The Right Way to Die!
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
- 2 Timothy 4:7
When I was just old enough to get a job, I heard about a job opening at the huge cemetery just down the street from where my family lived. The old caretaker needed someone to mow the cemetery lawn. So one day I walked down to the cemetery and knocked on the door at the caretaker's residence. When he came to the door, I said, "Sir, I understand there's a job opening here. I've come to apply for that position."
The old man, who had been the caretaker for more than forty years, looked me over and asked me a few questions. Then he told me to report to work on the following Monday.
That following Monday I started my short career at the local graveyard - my first real job! Every day after school, I quickly dashed down the hallway to put my books in my locker, and then rushed across town to the cemetery, pulled out my lawnmower, and went to the next section of the cemetery that needed to be mowed. Five days a week, I lived and worked among the dead!
Each day, I mowed and edged the weeds around new graves, old graves, mausoleums, and one section of the cemetery that was so old, no one could decipher the inscriptions on the limestone markers any longer. When it was time to bury someone, I helped dig the grave, lower the casket, and fill the grave with dirt. When the flowers wilted that loved ones had placed on the graves, I was the one who gathered up the dead flowers and took them to the garbage. I helped put up the tent that loved ones stood under during gravesite rites, and then I helped take it down.
Working in a graveyard had a very strong effect on my life in those formative years. God used that time in the graveyard to make me think about the seriousness and temporal nature of life in general, as well as what I was going to do with my own life.
As I walked between the tombstones, I'd look at them and ask myself, Who were these people? What did they do with their lives? Did they contribute anything to the world, or did they just live, die, and then disappear into these graves? Every day I thought about these questions. It made me determine that I would not pass from this earth without doing something significant for God with my life. I resolved that when I died, no one would have to ask, "Gee, I wonder who he was and what he did with his life?" To me, it was totally unacceptable that I would end up like so many others had - as just another name on another tombstone.
People don't like to think about dying, yet death is a reality each of us ultimately has to face. We may hope and wait for Jesus' return in our lifetime. But if He doesn't come before we die, then a day will come in all our futures when we will be laid in a coffin. Family and friends will come to our funeral services; the casket lid will be closed for the last time; and we will be lowered into a grave that will then get packed with dirt. Later our graves will have grass growing on top of them - and a young boy will push the lawnmower over them as a part of his job, just as I did years ago.
Like it or not, there is a funeral in all our futures unless Jesus comes while we are still alive. This thought may sound morbid, but if you live with this unavoidable fact before you at all times, it will help you to live a more balanced and committed life. Why is that? Because when you live thinking only of today, everything seems monumental. Yet the truth is, most of the things that steal our peace, hinder us from doing what God wants us to do, disrupt our joy, and hurt our relationships won't matter anymore when we die and stand before Jesus. The only thing that will matter then is what Jesus will say to us when we stand before Him and look into His eyes.
The apostle Paul told us, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). Because Paul lived with the awareness of that moment when he would stand before Jesus, he was able to keep pushing ahead even when times became exceedingly difficult. He knew that eventually life would pass and the difficult trials would end, and he would stand before Jesus to give account for his life.
This is why Paul wrote, "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17).
I love this verse, because it sheds light on Paul's attitude toward life and afflictions. He didn't like afflictions and he stood against them, but he refused to over-magnify them, choosing instead to view them as "light afflictions."
Would you call Paul's problems "light afflictions"? He faced rejection from some of his closest friends and, even worse, by many of the churches in Asia (2 Timothy 1:15). He had been severely beaten several times (2 Corinthians 11:24, 25). He had been shipwrecked three times (2 Corinthians 11:25). He had lived through perils in the city, in the wilderness, and at sea. He had been in peril of robbers, of heathens, and of false brethren and had endured periods of hunger, thirst, and sleeplessness (2 Corinthians 11:26, 27).
These were monumental problems, yet Paul refused to let them be monumental in his life. Instead, he deemed them "small stuff" - mere distractions compared to the eternal glory that awaited him.
What enabled Paul to press ahead when he was being assaulted so viciously? How could he maintain such a victorious attitude? How is it that he never surrendered to weariness, exhaustion, or to the devil's attacks?
These questions can all be answered by the foremost desire of Paul's heart: That he would one day hear Jesus say to him, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." Paul's driving motivation was his anticipation to hear Jesus say those words and to know that he had finished his race well. This is why Paul said, "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy…" (Acts 20:24).
At the end of his life, he wrote to Timothy and triumphantly declared, "I have fought a good fight…" (2 Timothy 4:7). The words "fought" and "fight" are from the Greek word agonidzo. This word means a struggle, a fight, a combat, or a fierce competition, and it is where we get the word agony. By using this word, Paul tells us that some of his ministry has been a real struggle - difficult, fierce, and agonizing. Yet Paul never budged an inch! He stayed in the fight and was faithful to his call!
This verse could literally be translated, "A good fight - that's what I fought!" That proclamation has the sense of victory and exhilaration. These are the sentiments of a man who has no regrets. He is proud of the contest in which he has been engaged. Regardless of all the others who have dropped out of the fight, Paul can say, "I stayed in there. A good fight - that's what I fought!"
Then Paul goes on to tell us, "…I have finished my course…." This word "course" is the Greek word dromos, which always describes a foot race or a running track. Also, notice that he referred to his life assignment as "my course." Paul knew precisely what race he was called to run, and he didn't attempt to run anyone else's course. In spite of all the things that tried to slow him down, knock him out of the race, and defeat him, he refused to quit running! No matter what happened, Paul just stayed right on track - true to the course God had given him. Thus, this part of the verse could be translated, "My race - I ran it with all my might, never stopping until I knew I had reached the goal and finished it!"
Lastly, Paul writes, "…I have kept the faith." The Greek word for "kept" is the word tereo. It is the same Greek word used to depict a watch of soldiers who were positioned to protect something important. The job of these soldiers was to stand guard and to keep watch. They were to be faithful and remain committed to their charge of keeping watch regardless of the kind of assault or the number of attackers they might encounter.
This is the word Paul uses when he says, "I have kept the faith." Even though he encountered difficulties and challenges, he never left his post or surrendered to the assaults and attacks that came against him. Through it all, Paul kept watch over the mission and the message God gave him!
When you put all of this together, Second Timothy 4:7 could be understood to say this:
"A good fight - that's what I fought! My race - I ran it with all my might, never stopping until I knew I had reached the goal and finished it! The faith - I protected it, guarded it, and watched over it with all my heart and strength. In spite of the assaults and attacks, I stayed true to my assignment!"
This soldier of the Lord has everything to shout about! His ministry may have been difficult, but he made it! Paul never gave an inch to the enemy. Now as he faces his own death, he isn't fearful; rather, he rejoices because he knows he has done well. He's ready to depart this earth and to be forever with his Lord! Looking toward that moment when he will finally stand before Jesus, Paul confidently writes, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8).
When you are tempted to be sidetracked and distracted by the problems of life, try to find a few minutes to be alone with the Lord. Remind yourself that all your problems are fleeting and that they will soon pass. But your obedience to God is eternal, so there is nothing more important than doing what God has told you to do.
When you stand before Jesus, all the challenges you faced will be forgotten, and just one question will remain. Jesus will want to know, "Did you do what I asked you to do, or did you get distracted and let the cares of life stop you from fulfilling your assignment?"
It will help you live a more balanced and committed life if you will keep everything that happens to you in perspective of that day when you stand before Jesus. Don't you want to look into His face with confidence? Of course you do. So take the attitude of the apostle Paul. Decide to deliberately view your problems as nothing but "light affliction" that won't last too long. On the other hand, what you do with God's call on your life will last forever, so don't let those measly little problems prevent you from pushing onward toward the high calling of God!
Just as the apostle Paul finished his race with joy, you can finish your course with joy and victory as well. Determine today that you will be a soldier of the Lord who can look back one day and be proud of the fight you fought, the race you ran, and the faith you kept - a soldier with no regrets!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, help me to keep my focus and to not allow the challenges I face to distract me from fulfilling Your will for my life. I know that the enemy keeps surrounding me with distractions because You have called me to do something important. Rather than let these nuisances break me and steal my joy, help me keep my eyes focused on that day when I will stand before You. I ask that Your Spirit will supernaturally energize me to push beyond the obstacles and keep pressing forward to the high calling You have designed for my life!
I pray this in Jesus' name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I boldly declare that I am a winner and not a loser. I don't throw in the towel and quit when it gets hard; instead, I dig in my heels and refuse to surrender the territory that God has called me to conquer and possess. I live my life seriously and with balance and commitment. Because of God's Spirit inside me, I am tougher than any challenge and stronger than any foe. I fight a good fight and run a good race - and I successfully guard over and hold tight to the assignment God has given to my life!
I declare this by faith in Jesus' name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Have you ever thought about what people will say about you after you have died? Will they know of the contribution you made in life, or will they ask, "Gee, I wonder who that person was and what he (or she) did?"
- Can you verbalize what God has called you to do with your life? If someone asked you to describe your life assignment, would you be able to intelligently answer his question?
- If you have allowed the challenges of life to distract you and throw you off schedule in doing God's will, don't you agree that it's time for you to get back on track again?