Planning Ahead

I wrote this for a Christian magazine. But I have since thought more about it and feel it is a current message even today.

The funeral service is in full swing. Several songs have been sung. It is now time for the message. A man stands in front and begins: “Family members of our dear sister, her friends and acquaintances and everyone gathered here, allow me to encourage you. Do not grieve for our dear sister. Do not cry as if there is no hope. Our sister is no longer here. No, she is in a better place!” He gestures to the coffin where the body lies and continues, “What you see there is only the shell. She is not here. That’s right, this is only the shell; the nut is in heaven!”

Well, as far as I know, this funeral service hasn’t taken place yet. But imagine if it really happened. Would the speaker be considered irreverent? Would you be shocked or indignant if you were one of the people in the congregation? Worse, if you were a member of the family, would you look for stones to throw at him?

It all began when I asked a good friend, “Will you speak at my funeral service?” After a slight pause, he agreed. We then discussed how I would like my funeral service to be conducted. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not close to the three score and ten years spoken of in the Bible. Nor am I being macabre. It’s just that I see death as a transition — moving from one address to another. A funeral service, to me, is therefore a sort of send-off party.

So I’ve already written out my funeral service. While I hope that there will be some who will miss me (at least, my immediate family members) and perhaps shed some tears (we are, after all, people with feelings), in general, I’d like to see a celebration! I’ve put some thought into the sort of service I’d like. Being a wielder of the tambourine as an instrument of war and worship, tambourine dancers would be welcome. I have also selected some songs to indicate the genre of music I’d like to have played. The most important part of the service is the message. I want the gospel preached clearly, soundly and boldly. I want the speaker to make calls for salvation; hence, the conversation with my friend.

Of course, I am well aware that he might depart before me. However, he once made a statement years ago that has remained with me to this day. He observed that many Christians live as if their permanent address was here on earth. This is contrary to what we know, but many of us find the thought of dying very unsavoury. We have many things that we desire to hold on to, things that we are not willing to let go of. His stand was that we should move from being “willing to go and wanting to stay” to being “willing to stay and wanting to go”. If these words were spoken by someone who was experiencing a slow and painful death, perhaps we could understand his desire more easily. However, the person who uttered these profound words was very fit and energetic. He was a successful man and in the prime of his life.

Perhaps we should consider what we are willing to die for. What would we be prepared to give our lives for? Our family and loved ones would seem the most logical answer. Which leads then to the next question: Who or what do we love enough to die for?

Recently I had the privilege to meet a young girl who had been imprisoned for her faith. Together with her companion, she was locked up and beaten. But both girls remained steadfast. Furthermore, while detained, they followed the example of Paul by witnessing to their fellow prisoners. I am challenged by their love and passion for the Lord. Such single-mindedness and devotion! Given their lifestyle, perhaps when their time comes to move on, their passing might not even be marked by a funeral service. But they would nevertheless have a tremendous welcome in their new home as they hear the words of the Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant… Come and share your Master’s happiness.” (Matt 25:21)

When it is our desire to live a life that is good and faithful, serving with a spirit of excellence, not only will we have purpose and meaning to what we do on a day-to-day basis, but our departure will merely herald a reward. May we desire to say as Paul did, that “Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:20b-21).

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