For those of you who are planners, preparing for your future comes naturally. You have planned your education, a home purchase, vacations, events, and your eventual retirement. It is interesting, however, that planning for one’s death is often overlooked. Why is this so? Preparing for our eventual death has benefits that we would do well to consider.
Question 37 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?” The answer is, “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.”
In keeping with this answer, I’ve spent time recently thinking about preparing for death, both physically (the body) and spiritually (the soul).
Having Your Physical House in Order
When will you be laid to rest in the grave? Certainly, our days were numbered before one of them came to be (Ps. 139:16), but we don't know the day of our departure. Life is fleeting (Ps. 39:4), and death comes to all people (Rom. 5:12), so we are wise if we remember that our death will impact others.
I had a dream recently in which my husband and I had to plan a party with about two hours of notice. I woke up remarkably calm, which surely gave evidence that it was a dream! Few of us can imagine not preparing for a party, yet many fail to plan for the most certain event in their lives.
Do you have a will? A living will? A power of attorney? A quick google search provides a plethora of articles acknowledging that typically only half of Americans have wills, although most agree that it’s a good idea. For Christians, having a will is an act of stewardship. While this certainly includes money (regardless how much), a will also makes arrangements for one’s physical assets, and provides for guardianship and the financial care of dependents. We do so much to care for those we love and to take care of our physical bodies when we are healthy. Why would it be less important to have plans in place for our own care when we are sick or disabled and for the care of others when we are unable to do so?
At the time of a loved one’s death, handling the myriad of details at a moment’s notice can be overwhelming. What a gift to family when we have already made many arrangements in advance. My grandmother was one of nine children, and the only one to die at a young age was her sister, Ann. I remember a picture of Aunt Ann and her husband standing outside in front of two boxes, which, as a little girl, I thought was odd. As an adult, I realized it was a picture of them standing in front of their burial plots and those “boxes” were headstones! There are many ways that you can make and document decisions about where and how you desire to be buried.
What about a memorial service? You could prepare your own in advance. What passages of Scripture particularly represent your faith in Christ, your walk with the Lord, and your hope of the resurrection? What about music? For me, Psalm 16D is a must. Think of how you might enjoy planning an evangelistic event at your church. A memorial service is often a wonderful time for unbelievers to hear the Gospel.
In summary, any plans that we put together ahead of time show care for our family at the time of our death, and they also show stewardship of the people, money, and other possessions that the Lord entrusted to our care. The care we extended when we were alive should not be abandoned in our death.
Having Your Spiritual House in Order
Perhaps an even more overlooked aspect of preparing for one’s death is preparing spiritually for that time when our soul is made perfect and passes into glory.
I am now in my mid-50s, and another of my grandmother’s sisters lived to 104. I recently thought, “I might only be halfway to heaven!” I groaned to myself and then smiled. It is a good thing to long for a better country, a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16). Often those who think about heaven are older or are those who have been through or are undergoing a trial of great magnitude. Such things bring the reality of sin and death close to home in a most painful way.
This world is not our home, yet leaving this world doesn’t begin at our death. In our sanctification, we are enabled more and more to die to sin and to live to righteousness (WSC#35). Paul encourages us to press on (Phil. 3:14), to remember that even when the outer man is wasting away, the inner man is being renewed, and to view present afflictions as part of preparing us for glory (2 Cor. 4:16-17).
So, do you desire to lay aside every weight and sin, and run with endurance the race that is set before you? (Heb. 12:1-3). This is part of getting your spiritual house in order.
In John 14, Jesus reminds us that he has gone to prepare a place for us. Are we preparing to go to that place?