“What does death mean to you?”
I stared at the question on the volunteer application form. I was applying to volunteer at a local hospice. I left the question unanswered, hoping to get back to it after I had tackled all the easy questions on the form.
The timing for pondering over life and death turned out to be perfect. In my Bible study that week, we studied the life and death of Stephen (Acts 6-7).
Stephen’s ministry and teaching attract the ire of the Sanhedrin who accuse him of blaspheming against Moses and God. Stephen, fully aware of the seriousness of the allegations, neither cowers nor relents.
His impassioned speech not only declares the truth about Jesus but also indicts the religious leaders against the very charges they heaped upon him. Infuriated, they stone Stephen to death.
It’s a violent and painful death. Like Jesus’ death. Like the death of the apostles. Like the death of hundreds of believers in the early church. Like the death of many Christians today.
Not all passionate and courageous believers, however, die from persecution. There are examples, also, in the Bible, of faithful men who died a peaceful, natural death—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, among others.
Is it important, then, how we die? Is our love for God measured and rewarded by how we pass away? Was Stephen a more faithful servant of God than Abraham? Was Jim Elliot’s demise more impressive than Billy Graham’s?
While we can be assured that our final destination is Heaven, death is not guaranteed to be a happy ending. We may not comprehend the reasons why we all face our end differently. But we can be sure that God has a plan and purpose for how we leave this world.
God chooses some of us to make a bold statement for Him through our lives. While He chooses others to be powerful witnesses for Him in their final moments. Stephen performed signs and wonders while he was alive (Acts 6:8). But it was his martyrdom that bolstered and emboldened the early church (Acts 8:1-4).
I went back to the application form to complete the unfinished part. Death, to me, means to fall asleep (Acts 7:60), I wrote. And I whispered a prayer that I had never uttered before, “I surrender my death to you, Lord. Help me be obedient and courageous until the end.”
I do not know when or how God will take me home. I hope to, however, honor and glorify Him through my death, in the same way that I strive to exalt Him every day through my life.
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” Philippians 1:20 (NIV).
(This article was first published in my newsletter.)
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