A Reminder of Death

A Reminder of Death

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I was recently reading through the memoirs of a 19th century Scottish pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Several friends had highly recommended them and rightly so. In life, M’Cheyne demonstrated a deep knowledge of the Scriptures, a remarkable prayer life and an unwavering love for his people. He once wrote, "Oh how sweet to work for God all day, and then lie down at night beneath His smile," and another time, "Rose early to seek God and found Him whom my soul loveth. Who would not rise early to meet such company?"

As I was reading through his memoirs, something hit me abruptly. This godly pastor to the Scots died at age 29 of Typhus. It struck me that God had already given me more days than M’Cheyne, yet he had gone so much deeper with God. I began to reflect on my own life and what I've done with the time I've been given. I considered that God has never promised me a long life, though I often assume I have plenty of time left.

It’s not fun to contemplate dying. Our culture is particularly bent toward the extension and enjoyment of youth. We don’t like to think about death. But we are wise to remember death is a most certain part of living. Forty-six thousand people die each week in the United States (2.4 million per year). So the Psalmist wisely imparts us to pray, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12) and James rightly reminds we are a “mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (4:14).

One day you are going to die. Your friends and family will gather, and with tears in their eyes, watch as your body is lowered into the ground and covered with dirt. In that moment, what will be most important to you? What relationships and accomplishments will you want to be remembered?

One of the reasons I read biographies is they often lay out a strong case for living well. They encourage me to consider my ways and to strive to live with all my might. I watch men like M’Cheyne labor in prayer for his people, and I read the gracious letters he wrote. I ponder how God mysteriously did not spare such a life and wonder what he might have done with another several decades.

For Christians, death is not grounds to be depressed, lifeless or even fatalistic. The reality of death reminds us that we only have so many minutes on this earth. Interestingly, from his earliest diary entries, M’Cheyne committed himself to making good use of time. He often pushed himself to spend less time on things that weren't important and more time of the stuff that was. Such wisdom has made me think about my life in similar ways. Perhaps another pastor, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, understood this best:

The one who came from heaven to earth for us and died on that cruel cross of shame on Calvary's hill; who spared not himself; who endured the contradiction of sinners. He who bore that agony in the garden and on the cross, He will look at us — and what He will look for is this: how we spent our time in this world after we realized what He had done for us. It is the terror of love you see, not the fear of torment. You will look into that beloved face and into those eyes and you will realize, as you have never done before, what He did for you. Then you will realize with shame what you did not do for Him. Oh, says Paul, buy up the opportunity, do not waste a second. Keep that in the forefront of your mind.

So I plead with you as I plead with myself: Don’t waste the time you've been given in the presumption you have a lot of time left. You may not. Reflect often on the very real possibility your life could end abruptly at any time. Then boldly and sacrificially live for Christ, serving Him and walking with Him during your days on the earth. The enemy would have us ignore death and waste out time, but our Lord would have us think about death and make the most of the time He’s given. 

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  • It's kind of fascinating that no one is commenting on this.  Do we not like thinking about death?  Or do we have nothing to add?

    This kind of post is such a challenge to truly examine our lives.  The majority of things we worry about daily mean nothing on an eternal scale.  

  • Thanks for this...definitely helped bring me out of a bit of a slump this week.  It's funny to say that thinking about death could bring you out of a slump, but it did.  I guess it helps put momentary things in their rightful spot.  That last quote was great motivation, too.

    As a side note, it's neat to hear a little more about M'Cheyne!  I just knew him from the Bible reading plan, but didn't know he wrote so much as well!

  • This is something that's been brought to my attention recently...looking at my life now it's very self-centered, I hardly do anything for anyone other than #1 And very little of that has any eternal significance, as far as I can tell>< I want to volunteer, or help out at church, but it's a little hard with the language barrier. I guess laboring in prayer and being kinder to my coworkers is a start!

  • Kelly-1 said: Do we not like thinking about death?  Or do we have nothing to add?

    Yes. ;D All of the above. In spite of the fact that I believe the Bible, that I trust God's plan for us and I accept the truth of eternity, the tomporalness of this mortal life still scares the beejeebuz out of me. The idea that everything I know and love will one day be ash is not at all comforting to me. I trust God, but I spend a lot more time thinking about living than about dying.

  • Great writing, I have been thinking of death a bit more since there was trouble in my home country. As a Christian I am not scared of death, I am at a point of my life where I am relived that all this earthly  pain will end one day and what I am achieving with my life at this point has more eternal value then earthy value. As a single there are days when I feel I have done nothing in my life but I have used my singleness to serve the church and other young people and so the eternal value of that is great which brings a smile to me.

  • It's very interesting reading both this post and the comments. I think about death very often (and I'm finding I'm in the minority here). Not in a morbid sense - I am in no way depressed or suicidal - but I think about it as a kid thinking about Christmas morning. I am so excited for Heaven and the Long Tomorrow! However, far too often this leads to daydreams about the joy there rather than propelling me to action here.  I desire that my hope and anticipation of Heaven will spur me to live wisely for Jesus here. As someone told me once, "You've got the 'to die is gain' part down. But you're still living. So remember 'to live is Christ.'" Wise words that I'm still learning to apply.

  • This is a timely reminder… I've been thinking quite a bit lately about what I value, and what's important–and each time, one of the top is investing in other people over any form of entertainment. If only that were so easy to do as it is to write!

  • Andrew writes, "One of the reasons I read biographies is they often lay out a strong case for living well." Thanks for the wisdom.

  • Good topic to reflect on! Nothing has more rocked my world than last year the unexpected death of a friend who had just went to the mission field. The experience made me wrestle with theTruth of the soverignity of God...but also drew me closer to God. Made me reflect on what really matters in the big picture and how I should invest my life. Thanks for posting this article!

  • Yeah, it's certainly good to realize that we don't know when we'll die. But if we're not supposed to waste even a second, we're all failing badly.

    By the way, I know perrfectly well how to rise early to watch a game of tennis (which I'm doing right now), but did M'Cheyne say anything about how to seek God?

  • I think about death daily.  I witnessed death uo close and personal before.  It does not impress me.  We all will die.  It is aonly a matter of how and when.  I am a vile, disgusting non-Christian and my own death does not frighten or concern me at all

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