Are you ready to die?" When my colleague and long-time friend, Harold Baasch, confronted me with this question, I initially thought he was enquiring about my salvation.
My response was quick and blessedly happy, "I love the Lord and I know He loves me. Yes, I think I'm ready to die. But I wouldn't choose this afternoon."
"No," Harold insisted, "are you really prepared to die? Do you have your affairs in order if you were to die?" Then he began to share the pain of his brother-in-law's recent death and the importance of having our personal, business, and family arrangements made in such a manner that any of us could be ready to die. Spirituality may be the most important preparation for death, but other concerns are absolutely necessary as well.
During those difficult days and in the weeks to follow, Harold has encouraged a number of individuals to check the status of various issues because none of us know when we will die. Here are some of the issues that he has raised and their importance for us as ministers and for those whom we pastor.
Planning today does not hasten your death. If you make appropriate plans for the future wellbeing of your family when you are no longer present, your death will not come more quickly.
Avoiding planning does not demonstrate faith. Some people mistakenly believe they are acting in faith when they refuse to consider the future and "just leave everything in God's hands." This is neither God's will nor God's way. The first rule of heaven is order, and our Lord expects us to follow His own example in planning.
Every person already has a will. If you think you do not have a will, please understand that you nevertheless have one. The government has made it for you, and your property, finances, children, and estate will be handled according to the wishes of the legal system regardless of your undocumented intentions.
Your children need you to provide for their security. It is your responsibility as parents to select appropriate care-givers for your children should tragedy leave them orphans. Otherwise, the courts will designate their guardians. When you consider who to choose as guardians for your children, consider someone who will be of appropriate health and age (perhaps not your own parents) to undertake the responsibility of raising children. Select believers who hold similar values and who either have sufficient resources or to whom you will provide resources through your will. Request permission of prospective guardian designees and consider their current proximity to your family in order for them to become acquainted with your children now.
Provide for your own medical choices. Both you and your spouse should provide a power of attorney to the other, which specifies your personal intentions should a medical emergency occur. Some individuals do not want extraordinary, heroic measures taken to prolong life in case of tragedy while others may desire every life-extending procedure possible. Physicians will have no legal authority to carry out your wishes unless you provide that through a medical power of attorney, which allows your spouse to make those decisions if you are incapacitated. A "living will" can also determine the quality and extent of care that you will receive and can specifically instruct what you wish to happen should death come.
Lead by example. Responsible pastoral leadership will encourage every church member toward appropriate planning. You cannot expect your members to make better decisions than you personally make. You will speak with much more credibility and persuasiveness if you outline the steps you have taken to plan for your own family's future.
Select competent assistance. Request guidance from trust services leaders in your union or conference or select competent legal counsel to prepare the documents necessary to assure that your instructions will be fulfilled. Also, consider how your estate may bless God's work and hasten Christ's coming.
Plan today as if you will live forever. Include appropriate retirement and savings plans as if you will live to a ripe old age and will need to secure your security as you age. Remember that insurance is not the risky, unregulated business that it previously was when wise counsel directed avoidance of it.
Live today as if your life could end at any moment. I'm constantly amazed at those who project dates or speculate about the timing of Christ's return, but ignore the reality that our lives could tragically conclude in a moment. Remember William Miller's commitment after the Great Disappointment, "Today, and today, and today."
Submit your life afresh to your Saviour each day, asking His will to be done in and through your life and family. Then, to answer that essential query from my friend, Harold, you will be ready to die.
More importantly, you will be prepared to live!