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Prepared to die

By David Argue

Somerset County, Pa. The nine rugged miners had survived certain death. Rescued from their entombment beneath 240 feet of stone, they now sat together for a national interview.

Question: "And how did you prepare for death?"

"I prayed harder than I ever have," one said.

Another reached under the bench and produced a muddy white bucket sealed tight. "The notes we wrote are in here," he said.

With tears in their eyes the men described how, when death seemed so certain, the last thing they did was to write these notes to those they loved.

Then they sealed the notes in the bucket and tied themselves together. That way, "when we die, if they find one of us, they will find us all." And that muddy bucket — now a sacred treasure — would tell of their love in their final moments on earth.

Some watching that interview probably wrote or called people to make things right … just in case.

We spend ourselves on living and give little thought to dying. "I’ll prepare later," we say. But death often comes offering no opportunity for final preparation.

So, these words are a gift to you — a gift to help you spend time preparing for death. This is not morbidity. Truth is, if you prepare well to die, you’ll live at your peak now, and when you die you will enter an eternity of complete joy.

We all have an appointment with death (Hebrews 9:27). You might guess that your death is a long way off, when actually it might be as soon as … today.

A few months ago my friend Terry was in seemingly great health: racquetball three times a week, cholesterol low and body trim. We talked at a reception celebration Saturday afternoon. He then went home to spend an evening with his family. But suddenly he slumped forward in that favorite easy chair and just died. His appointment had come … unexpectedly.

That’s one reason why wise people prepare to die when the likelihood of death seems very far away. Wise people are ready for death whenever it comes.

Here’s how.

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Some people think that eternal life, if it can be found, begins after death. The truth is, God offers us eternal life during our earthly life. It is God’s plan that when death comes, we do not have to fear or think we will face some quantum change. Death, in fact, for those who are prepared, serves as an embarkation into the fullness of the life we have already begun to live with God.

Jesus puts it in these terms: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him [God] who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life" (John 5:24, NIV).

"From death to life" … it is a crossing over during this life, not at the end.

Put your faith and trust in Jesus. Ask Him to forgive you of your sin and direct your life. It is then that you "cross over" to life … and are saved from eternal condemnation. The sting of death, which is sin, is taken away

(1 Corinthians 15:56). When life with Jesus has thus been entered into, death (when it occurs) will simply facilitate your crossing over fully into eternal life with God.

So hear Jesus speaking to you, even as you reflect on these words. Tell Him that you believe He is the Son of God and Savior of the world … and you want to cross over into life. Ask Him to put His eternal life within you. He will. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, will be saved" (Acts 2:21).

Follow up your decision with being baptized in water. Water baptism means making a public statement that you have died with Christ and have been raised by Him to newness of life (Romans 6:3-11).

With your relationship with Christ in place, you have taken the first and all-important step in preparing for death.

Second, make sure you have your own "muddy bucket." Make sure that you are at peace with all persons, as much as it is possible for you to be. Exercise the management of your possessions and resources by drawing up a will that provides in the best way possible for the care of those close to you and that expresses your commitment to the work of God after your departure.

Third, live in real fellowship and loving relationships with other believers who have passed from death to life, like you have. These people are part of the great community of heaven. They are truly part of your forever family. They will bless you in this life, miss you after you have died, and spend eternity with you in the presence of God. Time invested now will make the family reunion then even more rich and joyful.

Fourth, bank in heaven. You can take it with you. Build up your account with God. The benefits? Total security. The pleasure of God. A heart that progressively moves to heaven. Jesus said, "Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven … where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:20,21). Move your heart to heaven now and your body will follow happily.

Finally, live each day with the primary objective to please God in all you do. He has a plan for your life. Recognizing that plan and doing it makes for a daily experience of joy and the certain confidence of future blessing and reward. Find His pace in life and don’t allow busyness to squeeze out your intimacy with God. Intimacy with Him brings the strength to face any challenges that come and especially to be strong in the final challenge of death.

People throughout history have faced that final challenge in victory.

Jerusalem, Israel
Jesus himself gives to us a model when, at the end of His earthly life, He prays to the Father: "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence" (John 17:4,5).

Bringing God glory now means you can face death certain of the Father’s pleasure. You can look forward to hearing, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!" (Matthew 25:23).

Rome, Italy
The apostle Paul, chained within the depths of an evil dungeon, knows that death will soon be visited upon him violently. But here is his optimism and his settled assessment of what is before him: "The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Finishing the race God gives to us and keeping faith with Him is the foundation for confidence when facing death.

Flossenburg concentration camp, Germany
On a gray Monday before 6 a.m., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an evangelical pastor, was taken from his cell by the Nazis. To a friend he said, "This is the end — for me the beginning of life." At the place of execution, he prayed and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. He died entirely submissive to the will of God.

Having "crossed over," he crossed over.

Having been prepared to die, he fully entered life.

When death finally comes, whether suddenly or slowly, preparation now will remove its exercise of terror on your soul. Death, then, becomes the opening of a door to the corridors of heaven.

"It is not darkness you are going to,
for God is Light.
It is not lonely,
for Christ is with you.
It is not unknown country,
for Christ is there"
(Charles Kingsley, Handbook to Christian Belief, 1982).


David Argue is pastor of Christ’s Place (Assemblies of God) in Lincoln, Neb.

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