How should a Christian die? “Walking like Steve . . .” by Dan Cooley

“O death, where is your sting? O grave, or death, where is your victory?”

“That, the sting of death and the victory of death has been removed like a bee that stings and loses its stinger, he goes away to die, death has lost its sting.  It has been stripped. It buried its sting in Jesus Christ and He conquered death both for Himself and for all who believe in Him.  And therefore the sting of death which is sin is removed.  And so we do not fear death, we anticipate death, we may have a reasonable fear of the way in which we might die.  None of us wants an excruciating or painful approach to death.  That’s kind of a normal thing to resist that.  However, in God’s wonderful purposes those times of very great difficulty, people dying that way, are often the times of the most marvelous dispensation of God’s grace.”  (What Happens When a Christian Dies?, John McArthur)

How should a Christian approach dying?  If we have truly released our possessions in this world and find our hope and treasure in Christ alone, then we should not fear death.  However, how does praying for healing fit into all of this?  Should we pray for healing or should we welcome our coming eternity and future glorification?  Is it better to pray that we stay in this world or to relent in saying, “whatever the Lord wills”?

My friend, Esther, watched her brother die from brain cancer, glioblastoma.  He didn’t pray for healing but said, “I will walk the walk God has for me.”  Steve believed in a greater glory in submitting to what God had planned for him.  As the cancer progressed, the greater glory was not in Steve’s physical healing but in God’s complete healing for him, standing in the presence of God, wholly healed, wholly complete, wholly glorified through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

WALKING LIKE STEVE

by Dan Cooley

“Those who walk  uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”  Isaiah 57:2

When my friend was diagnosed with a terminal illness, he taught me about dying, and living well.

Steve couldn’t die.  He was young, with two teenage boys at home.  As a geologist, he practically lived outside, and looked perfectly healthy.

But one Friday, Steve came home early from work.  He had a bad headache.  Sunday he had a seizure.  Monday he went into the hospital for tests.  Thursday we heard the results:  three inoperable tumors at the brain stem.  They gave him eight to nine months.

But surely God would heal him.

POINTS OF CONNECTION

As a pastor, I had no idea what to say to Steve or his family, or even how to pray in light of his diagnosis.  Sermons you can plan for, but not a friend’s terminal illness.  And Steve was certainly a friend.

A few years ago, Steve and his wife joined a small group of us for an eight-week Bible study.  We met at our house over chocolate-chip cookies and coffee.  During those times Steve and I discovered that we had more in common than just our church.

We were both pastor’s kids for one thing.  Both of our parents went to Moody Bible Institute, and were involved in the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.  As a result, both Steve and I were raised with strict family rules – no movies, dancing, cards, rock-n-roll, or even fashionable clothes.  “Come out from among them and be separate” meant “if they are having fun, then leave!”

Thanks in part to our bizarrely parallel upbringings, we became good friends.  Steve was fun.  He had a first-year (1985) Toyota MR2 sitting in his garage.  We talked about getting it running.  He and his wife Janet had dated in that car.  The brown trim matched her eyes and they just couldn’t bring themselves to sell it.  Steve was frugal though, and couldn’t justify spending money on parts.  But it was fun to talk about it all the same.

AN UNCOMMON PRAYER

While visiting at the hospital I told Steve that I didn’t know how to pray for him.

“Just pray I will walk the walk God has for me,” he replied.  Throughout the days that followed, Steve never asked for healing.  He didn’t mind us praying for it, but he seemed to believe it wasn’t the path God had for him.

Steve didn’t fear death.  He feared dying.  he was afraid of the difficulties that cancer and its treatment might require.  His greatest desire was that he would “walk the walk”.  He wanted to die well, to leave a strong legacy for his boys.  He did, and he left one for me too.

We recruited a few guys to help take Steve to his radiation appointments in the following months.  My day in the weekly rotation was Tuesday.  During our time in the car, I struggled with how to talk about the future, about his boys and wife, about the process of him leaving us.  Knowing I’m better at fixing cars than awkward conversations, Steve often helped me out.  On our first trip he went through the list of songs he wanted at his funeral.  This was difficult, but our conversation the following week was downright bizarre.  Janet was driving; I was sitting in the back.  Steve spoke from the passenger seat.

“Hey Dan, know what I found on eBay?”

“No idea.”

“Urns, Dan.  The coolest urns ever!  There’s this guy in Washington state that makes them out of maple wood.  Beautiful.  They are half the price of what a funeral home charges, and you can specify how you want them made.  I think I’ll order two, so Janet will have one too.”  Janet was crying, but Steve kept going on about the urns.  The next week Janet took Steve to radiation alone.  I fixed the MR2.

Steve had a favorite scripture passage during this time, one that was not familiar to me at the time.

“The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.  Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” (Isaiah 57:1)

So far, he was walking uprightly.  That was his prayer.

JESUS THE HEALER?

Steve was diagnosed in September.  The following January I began to preach a sermon series on the life of Christ.  As part of the series I had a friend from our church speaking on “Jesus the Healer”.  I thought that Clay, a hospital administrator, was well equipped to tackle this topic.  He was equipped in more ways than I expected.  As he was preparing to preach, Clay called me with an idea.

“Hey Dan, I have an idea for my “Jesus the Healer” sermon coming up next month.  I wanted to run it by you.”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Well, I’d like to interview two people for the sermon.  First, I’d like to interview someone, who through answers to prayer, was healed.  Second, I’d like to interview Steve.  We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’d like to get his take on his experience since September and especially how he might deal with his not being healed.”

I never would have had the guts to interview Steve about this.  But Clay did.  I said yes.

They filmed the interviews and showed parts of each during different sections of the sermon.  From the screen Steve quoted Isaiah 57:1-2,and stated that his goal was to “walk the walk God had for him, be it healing or death.”  That May, Steve died.

LAST SONG

The night before the morning Steve died, I was in his room, again not knowing what to say.  After praying with him I went into the bathroom where there was a post-it-note stuck on the mirror.  In Janet’s writing it said, “I give all to God for Steve’s best path.”

Four days later we had Steve’s memorial service.  Thanks to Clay’s interview, we were able to play a video of Steve.  In his own voice, he told us what was most important to him in his dying days.  He talked about being proud of his boys and of Janet.  He talked about being proud of following God in finances – that Janet had a house and cars paid off with financial security.  His boys were able to hear their dad say what was the most important in life was to “walk the walk God has for you”.  And that “Those who walk uprightly enter into peace.”

On that last night, before reading the note in the mirror, we decided to put some of his favorite songs on his iPod, to play in the room with him.  When I grabbed the player, I was curious to hear the last song he had been listening to.

Out of the speakers came Van Morrison in mid tune,

“…Standing in the sunlight laughing, Hiding behind a rainbow’s wall, Slipping and sliding, All along the water fall, with you, My brown eyed girl, You, my brown eyed girl.  Do you remember when, we used to sing, Sha la la la la la la la la la la te da…”

I turned around.  There was Janet with her big brown eyes.  She was crying again.

THE WALK

Sermons you plan for.  Dying can blindside you.  When the diagnosis came we were all shocked, but Steve kept his cool.

Steve was a bit cynical about church life, but never about Christ.  He had been walking the walk throughout his life.  His family was provided for.  His boys loved Jesus and wanted to follow their dad in his faith.  The house was paid off.  His wife had walked with him through the hardest walk in his life.  They demanded nothing from God but instead totally surrendered to Him.

I realized if I am to “walk the walk” I have a lot of catching up to do.  Steve set the bar high.  But then, that’s how real men walk.

All I want to do now is to “walk the walk”, so I, too, can rest in peace.

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One comment on “How should a Christian die? “Walking like Steve . . .” by Dan Cooley

  1. This is a beautifully written post . . . a beautifully written life! I really needed this today.

    peace~elaine

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