As I write this, I am preparing for two funerals. One for a lady that I have never met and the other for my granddad who I was very much close to. In my relatively short time in ministry, I have officiated or had some sort of participation in a total of 87 funerals or memorial services. So I have spent a lot of time with those who mourn. In light of such, I continue to find myself coming back to Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 7:2, It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
Now all of us would much rather go to a festive party than the funeral parlor. I think that it is safe to say that none of us enjoy going to funerals. With each and every funeral that I continue to do as part of my calling as pastor, I look forward more and more to that day when our Lord returns and brings about the new heaven and new earth as consummation of God’s grand plan of redemption. Where there will no longer be any funerals for the redeemed since death shall be no more (Revelation 21:4). Oh, come Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)
Yet Solomon realizes that there is much more wisdom to be gained at the funeral than at the festival. Because it is at the funeral that we are brought face to face with the reality of death. A reality that we typically do not think about or focus on when we are enjoying ourselves at the party. But one we cannot afford to forget as death gives us a much greater perspective on life. The truth is that it is only when we come to grips with the fact that we will each one day die that we can rightly live. Solomon knows that we live best in light of death. Which is why he continually highlights that future reality throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. As David Gibson has said, “It is the destination that makes sense of the journey. If we know for sure where we are heading, then we can know for sure what we need to do before we get there.” Nothing helps you keep your priorities in order like being mindful that death is eventually on the horizon.
So what difference does keeping your coming death in view make in your daily life? Well, for one thing, it forces you to consider eternity and where you will spend it. At a funeral, one comes face to face with the fact that one day it will be them in the casket that others will be coming to look at. And it causes them to ponder just where will their soul be at the time. This serves as one of the main reasons why I am sure to share the gospel at every funeral that I do. It is the one time that people cannot deny that death is coming and are brought to think about what comes next. They might be more apt to hear about God's coming judgment for sin and the only escape from that judgment that God Himself has graciously provided through the sinless obedient life, sacrificial substitutionary death, and victorious conquering resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The reality of death really serves as the antidote to greed and an encouragement for generosity. Knowing that we will not be on this present earth for all eternity to maintain our hold on our material possessions causes us to release our too often tight grip on them and be more willing to share them with others. After all, we can’t take any of it with us when we are gone. Someone else is going to get our stuff anyway. We might as well travel light and not be so much afraid of handing it over. Don’t forget about the case Jesus shared about the man who built bigger barns (Luke 12:16-21)!
Living our life in light of death also reminds us not to take things for granted and to treasure the gifts that God has graciously given us. A few weeks ago after conducting the funeral of a young man in his twenties who died of cancer, I went home and hugged my little John extra tight. I was more mindful of the precious gift that he is and that I have no guarantee that in God’s good plan just how long we may have him. I can’t assume that he will be with us to enjoy for the rest of our lives and to be around after our passing. And the same is true for my wife as I have done the funerals of several spouses of various ages. Isn’t it true that we have the tendency to take the most important things in our lives for granted? We would do well to heed these lessons from the funeral parlor.
Recognizing that death is coming keeps us from wasting our days but teaches us to make our days count. We really are only here for a little while and we don’t know how long of a little while we have been given. So we don’t want to put off until tomorrow what we can do today. And of course we know as believers that the way to truly make our days count is in service to the Lord. Investing in eternal matters and not allowing ourselves to get sidetracked with trivial ones. As that little poem goes, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” I believe that it was D. L. Moody who once said that “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn't really matter.” We don’t want to get to the end of our lives to find out that we were successful at things that didn’t really matter in light of eternity. And the way to guard against that from happening is to keep our future death in focus.
As much as we may not like spending time in the funeral parlor, we can see the need for the reminder of the reality of death that we would be wise not to forget. Let’s pray with David, O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! (Psalm 39:4) and see the difference such a mindset makes in how we live our lives today.
Love in Christ,