One would think one is prepared for death. It is after all the only sure thing of our existence on earth. Especially the death of a very old person. A lengthening of her long, full life that has been in recent years reduced to a small world with only limited pleasure, would have been illogical and even cruel. Still – the finality and irreversibleness of a life that ebbs away, hit hard. So hard that all that is left is put under the spotlight of relevance with regards to the final mystery. The questions are pertinent and significant: What is important, what has value, what is remembered? When the mind and emotion struggle with the unknown realm of death, the soul is again confronted with the essence of life.
During the past month my mother in law passed away – at the age of 97 years and seven months. The last five weeks were difficult. She was in bed and growing weaker and weaker. We think her life might have been taken by an undiagnosed tumour, but a hectic hospital stint with needles, pipes and tests and a constant flow of strange hands would have been super stressful and traumatic. She stayed home, in well-known and loving hands, according to her expressed wishes. A doctor she was familiar with, who helped her over a long period with the occasional flu or bronchitis, helped to keep her comfortable and free of pain. She died in her sleep one night. My husband was there to cover her shoulder just before midnight so that the chill of an August night in Johannesburg would not wake her up. That is how he found her early the next morning. Somewhere in the night, the God whom she served and loved, has come to take her away. What a joy when death has no sting, no terror. Although there is no fear or panic, those left behind is struck with an unexpected current of emotion and thoughts on her life – a life well lived in the excellence of faith; a life full of testimonies about the miraculous intervention of God. She was one of God’s precious saints:
Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints. (Psalms 116:15)
Certain things must happen around the death of a person. A funeral or some sort of farewell must be organized. It is only natural that our mind travels to the past and those things that filled her life. My mother in law could worry a lot and was never hesitant to point to danger and risk. We often had to placate her with confirmations of carefulness and responsible action. The older she got, the more we respected her concerns until the easy way out was to keep it from her altogether. She could live in peace. Sometimes I envied her ignorance. Life is dangerous and so many things threaten our existence and comfort. The known things are hard enough to cope with; what about all the unknowns lurking around every corner?
She knew what to do with worry. She brought it to the one place where there is a solution to everything – the foot of the Cross of Jesus. My mother in law was a prayer warrior and she brought her burden of fear and cares to the Lord. There she found peace for the known and the unknown threat. It is after all only the almighty God who can give peace – He is the source of peace. His name is the Prince of Peace.
As in the very beginning of this study of Philippians, the promise of a complete work is applicable here. When fear and dread overwhelm us, we know that nothing is ever a surprise to our Father, who is almighty and omniscient. The future belongs to him. It is his domain and He has full control over it. There is nothing that can happen in the present, that will be too big for him to handle. It is the essence of faith. Somebody said it:
Faith mighty faith
The promise sees
And looks to God alone
Laughs at impossibilities
And cries it shall be done
This is the heart of the Gospel, the point of everything – faith. We have the promise of completion, the promise of power, the promise of the character of the One who makes the promise and now we get to the purpose of this letter.
Let us read these familiar verses until all the familiarity disappears and the words in the glory of their original powerful utterance can penetrate our calloused heart to burn the majestic impact of meaning into our minds.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Meditate on These Things
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble,whatever things are just, whatever things are pure,whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtueand if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)
Let us read it again in the Amplified translation that gives us the fuller nuance of meaning of the words used.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, gladden yourselves in Him]; again I say, Rejoice!
5 Let all men know and perceive and recognize your unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit). The Lord is near [He is coming soon].
6 Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God.
7 And God’s peace[shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and mindsin Christ Jesus.
8 For the rest, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them].
The verbalization of your deepest desires is a powerful mind exercise. The best place to do this is in prayer. In a conversation with God our hearts are exposed and enlightened. Do not be afraid – God knows your deepest secrets and they are safe with him. Our fears and desires are put in a new perspective and discussed in the realm of miracles, when uttered in humility and gratitude before God. In prayer our minds are opened with the revelation of the Holy Spirit and we receive insight into our lives to submit our concerns and fears in full obedience to Jesus into the almighty provision of the greatness and goodness of our Father. That is where our burdens belong. It is not for us to descend into the emotional whirlpool of panic spinning out of control.
Now, it sounds easy to bring our thoughts to God in prayer, but so often it is easy to pick them up again and continue our suffering.
In this moment, there where you are, take a few minutes to specify to the Lord in prayer what you need most and urgently. “See” the cross of Jesus and kneel there by its foot. In your mind’s eye, “write” your burden on a paper and nail it to the cross. When you think of that particular request, “see” the nail in the cross through the words you have written. If it is sin and failure, make it into a bundle and put it down. “See” the drop of blood from the body of Jesus that drops onto it and “see” how it dissipates. When you think of your mistakes and sins again – “see” your picture in faith. (Psalms 103:12)
The result of this prayer is PEACE, a supernatural peace that “surpasses all understanding”. It is the life of excellence that is only possible as a reborn child of God. It is a life full of the best – all that is noble, true…
…whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise…
It is a life full of the fullness of God himself – the list can be as long as the glory and goodness of God. It is all yours – in prayer and surrender.
It is God who gives peace. His name is the Prince of Peace. Peace is the very best, the most luxurious life there could ever be – a life without fear!