C. R. Nichol was one of the great preachers, teachers and religious writers of the late 19th and early 20th century. He was known, not only for his scholarly work but for his wisdom and quick wit.
One morning, while taking a walk, a friend cheerily greeted him, “Good morning, Bro. Nichol, I see that you’re still in the land of the living.”
Without missing a beat, Nichol quickly quipped as he walked on, “No. I’m in the land of the dying. But I hope one day to go to the land of the living.”
I’ve been thinking about living and dying a lot lately. Especially since I’ve been preparing this summer to speak about death at the Charlestown Road church in New Albany, Indiana. The theme of their annual summer series was “Each Step I Take.”
Previous preachers have addressed what it means to walk in the steps of the Savior. Last night I presented the final lesson in the series, appropriately entitled, “The Final Steps with the Lord.” To prepare and present the lesson was a sobering assignment. It reminded me personally that there is a final step to be taken. And my job was to impress on others the seriousness of living life with a view to that final step.
David’s statement, as he was constantly dodging the daggers of King Saul who sought to take his life, is a good reminder. “There is only a step between me and death” (1 Sam. 20:3).
The step of death is certain. The Bible teaches it is a divine appointment that none of us will escape (Heb. (9:27). The Psalmist expressed this reality we all must face.
The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
(Ps 90: 10,12)
However, paradoxically, there is also uncertainty about death. When will it occur? Where? How? We don’t know. Some live well past 80 to 90. More and more people are living to 100. Yet, others take this final step in infancy. Or in the bloom of youth.
Since, we don’t know “what will be on the morrow,” every day and all of our plans ought to be made with the caveat, “if the Lord wills” (Jas 4:13-14). Furthermore, we must entrust our lives to the Shepherd who leads us, so we will not fear as we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps 23:4)
Death is a natural step. We often act as if something strange or unnatural has occurred when someone dies. But it is a part of God’s eternal purpose. “A time to be born, and a time to die (Eccl. 3:1-2). It is a step we must accept. Not only in the lives of our loved ones. But in our lives as well.
Death is our final earthly step. There’s no coming back. No second chance. No return. So, the wise man’s advice is well taken. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Eccl. 9:10).
Death can be a step that encourages others. When we live a faithful life and face death with courage, confidence, and calmness, we become a powerful witness to the world regarding the Christian hope. Recently we attended a celebration of life for our departed friend Nancy Wyckoff. She requested a celebration, not a funeral. Among the songs she picked was “Sing and Be Happy Today.” What an encouragement Nancy was, both in life and in death.
Death is a victorious step. Paul’s attitude toward life and death is summed up in a single sentence. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). When we live a faithful Christian life, in the Lord, death becomes a step of victory. We can look forward to the transformation of the resurrection day that Paul discussed in 1 Corinthians 15. We will be given a better body. To dwell in a better home. And live in a better land.
Through Christ, the enemy of death is conquered. And we can look forward to leaving the land of the dying and going home to the land of the living.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman