This Side of Eternity

Are you prepared to die? Recently I realized that though I was prepared for eternity with Christ in heaven, I wasn’t really prepared to die. Or to have my husband die.

Not long ago, when we were traveling in Washington state, we called a pastor friend to arrange a visit. When Art called, the pastor’s wife answered. Art asked to talk to her husband, only to hear that he had died a few weeks earlier of brain cancer. The pastor had been a cross-country buddy of Art’s, had run long distances even throughout his illness, and had died at 57 years old, two years younger than we are now.

As we visited this grieving widow I felt like I was looking into a mirror image of myself. This godly couple had poured themselves into 29 years of service, starting this church and serving faithfully in it until the pastor’s last sermon just days before his death. Now the pastor was gone and his wife was no longer a pastor’s wife. Though she had been actively involved in so many ways in the church, now she was backing away, making way for a new pastor and wife to be chosen for the church. This transition was made so much harder because so much of her life, work, friends and relationships, were tied to the church.

This could be me, I thought. Though Art and I are both healthy and anticipate another ten or so years of full-time ministry, with more ministry beyond that, we have no guarantees. In recent years we’ve heard of a number of pastors who died suddenly in their fifties or even younger. In 2014 Both Art and I will mark the big six-oh. Statistically speaking, it wouldn’t be greatly surprising if one of us died in our sixties. If Art died, I would no longer be a pastor’s wife.

More than that, I realized that my husband’s death would put me in a very different position than an American pastor’s wife whose husband died.

Let’s say Pastor Z dies, in America, where all his friends and family live. He and his wife owned their own home, so now the home belongs to Mrs. Z. She makes funeral decisions and grieves with her family. She might go visit a number of her grown children in their homes. If she has a job in the community, she might continue that. She’ll want to sort through some of her husband’s things and find new homes for them. She’ll take time to work through financial changes. She may be counseled not to make any great changes for a least a year. Yes, it will be a difficult time and yes, she’ll need to pull back to allow another pastor and wife to take leadership positions in the church. Certainly none of this will be easy, but she may have some time to make changes.

Now let’s say Pastor Y dies. He has been a missionary pastor. He and Mrs. Y live overseas and own their own house. These funeral arrangements are much harder to make because the family will probably want to hold funeral services both in the country of service as well as the home country. This adds a whole new dimension to the casket-vs-cremation decision. The services need to be held soon and the wife longs to be with her relatives from the home country, but she may not be able to continue her ministry on the mission field. If she moves back to her home country, she still has to figure out what to do with her house on the field and everything inside the house. You can hardly counsel a missionary wife life this not to make any major changes in the first year. She will likely be required to make many major life changes in a very short time, all while she is grieving the loss of her husband and partner in ministry.

Prior to this furlough Art and I had talked about retirement. It always seemed a long way off and none of the answers were obvious so we put off making any decisions. During this furlough, however, God has shown us in a number of obvious ways that we really aren’t prepared to die. We may be many years from death and our situation may change dramatically before then. On the other hand, if one of us was to die while we were in New Zealand, we would have a lot of major decisions that would need to be made very quickly during a very difficult time. We’ve begun to realize that we could make that situation much easier for each other and our family by preparing ahead, just in case it happened.

Last week we went for a “pre-need interview” with a funeral director. This was very helpful . He said that when someone dies, the family needs to make about 125 decisions right away, just about the funeral and things related to the death. We feel good about making many of these decisions now, when we are in good health. Any of them can be changed, but if the Lord should take one of us home suddenly, the burden would be much easier for the one left behind, as well as the family.

What about you? Are you prepared to die? The most important issue, of course, is eternity. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin? Are you working for him in light of eternity? I hope so. But you can be prepared for eternity without being prepared to die. Maybe God is using this blog to tap you on the shoulder.

Maybe you feel creepy thinking about funeral arrangements when you’re in good health. After all your situation may change dramatically before you die. On the other hand, God could be leading you to make arrangements now so that your death could be much easier on your family than it needs to be.

Here are some good questions to consider:
•Do I have a will that covers everything it needs to cover at this time?
•Have I made provision for funeral expenses?
•Where do I want to be buried?
•Do I want a casket or cremation funeral? Is my family comfortable with this choice? This decision alone could make a $5000 difference in expenses.
•What do I want my funeral to be like? What last words do I want to say to my friends and family? Where would I like my funeral to be held and who would I like to perform it?
•Have I left pertinent information in a place where my family could find it easily in the event of my death?

You may want to arrange a pre-need interview with a funeral home near you. Did you know you can actually purchase your funeral arrangements years, even decades ahead of time and lock in today’s prices? You can also leave your information with a funeral home so that, in the event of your death, one call from your family would set almost everything in motion.
Think of how much grief your family would be spared by making many of your funeral arrangements ahead of time. I’m actually glad I can make these decisions during a happy time without a terminal illness hanging over my head. Some may call this morbid, but as Christians, we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about death. Actually it just helps us to be, in one more way, prepared to die.

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