One of the first prayers I learned to pray was my bedtime prayer. I do not remember how old I was when I first learned it, but I know I was just a young boy. Over the years it has helped millions of children get ready for bed. You probably know it by heart:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake,
I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to take.
It is the third line that always struck me as unusual: “If I should die before I wake.” It seems odd that little children in the springtime of life should mention death in their bedtime prayer. But if you think about it, it’s not odd at all. Death comes to all of us sooner or later. Sometimes to children. And sometimes in the night before we wake.
There is an art to dying well. The Puritans spoke of “dying grace,” which is the special help God gives his children as they prepare to cross the final river. I suppose all of us are planning to live a long time, but these days you can never be sure. The stray bullet, the out-of-control driver, the renegade gang member, the sudden heart attack, the unexpected tumor, who knows what will happen next? Any of us could be struck down at any moment.
“Man does not know his time” (Ecclesiastes 9:12). No one know what tomorrow may bring. As I sit here typing late at night, I have my own list of things I need to do. Perhaps I will get them done. Perhaps God has other plans for me. There are no guarantees that I will even be alive 24 hours from now.
How much longer do you expect to live?
Everyone has an answer to that question even if we don’t want to say it aloud. If you are in your 20s, you probably expect to live at least 50 more years. If you are 50, you probably expect another 20-30 years. And if you are over 65, you certainly know that the sands of time are slipping away very quickly.
Here is one mark of genuine Christianity. When you come to the end of your life, you still hold on to what you believe. When someone dies suddenly, we all want to know: What were his final words? What was on his mind as he was exiting this world? Did he leave any messages? Did he give any final instructions?
What were his final words?
We come now to the final moments of Joseph’s life. In order to set the scene, we need to know one crucial fact. Fifty years have passed since Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). That half-century is covered in just one sentence, “Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father’s family” (Genesis 50:22). Joseph’s final words are recorded in two places: Genesis 50 and Hebrews 11. From looking at these two passages, we discover how faith shows itself at the end of life.
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