May 9, 1995
There is nothing like being prepared. Before anyone else arrives at the office, my husband is often already working at responsibilities he organized the night before. Whenever anyone invites my parents for an outing, my father is standing at the door with his coat on about fifteen minutes before their ride is expected.
John Newton was another person who believed in being prepared. He had been a slave trader, but began preparing for eternity by giving his life to Christ. After preparing for the ministry, he became a preacher and helped others prepare to meet God.
Newton also wrote hymns, the most familiar being Amazing Grace. Notice the words of the fifth stanza, “And when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease; I shall possess within the veil a life of joy and peace.”
Newton’s lyrics were tested. Two years before he died, he was weak and had to be supported while he preached. When he was finally confined in bed and unable to move, he said, “I am like a person going on a journey in a stagecoach, who expects its arrival every hour and is frequently looking out of the window for it . . . I am packed and sealed, and ready for the post.”
Newton was prepared for death. In his life, he faithfully carried out the responsibilities God gave him. When the end came near, without dread or regret, he was ready to go.
How does one prepare for death? In a practical sense, financial affairs should be in order. When I die, I’d like my income clearly documented and any debts paid or at least current. All taxes should be paid and my family should know which banks have my money. My will already clearly states what I want done with my possessions.
Emotional preparation is not so straightforward. No one likes to think about dying. We often deny that it will ever happen to us or at least not this week or this year. Should illness or an accident bring it closer to reality, we strongly fight against the prospect. Such responses are not just instinctive. It is our way of protecting ourselves from emotional trauma.
Those who are stoic prepare with stern jaw and no emotions. Others weep or worry, feeling many emotions but unable to take action. True preparedness requires both feelings and a stern grip on ourselves. Refusing to think about it will not make reality disappear. The second verse of Newton’s great hymn says, “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved...”
Our lives will end someday. Crying and anxiety is normal but can hinder preparation. When anyone is prepared, as John Newton, by the grace of God through believing in and receiving Christ as Savior and Lord, thinking about death does not have to cause trauma. Instead read Jesus words, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Those words give comfort. The rest of Newton’s second verse reads, “. . . How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.”
Newton, along with other Christians, experienced freedom from what the Bible calls “the sting of death.” When we die, we go home to be with our Lord. Because of advance spiritual preparation, life is not over when physical breathing stops. Actually, because of God’s grace, that is when life truly begins.