Perhaps it’s the stage of life I am in. It wasn’t that long ago weddings beckoned my name every few months. Now it seems funerals do.
I do not look forward to funerals. Whether it’s the marked sadness, the awkwardness of not knowing what to say, or the reminder that we live in a fallen world filled with imperfection, they never seem to get any easier. Yet they serve as reminders that life is indeed as brief as a vapor that appears and dissipates in a moment’s time. They sober us up to the realization that we all will give an account for our lives sooner rather than later.
There are lessons learned, too.
It was during a memorial service that I learned one of my friends, a financial consultant who made a living by commission sales, would pray daily that God would give him clients who would be a good fit for him, and for whom he would be a good fit, so there would be a relationship that was mutually beneficial both in the office and out. That’s a practice I now follow as I explore and seek other assignments in my field of work.
At another service I learned another friend had changed jobs frequently as a result of workplace discrimination, being a sales consultant who refused to entertain clients in settings that were morally compromising but generally accepted by many of his competitors and managers.
Other friends exhibited a positive attitude in the face of extended illness. One continued his practice of telling his friends “I love you, man.” He meant it, and you knew it. Another, despite recurring bouts with cancer, often commented “It’s all good” whenever a challenging circumstance presented itself or a friend needed encouragement. Good theology. Great living.
These are people who departed from this earth early, yet accomplished more for the kingdom in half a lifetime than others do in 80 years.
Just a few weeks ago I attended the funeral of a family and ministry friend. A grandmother who lived a full life, directing preschool, praying for her children and their friends in high school, and modeling a consistent, faithful life. We were reminded that through her life her faithfulness impacted many people. And even though she is now in heaven, her influence is still multiplying exponentially as those she gave selflessly to years ago now lead families, churches, and ministries—including one led by her son, Louie Giglio, that continues to reach college students year in and year out. Her investment in the kingdom is still generating a return, even though she is no longer on this earth.
During that memorial service Louie suggested he wasn’t really there to preach her funeral…because his mom had already preached her own funeral through her life. He reminded us that we all preach our own funerals by the life we live. Sure, someone might facilitate a funeral or speak at it, but ultimately it’s the life that was lived that will do the talking.
The best way to exponentially maximize your return on an investment of time and money is to invest that time and money in people, rather than things. Getting older—and realizing my death is not as far away as it seems at times—helps me reorient my priorities when they get out of whack, which they often do.
My friend Phil Downer of Discipleship Network reminds us that we will be judged for how well we steward our time and influence. In his excellent book on mentoring and disciplehip (Eternal Impact), Phil writes:
Remember, God doesn’t judge us at the end of life, but at the end of time. If you look back at the book of Revelation, you will see men are not judged for their lives at the moment of death. Instead, the Lord waits until the very end of time, when this world is destroyed and all mankind is facing eternity. Why? Because a person is judged not simply for what he does but for whom he influences.
Adolph Hitler hasn’t been fully judged yet because his evil practices are still influencing people today. His ideas are still in print, still poisoning the minds of men. God is waiting until the end of this world to judge Hitler, for it is only then that the full extent of his life’s meaning will be evident. By the same token, the ministry of the Apostle John is still impacting the lives of men and women around the world. His words, forceful yet full of live in leading them to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, are still influencing lives. John will be judged at the end of time for the impact his life has had on history. So will you. You can begin right now to leave a legacy. You can choose to lead a life of significance, pouring yourself into the life of another, who will in turn reproduce himself into the life of another, making you a spiritual “grandfather” or “grandmother.”
So invest in the life of a new Christian. Forget about making a big splash through success. Commit to significance.
I “forget”—and maybe you do too—that life isn’t about climbing corporate ladders (or church ladders, record labels, or the conference speaker circuit ), or making more money and moving up in house and car so we retire at 70 and drive to the golf club in our supersized Crown Vic, Mercedes or Grand Marquis. Oh, I don’t really forget in the sense of the amnesiac who can’t recall anything after a bump on the head. I mean I forget in the biblical sense—just as the Israelites “forgot God”—meaning they took for granted his provision and lost a sense deep inside of complete dependence on God for everything, thus “forgetting” him the way you and I “forget” a friend we haven’t seen, thought of, or needed in years.
The Bible teaches we will give an account for what we do, and that includes the consequences of our choices, be they good or evil. Consider the worship leader, pastor or minister who ends up in an extended affair, or who divorces his wife to marry a mistress, or who is found to be engaging in illegal or unethical behavior. Maybe their “ministry” at one time reached thousands, but now tens of thousands will be negatively impacted by the ramifications of hidden sin made public as the dominoes fall year after year into the future…often to such an extent that it would have been better had that person never been raised up in public ministry.
May God help us all to preach our funerals well while we are still alive and able to do so.