Last Words

Over the past four years, I have lost many loved ones. Those losses—along with a recent 40-year high school reunion that reminds me of my advancing age—often lead me to think about the reality of death. Lord willing, I have another 30 years or so on this earth. But that means most of my life is behind me. That is sobering, not because I fear death but because I want to make my life count for Christ.

I give a lot of thought to how to make moments count and the years matter. I think about what I want my legacy to be. I think about what it means to finish strong. And I have often imagined what my last moments will be like.

Leonardo da Vinci left this world humbled by what he perceived as failure, saying, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” In his dying breaths, William Henry Seward, credited with the Alaska purchase, simply asked those around him to “love one another.”

 Recently I reread the account of Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr, who died seeing the Lord and praying for mercy for his persecutors. Though Stephen was stoned to death, the Bible provides a peaceful description of his passing, a mercy I credit to Stephen’s faith.

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.—Acts 7:55-60

I think about Paul, who describes his sufferings for Christ in 2 Corinthians 11—floggings, stonings, beatings with rods, shipwrecks, hunger, sleeplessness, imprisonment, poverty, persecution. Near the end of his life, he gives parting words to his spiritual son Timothy.

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.—2 Timothy 4:6-8

In my last moments, I want to have the peace and grace of Stephen. Though I’ve been spared the kinds of sufferings Paul experienced, I want to know I’ve finished well and will soon enter into my reward. I truly hope whatever remains of my life will have a greater impact for Christ than what has already passed. 

In reality, none of us knows how much time we have left. Our days are in the Lord’s hands. Living in the light of our eventual passing is actually a healthy thing because it inspire us to live each day for Him. Whenever He calls us home, let us be found faithful before Him with words of hope and grace on our tongues.