I have experienced quite a bit of loss through death in my life; parents, grandparents, close friends, and then six years ago, completely unexpectedly, my wife of 44 years! At my age, when you hear of someone who has died, you unconsciously take note of how old they were (and then secretly calculate the difference between your age and theirs!). I have lost a friend to COVID-19 and several more friends who are terminally ill from various other diseases, and they know they are dying. Death is much closer to me than it ever was, and it tends to pose some interesting discipleship challenges.
There’s a lot written about how to live a life of discipleship, but very little is written on the death process of a disciple of Christ. I had a father-in-law who was a great man of God, who loved to minister to people, and lived his life focused on the less fortunate. When he was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer, his progress towards the end of his life was an amazing example of godly dying. Many people who knew him, would come up to him and encourage him to deny that he was dying of cancer. They would prophesy over him that he would surely have many more years to serve the Lord because of his lifetime commitment to the less fortunate. His response was always a kind and generous affirmation of his faith in Christ. He did not hide his diagnosis nor the fact that his time was very limited. But he did not stop living, right up to the very end. He knew, “it is appointed unto man once to die” (Heb. 9:27) but that knowledge of death just could not immobilize him. He continued to glorify God in his life and in his ministry, right up to the end.
I think this is what Paul had in mind when he mocked death in his letter to Corinth when he basically said, “come on death, what happened to your sting? Come on grave, where is your victory?” (I Cor. 15:55, my paraphrase). He understood that Discipleship never stops, it continues long after we have experienced loss, or trauma. And, it continues even after we’ve been given a terminal diagnosis.
Several of the discipleship outcomes in the DDA speak to the skills we need on our path toward the end of life. I learned how amazingly supportive the Fellowship of the Local Church was when I lost my wife. They figuratively carried me on their outstretched arms, like young people do at concerts when their favorite musician dives into the mosh pit and they keep him aloft with their arms! We all need to learn how to Manage Negative Emotions when our physical bodies start failing us or our eyes grow dimmer. We need to maintain Hope for the Future when the future is as uncertain as the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted life, work, and fellowship.
I’ve been blessed to be given another chance at love when the Lord gave me a new partner after living alone for five years. She’s younger than I am, so it is incumbent upon me to monitor my Physical Health by watching my weight, remaining active, and always wearing a mask in public. But when my time comes, I’ll be looking to the examples of the saints in my life who not only knew how to live a life of discipleship when they were young and healthy, but those who knew how to die with a stubborn, confident sense of victory over death.
The Discipleship Dynamics Assessment TM is a discipleship tool that allows you to measure your discipleship progress in four of the Discipleship Outcomes that are mentioned in this blog (see the Outcomes in italics).