What Would You Do Differently If This Were Your Last Year?
- Monday, August 20, 2001
Felix Lorenz, Jr., tells about Hubert Humphrey's funeral where sitting next to Humphrey's widow was former president and old political adversary of Humphrey's, Richard Nixon. (Nixon had gone through Watergate not long before this.)
Just before Humphrey's death, Humphrey had called Nixon and Jesse Jackson had asked him why. This is what Humphrey said to Jackson:
"Jesse, from this vantage point, with the sun setting in my life, all of the speeches, the political conventions, the crowds and the great fights are behind me now. At a time like this you are forced to deal with your irreducible essence, forced to grapple with that which is really important to you. And what I have concluded about life, when all is said and done, is that we must forgive each other, and redeem each other and then move on."
Let me ask you a question: How would you live this year differently if you knew that this would be the last year of your life on earth? What would you do differently? How would you act? In other words, if you were cramming for finals, what would be important to you?
After reading that quote of Hubert Humphrey's, I started thinking.
Of course I believe in heaven. I believe that death, for the Christian, is just a doorway into a new life ... I just wasn't planning on going so soon. No matter how strongly we believe in heaven, the prospect of one's own death does clear one's mind.
If I knew this was the last year, I would, with Humphrey, make sure that I was clear in my relationships. Jesus said, "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24).
Did you hear about the man, on his deathbed, who called his wife to his bedside? He said to her, "My dear, I want to forgive your brother, my brother-in-law. So, after my death, tell him that I forgive him. But wait until I'm dead."
I don't want to do that. I want to get it straight before I die. If I knew that I was going to die this year, I wouldn't want to leave any unfinished business. I know of nothing that stifles prayer and cuts off God's power to the Christian more than bitterness and an unforgiving heart. If I knew this was the last year of my life, I would express my love to Anna, our daughters and sons-in-law more. I would make sure that my friends knew how much I appreciated them. I would write a lot of letters to people I have offended and who have offended me to ask them to forgive me.
Secondly, if I knew that I was going home this year, I would treat all the "stuff" I have with a little less respect. Pocket change doesn't do you any good in a cemetery and nobody has ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul.
Jesus was making the same point I'm trying to make when, in Luke 12, he told about the farmer who looked out over his rich harvest, lit a cigar, decided to put his acreage in soil bank and said to himself, "I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry'" (18-19).
You will remember God's words to the farmer. "Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?" (20).
Thirdly, if I were cramming for finals this year, I think I would spend a little less time doing "religious" things and a lot more time with God (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7). I wouldn't give up church altogether, but I don't think I would serve on any committees, give a "flip" about arguing theology or spend any time whatsoever trying to enhance my religious reputation. I don't think I would read many religious books either ... especially those that want to show how wrong other Christians are.
Paul, in giving his testimony to Agrippa, said this: "They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee" (Acts 26:5). I doubt whether that was one of the things about which Paul would be proud when he went before the throne. Religion is okay, but not when you are dying.
Fourthly, if I knew this was the last year of my life, I would "goof off" a whole lot more than I do. Someone told me recently that he doubted that any man ever thought on his deathbed, "I wish I had spent more time at the office."
Most of the things I do aren't really that important. The preacher in Ecclesiastes said, "Vanity of vanities ... all is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 12:8). All that I do may not be vanity -- but a lot of it is. I spend too much time trying to get people to like me, too much time saying and doing the "right" things and too much time at the office working on stuff that really doesn't matter.
And then, finally, if I knew this was the last year I would be on earth, I would make sure that I was "fessed" up. God's grace is, of course, always available and my sin has already been forgiven -- past, present and future. However, I think I would spend the last year of my life looking at my sin and His grace. That way, I would go home in a wonderful state of praise.
At many of the parties of the ancient Egyptians, the host would put a mummified corpse at the head table. It had a tendency, I suppose, to put a damper on the party. But it did make those at the party think. That thinking is not altogether different than what I have written here.
Try it yourself. Write down what you would do differently if this were your last year on earth ... and then go out and do it.
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