LIVE LIKE YOU WERE DYING
Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life (Psalm 39:4).
What if this year were your last? How would you live it? What sort of person would you be? What would you do? If you knew you would die before the end of this year, how would you spend the time you have left?
Country singer Tim McGraw’s hit song, “Live Like You Were Dying,” tells of a man in his forties who finds out that he’s got a deadly illness. How does he respond? Does he become bitter and sit around waiting to die? No, facing death is the best thing that ever happened to him. He treasures every moment and makes the most of his time. He does some exciting things he always wanted to do, things he was too busy or scared to try before. He lets go of old grudges, loves his family and friends more deeply, reads the Bible, starts living life the way he should have all along, and treasures each new day as a gift. He loves his new way of living so much that he says, “I hope someday you get the chance to live like you were dying.”
What if this year were your last? How would you live it? For some of you, the question is real. Doctors have told you that you have a deadly illness, and you expect this year to be your last. Others of you don’t expect to die in 2005, but some will. You don’t see death coming, but a sudden accident or heart attack can end your life when you least expect it.
It can happen to any of us. I had a close call myself last year. I was vacationing with my wife and children on my parent’s ranch in Montana. My three-year-old son and I climbed on a four-wheeler ATV. Little Joel and I were going to help round up some cattle. I started the four-wheeler and pulled out from behind a parked van onto the road. I wasn’t being careful, and I didn’t take time to stop and look for oncoming traffic. Too late I saw a car rushing toward me and heard tires screeching. I threw my arms around my little boy. The car smacked into the four-wheeler, knocking it sideways. That could have been the end of my little son and me. But God had other plans. Joel was not hurt, and I only had some scratches and bruises. God gave us more time, but that near-miss showed me again how fragile life is, how even the healthiest person can die in a moment.
Death will come for some of us in 2005. It may come for me; it may come for you. That’s not being gloomy; it’s being realistic. We don’t know when, we don’t know how, we don’t know whom, but we do know that death will come for some of us this year. If this turned out to be your last year, how would you want to spend your time?
Most of us probably won’t die this year. We’ll survive till 2006. But 2005 might still be a better year for us if we would go through this year as though it were our last. What would you do differently if you lived like you were dying?
Even if we survive this year, the truth is that we are all dying. We are all living on borrowed time. Death is closer for some than for others, but we are all going to die when our time is up. Focusing on that fact is one of the best things we can do. Thinking about death won’t ruin your life; it can transform your life.
The country song says it’s good to live like you were dying, and so does the Bible. In Psalm 39:4 David prays, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” In Psalm 90 Moses says, “We finish our years with a moan… they quickly pass, and we fly away… Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
When God helps you to face the fact that life is short and death is coming, you follow what God puts in your heart. You spend less time watching TV and pay more attention to God’s Word. You spend less time being entertained by others and more time making your own life the adventure God meant it to be. Instead of killing time, you make every moment count. You love life and you love the people around you. The dying man in the song says,
I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t
And I became a friend a friend would like to have.
And all ’a sudden going fishin’ wasn’t such an imposition
And I went three times that year I lost my dad.
And I finally read the Good Book
and I took a good long hard look
At what I’d do if I could do it all again.
And then I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing.
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu.
And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.
And he said, “One day I hope you get a chance
To live like you were dying.”
Follow Your Heart
If this year were your last, would you live differently? Would you be more daring? Would you be more loving? Would you focus more on God?
A while ago I was planning future radio programs, and I was thinking about what to say at the beginning of the new year. My mind kept going to Psalm 39:4, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” As I prayed and thought about this, I felt led to focus on the question, “What if this year were your last?”
An airline flight confirmed the idea. On the plane, I got into a conversation with the person next to me, a woman in her thirties. We talked about various things and then she said, “I just went skydiving for the first time.”
I asked, “Were you scared?”
“No,” she said, “it was fantastic.” She told about the thrill of falling through the air and the awesome sight of the world beneath her. She said it was something she’d always wanted to do, and she finally went out and did it after she heard Tim McGraw’s song about the guy who went skydiving.
This woman wanted to be more fully alive, and she wasn’t just looking for high-risk thrills. She wanted to get closer to Jesus and help her daughters walk with Jesus. She had made some past choices that weren’t ideal and had been through some tough times, but now she was praying with her girls every day, and she wanted to do even more. She liked my suggestions on reading the Bible each day personally and as a family. She was excited about God’s Word transforming lives. After talking with her, I was all the more sure that God wanted me to ask radio listeners, “What if this year were your last?” and to challenge each of you to live like you were dying.
I’m not eager to go sky diving like my fellow passenger or to ride a ferocious rodeo bull for a few seconds like the guy in the song. I’ve done my share of horseback riding, and I have a brother who rode bulls in some rodeos, but my life will be complete without riding in a rodeo and letting some huge brute jar my bones and buck me off. That’s just not my thing.
Still, I have other adventures I’d like to try, and you probably do too. Too often we tell ourselves, “That would be too risky” or “That would be too costly” and we stay stuck in our day-to-day rut. Time dribbles away, and before we realize it, we’ve run out of time, or we’ve lost the energy and strength to follow our heart, live our dream, and pursue our adventure.
The Bible book of Ecclesiastes talks about how life is short and how we tend to waste our time on things that are joyless, meaningless, and godless. Don’t waste the precious time God gives you. You only live once. Now is the time to enjoy life and pursue your dreams. Ecclesiastes says, “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love… Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (9:9-10). “However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all… Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see” (11:8-9).
Live like you were dying—because you are. Stop trying to play it safe all the time. Stop trying to impress other people or meet their expectations. Stop worrying that people will think you’re weird. Be free! Be yourself! Some people may pressure you to be prim and proper and boring. Others may pressure you to be stupid and self-destructive by smoking or drinking or doing drugs. You may feel pressure to get A’s in school like your sister, or to go into the same line of work as your father, or to make as much money as a couple down the street, or to do your job exactly the same way as the person who held the position before you. But if you live to meet all those expectations, you won’t really live, and you won’t really be you. So do what Scripture says. Do everything with all your might, enjoy each day, and follow the ways of your heart.
Ready for the Judge
Does that mean anything goes, as long as you like doing it? No, be happy and follow the ways of your heart, says Ecclesiastes, “but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment” (11:9) You don’t have to answer to all the self-appointed judges who try to run your life, but you do have to answer to one Judge: the Lord God himself. Use your energy and enthusiasm to enjoy God’s gift of life, not to misuse it. Don’t think only of yourself and your own pleasure. Think about how you want to be remembered by others after you die. Think about God and about where you will spend eternity after you die. Is your present life taking you toward heaven or hell?
The Bible says, “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). If you live like you were dying, you will live in a way that meets God’s approval. You can’t do that without Jesus. You’re not perfect, so you need Jesus’ perfection credited to you. God promises to do that if you trust Jesus as your Savior and follow him as Lord. I have heard from people on death row who found Jesus only after they were sentenced to death for their crimes. I have heard from people who got serious about salvation only after they learned they were dying of cancer. They realized that they were not ready for eternity, that they were headed for hell, and they came to Christ before it was too late.
Jesus can save people even at the last moment, but many of us don’t know when our last moment will be, and we don’t get advance warning. Death comes suddenly, and then we have no more chance to get ready for judgment.
Besides, if you don’t want to die without Christ, why live without him? If you don’t want to spend eternity without Jesus, why spend any more time without him? If dying apart from God is hell, living apart from God is also a slice of hell. If you want to be with Christ in heaven, then walk with Christ on earth—starting now. Get right with God through faith in Jesus’ blood. Study the Bible and find out what pleases God. Ask yourself what kind of scenes from your life you want replayed on judgment day. Then make those scenes a reality now. Live like you’ll be facing the judge soon. Live like you were dying.
Jack Welch was head of General Electric for many years and was the most admired CEO in the business world. Jack Welch had a brush with death. He had a heart attack and underwent quintuple bypass surgery. An interviewer asked Welch what he learned from this life-threatening moment. Welch swore and said, “I didn’t spend enough money.” Welch vowed never again to drink any wine that cost less than $100 a bottle. If that’s the biggest lesson he learned from facing death, he’s not ready to die, and he’s not ready to live right. A few years after his heart surgery, Jack Welch divorced his second wife and married someone thirty years his junior. He evidently cares more about pleasing his own appetites than pleasing God.
Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” The man in the country song says, “I finally read the good book and I took a good long hard look at what I’d do if I could do it all again.” He enjoys a few thrills while he has the chance, but he doesn’t chase a new trophy wife or focus only on having as much fun as money can buy. He wants to live in a way that honors the Bible and pleases God. He wants to pour more love into family and friends, and he grants forgiveness which he had been denying.
Living like you were dying means aiming to be at peace with God and with other people. For that to happen, there must be forgiveness. You’ve sinned against God, and you need his forgiveness before you die. You’ve sinned against other people, and you need to ask their forgiveness before you die. Other people have sinned against you, and you need to forgive them before you die and before they die. And since you never know when death might strike, now is the time to pursue forgiveness and renew relationships.
I once made a decision that angered a member of a church where I was pastor. I thought I was right. He thought I was wrong. Neither of us could persuade the other. That in itself wouldn’t have been so serious—living with disagreements is part of life. But when I wouldn’t change my position, this man got so upset with me that he stopped going to church. I wanted to reconcile with him, despite our disagreement, but he refused. Even after I moved away from the area, he stayed home from church. I couldn’t do anything more but pray. I hoped he wouldn’t go to his grave holding a grudge and avoiding church.
Years later I got a letter that filled me with joy. The man had started going to church again, and he wanted to leave his bitterness behind. It had been tormenting him for all those years. He still wasn’t convinced I had been right, and that was fine with me—he didn’t have to see things my way. We didn’t have to agree; we just had to treat each other as brothers in Christ. I was almost bursting with happiness as I read his letter. I wrote back that very day to thank him and to say how glad I was to be on good terms again. I would have felt awful if he had died before we could be reconciled, and he would have felt awful if I had died while he was still holding a grudge against me. But by God’s grace, there’s no more grudge.
Are you holding any grudges? Can you think of anyone you’ve stayed angry at, anyone you’ve refused to forgive? If this year were your last, would you want to go the grave with resentment festering in your heart? You don’t want to die that way, do you? So don’t live that way! If you don’t want to carry a grudge for eternity, why carry it another day? Let it go now. The Bible says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 2:13). Don’t wait until you’re dying. Forgive now. Reconcile now. Live like you were dying.
Maybe you don’t have a grudge against someone, but you know someone who feels hurt by you. If you know you were wrong but never said you were sorry, there’s no better time than right now to apologize and ask forgiveness. It’s awful when two people are at odds and then one of them dies. Long-time friends may blow up and stay angry at each other, and then one dies. The one who survives wishes she could see her friend just one more time, to put their anger behind them and hug again, but now she can only regret what she didn’t do. Relatives can hurt each other’s feelings, and neither one wants to take the first step toward healing their wounded relationship. Then one of them dies, and the opportunity is gone. They missed their chance to heal the relationship and show how much they really love each other.
Even if you don’t think you were in the wrong, even if you think none of the problem was your fault, don’t use that as an excuse to do nothing. Jesus says that if you think of someone who is upset with you, drop whatever you’re doing, go find that person, and seek to restore the relationship (Matthew 5:23-24). Do what you can to show you care. Try to heal the relationship. You might not succeed; in some cases, the other person won’t have any part of you. Reconciling takes two; you can’t fix it if the other person isn’t willing. But do whatever is within your power. The Bible says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
Relationships are too precious to be trashed for the sake of pride. Life is too short to waste on sin and bitterness. Eternity is too long to spend in the realm of those who refuse forgiveness, that horrible place called hell. So get right with God, get right with others, and make every moment count.
Make Every Moment Count
Start this year by praying the words of Psalm 39:4, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” Then commit yourself to living by the words of Ephesians 5:16, “making the most of every opportunity,” or as an older version puts it, “redeeming the time.”
Redeeming time is the opposite of killing time. How often do you turn on the television just to see what’s on? You don’t know of any excellent show that you’re eager to see, but you zap through channels to use up time. TV is the number one time killer for most people.
I’m not just talking about brainless reality shows or silly comedies. Many news programs are also a waste of time. You can learn more by reading one solid history book than by watching a year of TV news. When is the last time a newscast led you to any kind of action? When is the last time the news made you better? How many of the TV shows you’ve watched can you still remember today? How many made you a better parent to your children or a better friend to those around you?
Stop killing time. Stop zapping through TV channels when there’s nothing you really want to see. Stop surfing the internet when you could be seeing real people face to face. How many people on their deathbed wish they had spent more time on TV? How many people enter eternity saying, “I didn’t spend enough hours on the internet.”
Electronic life is not real life. God gives you time to live your life, not watch images of other people’s lives. God wants you to love the people you meet, not love the make-believe actors you find in the media. Make every moment count. Don’t live like you have too much time and need to kill some of it. Live like you were dying.
Maybe your favorite way to kill time is by shopping. Can’t you think of anything better to do? If you knew you were dying, would you try to schedule extra time at the mall? If you knew your children were dying, would you spend more time with them, or would you spend extra time in a shopping center?
Speaking of children, they don’t have to die in order for you to miss your best opportunities with them. They just have to grow up. Your time with them slips away, and before you know it, your nest is empty. While you have your children, why not make more time for meals together as a family? Why not read the Bible and pray together every day this year? Why not make a few minutes of daily worship a special time for your family to get closer to God and to each other? And why not plan more fun times together? Spend less time trying to be entertained, less time trying to make more money, and more time with dear ones.
If you were dying this year, how would you want your family and friends to remember you? Think about that, and then spend your time with loved ones making such memories. If you died right now, what have you not done with your dear ones that you would wish you had done? Make a list, and then do those things.
Is there someone you know who doesn’t know Jesus? If they died tonight, or if you died tonight, they would never hear about Jesus from you. But you may still be acting like there’s plenty of time, like there’s no rush, no real urgency. Live like you were dying! If you didn’t have much time to live, wouldn’t you want to talk about Jesus with your friend instead of just gabbing about the weather? The Bible says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). Seize the moment, and let your light shine for Jesus every day and all this year. Living like you were dying.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.