A brush with death will sometimes have a dramatic effect upon a person. It can (and has) cause(d) people to re-evaluate their priorities and reset their life on a completely different course. This phenomena has been the basis for several Hollywood blockbusters including, Big Fish (starring Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor, Danny DeVito), and Meet Joe Black (starring Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt) are two great examples. But it’s not just the stuff of movies. Throughout history there have people who have had a brush with death which has shaped them to live a life without fear and accomplish extraordinary things. Examples include Martin Luther, who nearly died in a storm and cried out to God to save him (he is now the second most written about person of all time), and Winston Churchill who nearly drowned as a child. How differently would you live if you knew when you were going to die?
¶ So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12
MAKE YOUR DAYS COUNT
Talk to an older person and you’ll often hear them say that the years have flown by. In fact, I heard one man nearing his 70th birthday remark, “The years fly by while the days drag on!” The apostle Paul was someone who knew that he was about to face death. Before he left this life for the next, he wrote to his protégé, Timothy and said:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. ¶ Do your best to come to me soon. Second Timothy 4:7-9
Paul described his life as like running a race and his death as being like a finish-line — but not the end of his life (since he went on to describe receiving a crown after the race). The grave is not the end of our life. Paul had lived a life where he had reasons to be confident that he could finish well. He wasn’t saying that he had been perfect, in fact, he describes himself as the greatest of all sinners (1Tim. 1:15). What Paul did do though was to make the most of the negative circumstances he was in so that he could be a blessing to others. From his imprisonment in Rome he wrote his epistles to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:20), the Colossians (Col. 4:18), to Titus, Philemon (Philem. 1:9) and to Timothy (2Tim. 2:9). And while he refers to be imprisoned, he never asked for his recipients to pray for his release or for his circumstances to be improved. Rather, his concern was for those he was writing to. To the Colossians, the death-row apostle counselled-
¶ Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Colossians 4:5
Making the best use of time requires wisdom. The psalmist said that when we realise our days are numbered we will develop a heart for wisdom (Psalm 90:12). I guess therefore that the opposite is also true — that when ignore that our days are numbered and we assume that our lives will continue on indefinitely, we are more inclined to live foolishly. This is why the story of King Hezekiah’s final years is even more tragic than it ordinarily would be.
THE MAN WHOSE DAYS WERE NUMBERED
How different would you start living today if you knew when your life on earth would end? One of Israel’s greatest kings became horribly sick. He called for Isaiah the prophet to pray for him. Instead, the LORD spoke to King Hezekiah and told him that he was about to die. Hezekiah then wept bitterly and made an impassioned plea to God to preserve his life. Remarkably God did. Before Isaiah had left the palace the LORD once again spoke to him and gave him the remedy for Hezekiah’s illness and the news that God was going to give the king a further 15 years of life. Hezekiah’s days were then literally numbered (5,478 days left).
And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, Hebrews 9:27
What Hezekiah did with his 15 years of grace stands as a solemn warning for all God’s people. Rather than doing what the apostle Paul would later do, Hezekiah tragically grew increasingly arrogant and conceited. He mistook his increased wealth and fame as God’s blessing and approval. Rather than working at leaving a material and spiritual legacy, Hezekiah sired a successor who would commit the most godless atrocities in all of Israel’s history, and lead Israel into idolatry, apostasy, and its eventual destruction.
Plan for the future but live as if this day may be your last!
Not many of us will have the historical and global impact of a Martin Luther or a Winston Churchill, but we can gain a heart of wisdom to live our remaining days well by learning to number our days. While getting your golf handicap down or taking a cruise to another south Pacific island may be high on your Must-Do list, they probably shouldn’t be at the top of your list. The wisdom that comes from numbering your days should drive you to what the Westminster Shorter Catechism declares is the “chief end of man”, or, ‘the highest purpose of every person’ : The chief end of man is to know and enjoy God forever. Jesus described this as –
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. ¶ “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:33-34
We may not know when the finish-line of our race on earth will be, but we can still make sure that we run our race well and make each of our remaining days count by sowing seed into the soil of the future and taking deliberate steps to walk more closely with Christ through prayer and the guidance of His Word.
¶ So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. First Corinthians 13:11
If COVID has taught us anything, its taught us just how much we need each other and probably (for many of us) how much we didn’t know it! When we’re born we are utterly dependent. As we grow up we increasingly become independent. When we become an adult we learn to get along with others and become interdependent. But adults also experience seasons where it is necessary to be temporarily dependent upon others. These are times when we need the help and care of others. Ironically though, its often the people who are called upon to help and care for others that are the least likely to accept help and care themselves.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
DEPEND > INDEPEND > DEPENDABLE
‘Adulting’ does mean that you have to manage your various dependencies. This means that when you become an adult, there are times when you have to maintain your independence; then, there are other times when you have to cooperate with others in interdependence; and, then there are those seasons when you need the help of others and you must accept your dependency. But adulting also means that you have to be dependable so that you can help others.
¶ Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. First Corinthians 14:20
BECOMING A DEPENDABLE CHURCH
COVID has indeed reminded us how much we need each other. But COVID has also caused us to adapt. For many of us, it has led us to trying to adapt to social isolation, lock-downs, social distancing, working from home, travel restrictions, and repeated hand sanitising. This has resulted in loneliness, psychological stress, and even spiritual dryness. And while we have all individually tried to adapt to these challenges, we, as a church, have also had to learn how to adapt. It has required learning how to be innovative, flexible, and adaptable. And we are still learning. We are prayerfully thinking through how we can connect everyone in our church with a small group of caring people where everyone can share, be cared for, pray for each other, discuss Scripture and its application together. That’s why I’m looking for a team of ordinary and dependable adults who are prepared to be a coordinator for one of our new small groups (of 3 to 5 people). These groups can be via ZOOM or in person — or a combination of both. They could be weekly or fortnightly. Small Group coordinators won’t have to sweat over preparing study material as that will be supplied. If you’re interested in being a SGC (Small Group Coordinator), let me know. This is why it’s important for us to understand the various “dependencies”. Growing from dependent to independent to interdependent is the journey that every Christian is on to Christ-like maturity.
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, Ephesians 4:13
As we continue to navigate how we adapt and respond to COVID, we hope we can figure out how we can evangelise, disciple, train leaders, and speak out against injustice and evil in the public square. Along the way we hope to help those who are depending on us. Along the way we hope to encourage those who are prepared to grow toward maturity. And along the way we hope to work together cooperatively (interdependently) to reach people for Christ and disciple them into disciple-makers. This is why I am dependent upon your prayers.
If he isn’t already, Peter FitzSimmons is fast becoming Australia’s Story-Teller. In 2007 he published a well written account of one of Australia’s greatest sons, entitled, “The Ballad of Les Darcy” (2007). FitzSimmons carefully chose the term ‘ballad’ in the sense that it is “a story of one generation passed onto the next” (although usually told in poetry) to describe this remarkable young man. Les Darcy was born in 1895 near Maitland, NSW. By 1915 he was a world champion boxer. In fact, even though he was a middle-weight boxer, he defeated Australia’s heavy-weight champion at that time to also become Australia’s heavy-weight boxing champion. But all this happened just as the first world war had broken out. He wanted to put his boxing career on hold and enlist, but being under 21 his mother wouldn’t sign the papers. This led to a vicious rumour among his opponents that he had refused to enlist. Around the time of this controversy he had a bout where one of his teeth was knocked out. After winning the bout, his saved tooth was reinserted back into his mouth by a dentist. This short and rather innocuous moment was to irreversibly change his life.
¶ May God Himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. First Thessalonians 5:23 THE MESSAGE
After defeating all-comers by late 1916, Les Darcy wanted to accept the offers to box in the United States against the world’s best. When word of this spread within Australia, people began accusing him of dodging the war effort that was desperately looking for fit young men to go to the frontline. To escape the furore over this he stowed away on a ship bound for the USA to take up the promoter’s offer of a new title fight. But the rumours followed him to America and their boxing federation then banned him from fighting. Dejected by this unfair setback, Darcy’s woes were compounded by what he may have thought was prolonged sea-sickness. While resting in Memphis, Tennessee, it soon became apparent that Darcy wasn’t merely suffering from sea sickness. Doctors diagnosed him with septicaemia which by this stage had resulted in multiple complications. His sweetheart had arrived by another ship from Australia and rushed to his bedside to be with him as he took his last breaths. His body was embalmed and returned to Australia where an estimated half a million mourners paid their respects. Australia had forgiven their favourite son.
There’s something profoundly perverse if you like, in the Australian psyche that feels most love for a good loser.” D’Arcy Niland, Great Australian Writer (writing about the response to the death of Les Darcy in 1917)
While Darcy’s ‘moment’, which ended so tragically, may have once been seen as dramatic, but recent events surrounding how some people have responded to the coronavirus has changed all that. In fact, the spread of the coronavirus provides a great metaphor for how a fleeting moment can dramatically change a person’s life spiritually. Life is full of moments, but not all of them are the moments that change our lives. These moments are not always obvious. They may last just a few seconds. They could be times during a seemingly innocent interaction with someone, where, in a moment (of anger or frustration or envy or hatred), our soul becomes tainted with a spiritual poison that slowly spreads throughout our soul infecting our hearts with fear, pain, and disconnection.
Like a city that is broken down and without a wall, so is a person who cannot control his temper. Proverbs 25:28 NET
HOW TO DISINFECT YOUR SOUL
It only takes an unguarded moment to get hurt by someone’s words or action. I say unguarded because the Spirit-filled believer enjoys the spiritual vaccine of the Holy Spirit which releases spiritual antibodies into our soul every time we are tempted to harbour a hurt. These ‘antibodies’ are listed in the Apostle Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, and gentleness (Gal. 5:22-23). Not only does the Holy Spirit work within us to produce these spiritual antibodies, He also takes God’s Word and uses it to cleanse our soul from anything that has tainted it.
¶ Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. Second Corinthians 7:1
This is why the Word of God — read, studied, preached — is so important to the health of our soul. The unique and mysterious power of God’s applied Word is seen in Christ’s command to Peter to come to Him out of the boat and to walk on the water.
He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. Matthew 14:29
The spiritual power to obey God’s command is found in the command. This is why simply prayerfully reading, hearing, or studying God’s Word is able to cleanse, or disinfect, a soul.
BEING ON GUARD
And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15
Covetousness is not the only thing that we should be “on guard against”. It’s not the only thing that can poison a soul for which we must be on guard. But covetousness, or envy, or greed, are things that we should deal with like a sentry guard when they attempt to infect our souls. To cleanse our souls, as described in Second Corinthians 7, from spiritual viruses involves enabling the Holy Spirit to help us to build up the necessary ‘antibodies’ of thankfulness, gratitude, worship, and generosity.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. Proverbs 14:31
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, Acts 2:46
¶ Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous givers, sharing with others. First Timothy 6:17-18
WOUNDS THAT HURT IN A MOMENT
Les Darcy began to feel unwell a few weeks after his post-bout dental work. No one saw a connection between the two events. By the time he arrived in Tennessee, USA, the false rumour that he was fleeing military service in Australia had led to their boxing federation banning him from boxing. No doubt these rumours, and the American Boxing Federation’s response to them, would have deeply hurt Les. He must have been rather dejected at this time since his trip had been for nothing. But it was a brief, innocent, innocuous moment with a dentist, who had failed to take the necessary precautions, that caused the greatest pain to Les Darcy. In May 1917 American doctors diagnosed Les Darcy with advanced septicaemia (infection throughout his internal organs) that rapidly led to his death on May 24th.
There is an immediate spiritual parallel with the ballad of Les Darcy. The words and actions of others designed to hurt us, often delivered in the briefest of moments, can (if left un-disinfected) injure us for life and in the process infect us with bitterness, resentment, and hatred. Its in the aftermath of these moments where we are tempted to mull over these hurtful words and actions that we risk aggravating our wound. But for the Spirit-filled believer there begins a soul-stirring, therapeutic work of disinfecting these momentary hurts with the forgiveness that only one who has been eternally forgiven could even begin to understand. Little wonder then that the Christ concluded His model prayer for us with words that sound like disinfectant for our soul.
andforgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12
Les Darcy’s life ended prematurely at the age of twenty-one. Many commentators believe that he could have gone on to become one of the greatest boxers of all time. But his positive future was cut short because of a brief negative moment. When the momentary words and actions of hurtful people are left untreated they can negatively shape us for the rest of our lives and deny us our potential of living a positive future – both now, and if we’re not careful, for eternity.