what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came & licked his sores. 22 The poor man died & was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.

Ps 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Preparing Now To Die Well:

First & most importantly, repent of your sin & trust Jesus Christ as your savior & the only one who can forgive you.  Read in the Bible these passages, asking God to reveal Himself… Romans 10:9-10; John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31.

Second… Adjust your life so that adequate time is spent on your walk with God each day.  Read Scripture.  Talk with God often.  Worship God throughout the day (CD in car, MP3, etc.).  Meditate upon Him as your last thought at night.  Build relationships with other believers.  Attend corporate worship regularly.  (Note: These disciplines will not be burdensome but rather joyful for the believer walking with God!  Read 1 John 5:3.)

Third… Live each day aimed toward having no regrets.  Hear the words of Jesus (Mt 22:36-40), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, & mind.  And the second is like it, love your neighbor as you love yourself…” If you are like me, you will have to begin each day asking God to help you.  Not only that, see point four below.

Fourth… Cultivate repentance as an ongoing attitude and practice of life.  No one will be perfect in their conduct and words until they are with Jesus in heaven.  That means each day the Christian will fail.  God’s Spirit will then convict us of our sin and failure SO THAT we will know to repent… ask for forgiveness (Of God and others)… and return to Him.  Cultivate repentance as an ongoing attitude and practice of life… so that you will have no regrets at death!

Fifth… Eleven Words that help us prepare: “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you,” & “I love you.”

Last Words From Scripture:

Jesus; “Father, into Thy hands I commend my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Thief on the cross; “Remember me when you enter your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

Steven: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, & the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:56, 59, 60).

Last Words Of Christians:

Catherine Booth (Founder of The Salvation Army): “The waters are rising, but so am I.  I am not going under but over.  Don’t be concerned about dying, go on living well, the dying will be right.”[ii]

Joseph Alleine (Pastor, 1634-1668): “This vile body shall be made like Christ’s glorious body.  Oh, what a glorious day will be the day of resurrection!  My life is hid with Christ in God.”[iii]

Augustine (Pastor of Hippo, on 8/28/430 AD): “Oh Lord, shall I die at all?  Shall I die at all?  Yes!  Why then, oh Lord, if ever, why not now?!”[iv]

Thomas Goodwin (Pastor, 1600-1679): “Ah, this is dying?  How have I dreaded as an enemy this smiling friend?”[v]

D.L. Moody (Evangelist, 1837-1899): “I see earth receding, heaven is opening.  God is calling me.”[vi]

Richard Baxter (Pastor, ): To a minister friend, “The Lord teach you to die.”[vii]

Eva Turley (My Granny): Granny (With a smile): “Do you hear that music?.”  My mom: “Like on the radio on Sunday morning?”  Granny: “No… it’s beautiful music!  Can’t you hear it?”

Last Words Of Unbelievers:

Voltaire: “I am abandoned by God and man; I shall go to hell! I will give you half of what I am worth, if you will give me six months life.” { The nurse who attended Voltaire said: “For all the wealth in Europe I would not see another infidel die.” Shortly after his death the very house in which he printed his foul literature became the depot of The Geneva Bible Society.}

Sir Thomas Scott: “Until this moment, I thought there was neither God nor hell; now I know and feel that there are both, and I am doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty!”

Sir Frances Newport: “You need not tell me there is no God for I know there is one, and that I am in His presence! You need not tell me there is no hell. I feel myself already slipping. Wretches, cease your idle talk about there being hope for me! I know I am lost forever! Oh, that fire! Oh, the insufferable pangs of hell!”

Thomas Paine: “I would give worlds if I had them, that The Age of Reason had never been published. 0 Lord, help me! Christ, help me!  No, don’t leave; stay with me! Send even a child to stay with me; for I am on the edge of Hell here alone.  If ever the Devil had an agent, I have been that one.”

Note: These kind of death bed confessions don’t happen as often today because of the use of medication during a person’s final hours just before death to alleviate pain.  But sometimes they do still take place…

From my friend Ryan Whitley, pastor of CrossPoint Church in Argo, Alabama:

About 48 hours before my friend Mark Kelley died, he called for his chaplain, Stan Prewett and for me to come by his house for a visit.  We assumed these were Mark’s final days, so we both arrived within the hour.

I laid on one side of the bed next to Mark, while Stan sat on the bed’s edge.  Mark asked, “I want you guys to tell me what it is like to die.”

I was flabbergasted.  He wanted to know what it was like to die.  No one ever asked me that question.  Sure I had been present when others died, but I still did not know what to say.  Besides, I had never died.  Thus, I remained silent.

For Stan it was much different.  As a hospice chaplain, it was a daily experience for Stan to help people face death and dying.  He could testify much more about the dying process than I could.

Stan admitted, “Mark, since I do not know what it is like to die, I can only tell you what I have seen happen to other people.”

First, Stan spoke of the physical realities.  Stan informed, “Your breathing will become labored.  Your heart rate will drop.  You may have a fever.  You will become extremely feeble.  There is a possibility you will be thirsty.  Do not fret however we will be here to moisten your lips and administer your pain medication.”

The Stan went a direction I had never considered.  He said, “And there is a pretty good chance you will still be able to hear our voices.  If that is true, and I suspect it will be, I want you to listen for one voice above all the others.”

It was at this point I wanted to know more.  What did Stan know that Mark and I did not know?  And what voice would be that important?  Would it be Stan’s?  Would it be his dad’s?

Stan continued, “As your body grows weaker and weaker, start listening for the voice of Jesus.  Pay attention.  Listen closely.  You will hear his voice.”

Mark asked, “How will I know it is the voice of the Lord?”

Stan said matter-of-factly, “Oh trust me, you will know.  You will be able to distinguish His voice above all others.”

He added, “And when you hear his voice, you take off.  Don’t hold back.  Do not hang on.  You run to the voice of Jesus.  Run, my friend.  Because when you hear Him call your name, He is calling you home.”

Mark was gone within the next 24 hours.  The last 12 or so hours were long.  There were times when we thought he breathed his last breath, only to watch him catch another one and hang on.  We reminded him, “Listen for the voice of Jesus.  Go to His voice.  Don’t hang on.  We will be okay without you.  The Lord will provide for us just like He will provide for you.”

Sixty minutes before Mark died I am convinced he heard the voice of Jesus telling him to come home.  It is all presupposition on my part.  But an hour or so before he breathed his last breath, Mark smiled and said, between breathes, “I…LOVE…YOU!”

For several days I was convinced Mark was communicating with us.  A week or so after the service passed I was not so sure.  I now believe it was at that moment Mark heard the voice of Jesus and from that point Mark went running home.

Note: I have the last message Mark Kelly preached… a few months before he died.  The title is “Facing Your Fears” and comes from his battle with cancer.  Carrie has it and will make you a copy if you’d like.

Praying for those who are terminally ill. What I write next is delicate because I don’t want to be misunderstood.  But I believe this is important.  My thinking comes from Daniel 3:16-18 and the three Hebrew youths and the furnace…

O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, & he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not… be it known to you… that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.

“But if not…” We always pray and ask God to heal our loved ones and friends!  We have faith that God can heal anyone He so chooses.  BUT IF NOT… What if God chooses not to heal… how do we pray then?

I suggest we pray and intercede on the person’s behalf that they glorify God in death (Jn 21:18-19a).  We pray that they will be given dying grace… that their loved ones will be strengthened… that in the face of death they give testimony to the power, love, mercy, grace, and salvation of God.  We pray… “God, help them to die well…”

This is our faith… that in life, and death, we honor God.

Conclusion:

My prayer is first that you know Christ.  Then I pray that you will live each day with an eye toward eternity.  If we will set our eyes on eternity, we will live now in a way that will glorify God.  Then we will find the kind of dying grace found in the example above of believers in their final hours.

Ron Ethridge (January 6, 2010)

[i] http://rbthieme.org/dying.htm

[ii] Last Words of Saints and Sinners, Herbert Lockyer, page 53.

[iii] Ibid, page 53-54.

[iv] Ibid, page 54.

[v] Ibid, page 56.

[vi] Ibid, page 59.

[vii] Ibid, page 63.

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