All along I thought I was learning how to take
How to bend not how to break
How to laugh not how to cry
But really I’ve been learning how to die
I’ve been learning how to die
My dad was a distance runner. He always taught me that it’s not about how well you start a race, but how well you finish. He was right; morbid as it may sound, life is about learning how to die. While we’re going through the motions of working and loving, giving and forgiving, we’re tempted to think the motions are our ultimate purpose. Life is here for the sake of life. We forget that for those of us who are in Christ, life is a process of sanctification that will be fulfilled only in glorification at death or upon Christ’s return.
My dad is a beautiful example of finishing well. During his life he battled sin and fought pride but at the end all you saw was humility and utter dependence on Christ. Days before his passing, he looked our family in the eye and expressed that though he would miss us and grieved over not being present for us here on earth, he was not afraid of dying. He was confident of where he was going and he knew that Jesus had gone to prepare a place for him. He could have chosen to be foolish and reject God’s grace. He could have been angry about the cancer in his body taking him away. But he was at peace and walked in humility.
Two biblical kings contrast to illustrate the importance of finishing well. John Piper recently wrote an article mentioning Asa, the King of Judah who ended his life in foolish unbelief. King Asa begins well, but by the end of his life completely rejects God. The Chronicler wraps up the miserable saga:
In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord. (1 Chron 16:12)
Then, later in Judah’s history comes King Hezekiah, who also begins well. He cleanses the temple, restores temple worship, reinstates the Passover after many years of negligence, and organizes the priests and the Levites to serve (2 Chron 29-31). But then comes a worrisome passage:
In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death, and he prayed to the LORD, and he answered him and gave him a sign. But Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 32:24-25)
I know you’re howling: “No King Hezekiah! Don’t make the same mistake as your forefather Asa! Don’t you know that life is about learning how to die? Finish well my friend!” (Ok perhaps I’m alone in yelling at the pages of my Bible). But then, beautiful redemption in the next verse:
But Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the LORD did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah. (2 Chronicles 32:26)
It goes on to say that Hezekiah had great riches at the end of his days, and that he was greatly honored by all at his death.
The reward for humility and fear of the LORD
is riches and honor and life.
Those who live looking toward death in Christ can walk in true humility. As with King Hezekiah, my dad was honored by everyone who knew him at the time of his death. He was crowned with eternal riches and given eternal life.