Dwelling on the thought of our own death can seem unhealthy, morbid, or even terrifying. Yet, considering our own mortality is a natural extension of the recognition of our humanity… the acknowledgement that our physical bodies will eventually pass away.
From my experiences with people in their final days and hours of life, it seems widespread that people do not want to go through the experience of dying alone. Family and friends as well want to be nearby at the end so that they can be present when death comes. Nevertheless, regardless of the fact that we can be surrounded by those who love and care for us in our last moments, nothing can change the fact that we have to die on our own. The passage from life to death is a solitary experience.
There are different places in life where we can feel alone. It may be through sickness, times of trial, loneliness or separation. All of these are places where no one can accompany us in our pain, regardless of how physically present they may be. How we cope in these situations will depend upon our preparation. As followers of Christ we are given a promise by Jesus: “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. The more we come to know Jesus in life, the greater our comfort will be in preparation for death. We can face (and even anticipate and look forward to) our death because of our relationship with Jesus and the knowledge of His presence and promises in the life to come.
Take some time to enter into silent prayer. What is it like for you with no one around? What are the thoughts that come to the forefront of your mind when you consider your own death? What does this reveal to you? Read Psalm 23.
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35
In his book ‘In the Name of Jesus’ Henri Nouwen comments on the above passage: “In the center of breathless activities we hear a restful breathing. Surrounded by hours of moving we find a moment of quiet stillness. In the heart of much involvement there are words of withdrawal. In the midst of action there is contemplation. And after much togetherness there is solitude. The more I read this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more I have the sense that the secret of Jesus ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before dawn”.
Spending time in prayer with God seems like it should be easy, but this sentence in scripture reminds us that prayer is full of action. Jesus got up, left, went and prayed. Prayer takes initiative. Developing a ‘prayer life’ is not going to happen on its own…it is an engaged activity between two people; yourself and the Father. And out of this time, a relationship flourishes and ministry grows.
Read Mark 1 and explore the contrast between Jesus moments of busyness and the times that he takes to be away.
Before Jesus began his ministry he was led by the Spirit into the desert and after forty days of fasting, the devil began to tempt him. Matthew records the three different temptations Jesus encountered which were intended to entice Him away from his calling. In his book “In the Name of Jesus”, Henri Nouwen discusses these three temptations as ones we all face in our Christian journey.
Nouwen writes that the first temptation of Christ was that of relevance. The devil prompted Jesus to “Turn these stones into bread” (Matt 4:3) In other words, use your power to do something practical; to meet a need. How often do we do that in ministry? Try in our own strength to fix a problem or meet a need in order for something to be ‘successful’? Perhaps it is difficult to wait on God and so instead we go ahead and “do” ministry in our own strength. Jesus, in return, told the devil, “Human beings live not on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. We need to cling to God’s Word, resisting the urge to be significant in the eyes of others.
The second temptation, according to Nouwen, is the desire to be spectacular: to win the approval and applause of the crowd. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the highest pinnacle…He will command his angels concerning you and they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (Matt 4:6) Nouwen states; “Jesus refused to be a stunt man. He did not come to prove himself…When you look at today’s Church, it is easy to see the prevalence of individualism among ministers and priests…stardom and individual heroism, which are such obvious aspects of our competitive society, are not at all alien to the Church”. Is gaining the recognition and approval of others a temptation that you are secretly harbouring?
The third temptation is the temptation of power. “Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me” (Matt 4:8-9) Nouwen writes “one of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power…The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest of all.” The rationalization of how power is used can be very persuasive.
Do you see yourself in any of these scenarios? Ask Jesus to help you identify areas that you may be giving in to the temptations of the devil without even being aware of it. Pray for mercy.
I just want you to invite share with you a new Certificate in Death, Dying, and Grief that is offered at Tyndale University, College, and Seminary. I will be facilitating modules that will focus on understanding the different reactions toward death, exploring different tasks faced by dying, the stages of grief, and more.
For more information, please visit the link below:
Hope to see personally see you there,
Do you ever get tired of constant demands from others?
At home there are jobs to do (something in the house always needs fixing!), at work there are meetings to attend, people to please and others that need our attention. Spouses, kids and extended family require commitments, and there never seems to be enough time to get everything done in the day, or ever get time to do things that we would actually like to do.
Popular psychology affirms that it is important to take time for ourselves. We will likely be a better parent, spouse or worker if we get some time to recharge. It is commonplace to hear of people suffering ‘burn out’. In this place, we become emotionally drained and feel that there is nothing more to give. On our way to becoming ‘burned out’, we become frustrated and resentful of the demands that people make of us.
Without a time of renewal we have a tendency to become ‘weary in doing well’. Built up frustration and anxiety can lead to us treat others with less grace than we intend.
When we spend time in fellowship with God, he renews us and enables us to minister to others with the same tenderness and compassion He showed. As we continually turn our face towards God, we have a different attitude towards people. We start to listen to them again, to be less judgmental and to be fully present with them.
When Jesus saw the needs of people He always showed kindness and sympathy toward them. Matthew 9:36 tells us: “When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.
Today…Think about some of the people you will encounter during your day. What resources of grace do you need to be ‘Christ’ to them? As you pray, ask the Lord to enable you in very specific ways to be sensitive to them.
“We worship at the shrine of the Golden Arches…”
What is your first instinct when you have a challenge or difficulty? Do you get busy and try to fix it? Do you get anxious and upset and suffer sleepless nights because of it? Do you talk endlessly about it with friends and family?
Learning to wait for God’s timing is not a concept that has been encouraged in our “quick-fix” North American mentality. John Ortburg writes: “We will buy anything that promises to help us hurry. The best selling shampoo in North America rose to the top because is combines shampoo and conditioner in one step, eliminating the need for all the time consuming rinsing people used to have to do…” He continues, “…we worship at the shrine of the Golden Arches, not because they sell ‘good food’ or even ‘cheap food’, but because it is ‘fast food’. Even after fast food was introduced people still had to park their cars, go inside, order, and take their food to a table, all of which took time. So we invented the Drive-Thru Lane to enable families to eat in their vans as nature intended”
Often, when things don’t work out the way we hope or expect, we want to take the McDonald’s approach and ask God for immediate relief. Coming before God and waiting upon him is really an act of trust that God in his sovereign way will act in his time. David the Psalmist states;
“My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation. He is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken. ..My soul waits in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He is my only rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken…Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Ps. 62:1-2; 5-6; 8 (NIV)
Contemplate a challenge that you are facing. Read Psalm 62. Journal the ways that you are trusting God to take care of this for you.