If you were told that at best you had only seven more days to live, what would you do differently? For some of us, our priorities would be immediately rearranged. For example, we would probably reach out to loved ones to repair broken relationships; make restitution where needed; evaluate ourselves spiritually to make sure our hearts were right with God; read our Bible more; and some of the things we considered important (social media, people’s opinions, egotistical tendencies) suddenly didn’t seem to matter. We do all of this and more because we want to make sure that if there really is an afterlife, we want to be on the winners’ side.
It is not unusual to hear people speak of individuals, some of whom died without having a personal relationship with God through Christ, as having gone to a “better place.” In the Christian tradition, we want them, and us, to go to heaven and not that other place. For those taken from us without notice, they died as they were without any chance to do anything differently. No chance to make any wrongs right. There is no repentance in the grave; there is no conversion after the last breath is drawn. It is said that funerals are not for the dead but for the living in that they remind us of our own mortality. In the midst of life, we are in death. While we do not know when the time will come, we know that “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27, KJV). In other words, death is not final. That is why if given time, we would use it to prepare. Not only is it important how we live, but it is also just as important how we die. As American engineer and scientist Charles Kettering reminds us, “We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.”
Jesus gave a lesson on this when He told His disciples a parable: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21, ESV). In the midst of his planning for the present and future in this life, he had given no thought to the afterlife (Psalm 14:1) and the fact that the date and time of his final appointment were out of his control. He thought he had time but he did not. He had his priorities all wrong.
Steve Jobs was right when he said, “If you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” In the book of James, we read: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. . . . As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-14, 16). Clearly, tomorrow is not promised and we should not presumptuously assume otherwise (v. 15). As creatures of habit, it is easy to take that for granted. So, if you were told that at best you had only seven more days to live, what would you do differently? Whatever is on your list, and mine, are the things we should be doing today because those are our true priorities. In the light of eternity, everything else is not as important.