Receiving the diagnosis of a terminal disease can devastate you. You'd always known you'd die someday, but now the end of your life is looming much too close for comfort. There's still so much you'd like to experience, yet you'll soon be forced to exit this world for the next.
You can recoil from the news, lash out at God, and sink into despair. Or you can embrace your illness as a valuable opportunity to know God better before you meet Him in eternity. If you choose to do the latter, you'll discover the surprising reality that one of your greatest challenges can lead to some of your greatest joy.
Here's how you can finish your time on Earth with joy:
Make a crucial decision. No matter what emotions you might experiencing at any given moment, decide that you will continue to love, trust, and obey God as long as you're alive. Determine that the last season of your life will be a faithful one, in which you stay connected to God.
Be honest. Don't try to suppress any of your thoughts or feelings. Realize that it's natural to experience fear, anger, sorrow, doubt, regret, grief, and plenty of other troubling attitudes when facing a terminal illness. Pour out your heart to God regularly in prayer, acknowledging the full extent of your hurt. Remember that He already knows what you're experiencing and wants to walk with you through your trial.
Know where your real home is. Understand that Earth isn't meant to be a permanent home; it's just a temporary place to learn and grow briefly before reaching your real home - heaven. Ask God to help you loosen your ties to whatever doesn't have eternal value and look forward to meeting Him face to face. Trust that God's promises about the glories of heaven are true. If you haven't yet been saved, begin a relationship with Christ that will last for eternity. If you've already been saved, ask Him to give you the peace you need as you prepare to go to heaven.
Ask God to give you His perspective on your suffering. Realize that God wouldn't have allowed a disease to come into your life unless He intends it to help accomplish an ultimately good purpose for you. Even though it's difficult, ask God to show you what He wants you to learn from this experience. Find out how God wants you to look at the challenge before you. Discover how it can actually increase your faith. Remember that God, who gave you life, is in ultimate control of both your life and death, and will always choose to do what's best. Rather than focusing on your disease, focus on God. Remember His great love and power.
Remember what Christ experienced. Know that Christ went through the full range of human suffering during His time on Earth, so He completely understands what you're going through. Remind yourself of how He faced His own death with faith, died on the cross to save the world, and defeated death for those who trust in Him - including you - through His resurrection. Look to His example of how to deal with imminent death: He confronted it through prayer, He spent time in fellowship with other people, He made arrangements for His family's care, He faced the pain with courage, He expressed His feelings honestly, He pointed to the Scriptures, He witnessed to others, and He settled accounts for eternity.
Don't isolate yourself. Although you may think it's easier to retreat from your relationships during this crisis, understand that you need your loved ones more than ever. Use the time you have remaining to heal fractured relationships and build more intimacy with family members and friends. Know that people who care about you genuinely want to help you, and that they're often blessed by opportunities to help as much as you are by receiving help. Don't be shy about letting them know specific ways they can help meet any of your needs.
Keep pursuing goals. Don't just wait to die. Instead, use the time you have left to keep pursuing goals God has placed on your heart. Realize that you can still be incredibly productive, using your God-given talents to contribute to the world and interceding in prayer for others if you're not mobile. Understand that even if you have just a short time left on Earth, there's still something important that God wants you to do. Aim high so you can finish strong. Tell God that you want Him to keep working powerfully in and through you. Ask God to give you the strength you need to stay focused on your goals until you've accomplished everything He wants you to accomplish.
Give your worries to God. Whenever a worry pops into your mind, take it captive and offer it to God in prayer. Know that He cares about you, and will always respond. Ask the Holy Spirit to constantly renew your mind to help you think positively.
Maintain spiritual disciplines. Don't neglect basic strength-building spiritual disciplines such as prayer, meditation, and reading the Bible. Practice them regularly. Ask Christ to use them to guide your plans, desires, will, and emotions, since He is the way, the truth, and the life.
Embrace God's mercy in a fresh way. Let your struggles make you even more aware of the dark depravity of your condition in a fallen world, and how much you need God's mercy. Thank God for that mercy, and embrace it with joy.
Take care of final details before you depart. Prepare a will, plan and pay for your funeral, write down or record your personal testimony of faith, and hold conversations with loved ones to tie up loose ends and communicate forgiveness and enduring love.
Adapted from The Journey Home: Finishing with Joy, copyright 2003 by Bill Bright. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.
Bill Bright led Campus Crusade for Christ International, an organization of more than 26,000 full-time staff and more than 553,000 trained volunteers operating in 190 countries. The film JESUS, which was his idea, is the most widely viewed motion picture ever produced - seen by more than 55 billion people in more than 800 languages and dialects. The author of more than 100 books and booklets, including Come Help Change the World, Witnessing Without Fear, The Coming Revival, and The Secret, Dr. Bright went to heaven in July 2003.