We don’t spend enough time talking about it. It’s the subject that everyone is thinking about, everyone will experience, and very few bring up in polite conversation. It's death.
Even when people are terminally ill, or have a loved one who is near death, they tend to avoid saying anything about what is uppermost in their minds. Death may be staring them right in the face, but they make small talk about everything from the weather to the Dallas Cowboys.
Let’s change that. And let’s start by talking about our own deathbed.
Most of us will know, or at least have a good idea, that our death is near. Picture yourself there. As you near the end of this earthly life, what would you like to look back on? What kind of legacy would you like to leave your family and friends?
I have my list. It may seem strange to you, but, when I think about my own death, I often think in terms of positive failures. I invite you to read through them, think about them, and ask yourself, “When I’m on my own deathbed, what will I regret, what will I cherish, what will have defined me?”
On my deathbed, as I look back over my life, I hope I can say that I have failed in these five ways.
- I’ve failed to follow my heart. If there was ever an untrustworthy guide, it is the human heart. With good reason the prophet Jeremiah says that “the heart is deceitful above all things,” (17:9). My heart will steer me toward temporary emotional highs that land me in fathomless pits of suffering. When I’m standing at crossroads, the heart will always choose the broad and easy way. It's a lazy guide, fat with emotion, drunk on the liquor of what-feels-good. I hope on my deathbed that I can say that I failed to follow my heart and instead followed the word of God. That word cannot deceive. It is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. It may direct me down a way that is narrow and steep and emotionally grueling, but it never leads me astray. And it is that divine word that not only guides me through life, but prepares me for leaving this life, for life in Christ beyond this world.
- I’ve failed to be one of whom all people speak well. If all people speak well of me, then I have not been the person God wants me to be. Jesus Himself once said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you,” (Luke 6:26). If I have stood up for the underdog, if I have come to the defense of the slandered, if I have spoken the truth when it was unpopular, then I have will enemies. Blessed is the man who makes enemies because he does what is right, no matter what the consequences. But woe to the man who tries to please everyone, who speaks out of both sides of his mouth, just so that everyone will like him and speak well of him. Speaking the truth got Jesus murdered. Speaking the truth will often turn people against you. But a life well lived will mean doing and saying unpopular things. I hope, on my deathbed, that there will be some who are glad that I’m dying. That will likely mean I’ve been bold and faithful enough to speak God’s truth.
- I’ve failed to live a life devoted to the pursuit of happiness. We all want to be happy; the question is whether we pursue happiness or those things that lead to joy. If I live a life devoted to the pursuit of happiness, I will be chasing after an emotion. And that chase will drive me to make selfish, destructive choices that ultimately ruin the very thing I seek. Happiness is a cruel god; its worshipers spend their lives chasing it, and never truly finding it. Happiness is good—indeed, it is a divine gift—if it is found in those things that God desires us to have. To pursue a faithful marriage, raise godly children, foster friendships, remain diligent at work, be a faithful member of a congregation—hidden in those pursuits is true joy. That doesn’t mean you’ll always be happy, but it does mean that you’ll be where God wills you to be. And where He is, there joy and happiness are found. When I look back over my life, I hope I can say that I have failed to pursue happiness but pursued God and His gifts instead.
- I’ve failed to believe in myself. True confidence in life is not found in believing in yourself, but believing in God—believing that Jesus is on your side, by your side, working in you to accomplish His will. To believe in myself is to believe in a sinner. The Scriptures tell us not to “trust in princes, in mortal man in whom there is no salvation,” (Psalm 146:3). And if I am not to trust in princes, how much less am I to trust in myself. I will screw something up. I always do. But God, who is always faithful, will work in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight. He will forgive our screw-ups for the sake of Christ. He will grant us confidence by granting us His Spirit. To live a life in which I fail to believe in myself, but believe in the Christ who dwells within me, who is for me, is the kind of life I desire.
- I’ve failed to be a first place winner. At the end of my life, I hope to look back and rejoice in the accomplishments of others. I hope to look back at how I have helped others succeed, placed their interests ahead of my own, cheered them on as they finished in first place. We live in a culture that celebrates winning the gold, getting ahead of everyone else, being first. God celebrates losing, being behind everyone else, finishing last. Paradoxically, only there is true victory. Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all,” (Mark 9:35). And Paul writes, “with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself,” (Philippians 2:3). This is the way of our Lord, who although He was God, emptied Himself, took on the form of a servant, and humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8). In that service Christ did for us, we win; we win what Christ has won for us by His loss. His death is our life. His death is our sure victory. As I lie on my deathbed, I hope I can see how Christ was at work in my own life to transform my defeats into victories for others, how being last put others first.
These are the five failures I hope to achieve before I die. I know that I will do none of them perfectly. But that’s okay, because I have a Savior who has done all things perfectly for me. On His own deathbed, which was the cross, He poured out His life for us that we might be able to face our own deaths with confidence. We know that all those who believe in Him, even though they die, yet shall they live.