Have you ever wondered what deceased people would say to us if they had the chance? What do you suppose their counsel to us would be if they could rise from the grave for just a few minutes? What advice would they share with us?
Sometimes people in the last throes of the dying process have very profound things to say. John Newton, a former slave trader turned Presbyterian minister and author of that famous hymn “Amazing Grace” said upon nearing his death, “I am still in the land of the dying; I shall be in the land of the living soon.”
Other times, they don’t say too much. Lady Nancy Astor, the first woman member of the British Parliament who lived from 1879 to 1964, woke up for just a moment from her deathbed to see her entire family surrounding her. She looked around and said, “Am I dying or is this my birthday?”
The very last words of P.T. Barnum were, “How were the receipts today in Madison Square Garden?”
Just before he died, Pancho Villa said to a friend, “Don’t let it end this way. Tell them I said something.”
Marie Antoinette, on the way to her death said, “Pardon me sir” after she stepped on the toe of her executioner.
King David had some advice for his son Solomon as he lay dying. When his time drew near, he charged his son Solomon with these words: be strong, be courageous, and be faithful. Sounds like pretty good advice to me; advice that still resonates a few thousand years later.
Be strong. This sounds like something we tell our sons, doesn’t it. Be strong. Stay tough. Hang in there. Don’t give up. But it is good advice for all of us, regardless of gender.
Let’s face it, human life is not for the faint of heart. You never know when things will fall apart. You never know when your well laid plans will unravel. You never know when your own mistakes will catch up with you. Stuff happens in life. Sometimes it is unexpected. Most often it is unwelcome. It causes us to reach outside our comfort zones and find new ways of coping, surviving, winning.
Strength in human life requires character, certainty, integrity, and a belief in something greater than you. Such a strong person is one who can overcome adversity. Such a person is one who refuses to give up, even in the face of tremendous odds. Such a person will not be defeated. Such a person finds his or her worth, not in outside circumstances, but rather in one’s standing as a child of God.
The second piece of advice the dying King David gave to his son Solomon was, “be courageous.” David showed courage throughout his life as he fought for and won a kingdom.
Many of us are risk-averse. We go out of our way to protect ourselves against any and all perceived threats.
Now, I’m all for safety and I realize that accidents happen, but sometimes I think that we may go overboard in our quest to defeat any risk before it presents itself. We dress our kids up in helmets, shin guards, knee pads, gloves, and goggles to go out riding their bikes. Perhaps we are giving them a false sense of security. Perhaps we are
communicating to them that you can get through life without being hurt.
The problem is that, when we become so afraid of risk, we also strip ourselves of any chance of enjoyment. Of course there is a difference between courage and foolishness, but we can’t let fear dominate our lives.
One of the things I have been saying to folks around here is that the church has to develop and nurture an organizational climate in which we are not afraid to make mistakes. We need to give each other permission to make mistakes. Only by boldness and courage can we move into the future with any hope of reaching new populations for Jesus Christ.
Making mistakes means that we are not being content with sitting still. The only way to prevent mistakes is not to do anything. The key, it seems to me, is to trust God and be courageous enough to step out in faith. If we make mistakes we will learn from them and not make them again. But people who trust God cannot be afraid to step out and take a risk or two or three for the Kingdom.
Remember that King David said, “Be courageous.” He didn’t say, “Don’t be afraid.” There is a difference. Mark Twain was the one who said, “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it.”
David didn’t say, “Act only when the way is clear before you.” He said, “Be courageous.” I don’t know who said this, but I read this quote just the other day. “Courage can’t see around corners, but goes around them anyway.” Courage is acting in the knowledge that God has the power and control of any situation, even failure. If failure comes, it is courage which learns and goes forward.
Finally King David told Solomon to, “…keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies…so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.” In other words, “be faithful.”
Granted, you may be strong and courageous without having faith in God…history is full of examples. But more often than not, such strength and courage is likely to be misplaced or misdirected. Strength and courage must be fortified, equipped, and prepared by the Word of God.
The world in which we live is not always an easy one to survive. Mistakes happen. Troubles come and go. Tragedy sometimes strikes. Misunderstanding comes along. Our own stubbornness or inabilities may serve to get us into more trouble than we can imagine. Sometimes it seems that the deck is stacked against us.
Perhaps, like King David, their advice would be to be strong, be courageous, and be faithful. Such people make it to the finish line and join the mighty cloud of witnesses, as spoken of in Hebrews chapter 12, who have already completed their race. My prayer is that we will be such a people.