Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Full Life

And Job died, an old man and full of days. (Job 42:17)
The book of Job is an amazing narrative and poetry about the struggles of a righteous man, seeking to honour God in both good times and bad. The author begins with:

"There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil." (Job 1:1)

In one verse, we see a summary of the person's country of residence, his name, his character, integrity, his faith and his way of living. In the final verse of Job, not only did the main character die old, he lived a full life. Interestingly, the author begins and concludes not with all his worldly possessions or qualifications but on his character and faith. When a person dies, if the family chooses to publish the obituary on the national newspapers, it typically has the following:

Spiritual Verse and Picture of the deceased
Name: (Year Born - Year Died)
Name of Spouse and Children left behind
Profession, Honours, Qualifications Achieved
and several other short credits.
Details of funeral
Several observations can be made about the writings on the tombstone.
1) Life is Short:
The short dash shows us how short temporal our lives are. I used to tell my colleagues and friends that "Life is Short. Don't shorten it." I used it in a tongue-in-cheek manner to remind them that we ought not to take life too seriously, by displaying our impatience and tempers via bad behaviours. Neither should we be overly concerned about the future to the point that we worry ourselves in the present. So, if life is short, should we not learn the art of prioritizing, to ensure that the important things get done first? Shouldn't we employ first-things-first thinking?

2) Achievements Don't Follow the Dead
The years of experience, the qualifications and the family stay on earth. Those who die have to leave everything behind. There is always a tendency for people to list down all the worldly accomplishments. Remember that no one on their death beds ever wished that they should have spent more time in the office or overtime work. Often, they would say that they lamented not spending more quality time with loved ones.

3) "Died peacefully" or "Gone Home to the Lord"
These words are pretty standard in any obituary. Sometimes, it is done by family members who simply want to be "politically correct." My question is: "Does that reflect the true desire of the deceased?" If not, shouldn't those of us who desire to witness for the Lord AFTER DEATH, share our life verses with loved ones before we go? Truth is, we need to know which Scripture or spiritual passage has best described the deceased's life.

4) Words Chosen Reflect Our Idea of What's Important
The tombstone does not have room for a long autobiography. All the important facts and information have to be compressed into a small single sided page. Hence, we have to be very economical with our words. Moreover, every additional word may incur an additional charge for those who are conscious about the monetary aspect of the obituary. Those who are fascinated with educational qualifications will list all the degrees and academic honours. Those who admire their professional work will highlight the list of directorships, companies worked in and various charities served. Those who see him as a loving patriarch or matriarch will string together a detailed genealogy of family.

5) Last Chance
Finally, the obituary is like one last opportunity for the deceased to get published, if he/she has not published anything. This is not a glamourous way to be famous, but if we see publishing as something intended for a wider audience or readership, it fits the requirement. If that is the case, should we not be aiming for a kind of 'witnessing for God' with our life even unto death?

With these five observations, I have five suggestions
Firstly, I think that the way we should prioritize our lives be guided by what we want to see on our own obituaries. If our chosen Scripture text is Ps 23:1, where the Lord is our Shepherd and we shall not be in want, we ought to be living in such a way as to demonstrate fully that our hopes and our desire for guidance is always from our Lord God.

Secondly, fix our minds on things above, and on things that matter to God. If we want to maintain that this life is temporal, and we long to make meaning out of our short span on earth, our focus need to be on things that matter. What is the point of rushing and fighting tooth-and-nail to retain our power base at the expense of damaging relationships we cherish?

Third, the hope that we have can never be found in worldly things. Thus, PRACTICE our spending time with God always. We need that routine not only on earth but in heaven. We need that awareness of the transcendent, and Someone we can look forward to be with. This propels our desire to want to be with God, and when our time has come, we can say to all that we have lived our life honouring God, and now is the time to be honoured with God.

Fourth, we need that laserlike focus on what is important. Out of the 24 hour cycle, what are the things we do that demonstrate our desire to invest in the important rather than the urgent? We need to learn to summarize our lives by praying and journaling our daily matters. Only when we take time to reflect and ponder over what has happened through the day, or yesterday, we can calibrate ourselves according to what God has called us to do and to be.

Finally, knowing that we all have one last chance to publish something significant for the Lord via our obituaries, live our lives in such a way that people will automatically know who and what we stands for. Just like William Wilberforce is famous for his fight against slavery, Martin Luther King's fight against racial discrimination, we have the person of Job, who lived through both good and the bad times, yet remaining faithful always to the Lord. If all our activities and conversations we have are centered on one common theme, it is easier for people to know where we are coming from. In other words, make all conversations represent who we are.

The Scriptures describe Job as having lived a full life. That ought to inspire us to do the same. Let not the economic conditions or the depressing climate affect our calling to be faithful to Jesus. We must press on, to be blameless, upright, fearing God and when it is our time to die, to be able to say to anyone, just like Paul:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;" (2 Tim 4:7)

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