When my friend told me he visited graveyards to help him realize the shortness of life I must admit I thought he was a wee bit wacko. But as time has gone on, I’ve come to realize the benefit of his perspective.
Are you afraid of death? If you are, I don’t blame you. Death isn’t the best thought of my day, or so I’ve thought. You see, I can relate to the fact that most people are afraid to really face the thought of death. But what if I told you that regularly thinking about the reality of death was a medieval Christian discipline? What if I told you that it wasn’t just a crazy ritual that some weird monks practiced in a secluded monastery, but that it’s an eternal truth found in the Word of God?
Here’s the reality: thinking about your death will enable you to truly live. Thinking about what will be important to you on your deathbed will help you prioritize what’s truly matters in the present. Remembering death helps us to live our days with focus on godly priorities. Don’t believe me? Don’t take my word for it! Read what Moses, the author of the first five books of the Bible, says in Psalm 90.
“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”1
Numbering our days enables the Jesus follower to live a life of prioritizing the right things. “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom,”2 the ancient wise king wrote.
So what is Wisdom? In a nutshell, Wisdom is the right application and use of knowledge–it’s doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way. Wisdom is the stuff in our heart that causes us to be healed of our blindness to what truly matters and to live for King Jesus and His Kingdom rather than for ourselves and our kingdoms.
This really is the heart of “Memento Mori,” or “Remembering Death.” Our Christian brothers and sisters of yesteryear didn’t think about death just for the fun of it. They were human just like us and in that way they probably weren’t big fans of death either. However, they knew that the law of gaining the wise heart is Memento Mori.
The Cost of Living in Fear
The problem with practicing Memento Mori, literally “Remember death”, is that we are fearful people–the practice goes against our nature. The thought that anyone of us could die today is a scary thought. However, the cost of not addressing the problem of the fear of death is that we will never truly face reality and live free from our fears. Jesus died to deliver us from the fear of death, and hundreds of Christians throughout history and around the world today prove that reality. Those who have boldly stepped into the next life before us have proved that there is “no fear in death… because Jesus commands my destiny.”3
- The fear of death will drive us to live for the preservation and comfort of our lives in the present and remove our eternal focus.
- The fear of death will cause us to focus on temporal priorities that are not aligned with the Kingdom of God.
- The fear of death will cause us to capitulate to the enemies of anxiety and worry.
- The fear of death will rob our joy and peace.
These are just a few of the many negative and destructive consequences of the fear of death.
No Fear in Death
Because of Jesus, the child of God has no reason to fear death. We don’t have to go around living our lives in worry about what bad things might happen to us. An accident, a shooting, a sickness, a natural disaster, persecution for our faith, etc. These things happen to the believer and non-believer alike, just as both good and bad things happen to the believer and non-believer alike. We live in a fallen, broken, dying world that will pass away just like everybody in it, but the good news of the message of Jesus is that there is another life, a new world, a restitution and redemption. King Jesus will make all things new. All we must do now, in this life between Christ’s first coming and second coming, is to simply trust that our Father knows the time and the hour in which we will exit this world and enter the next. So let’s live faithful and fearless: bold as lions.
“The righteous are bold as a lion.”4
~ King Solomon
Let’s forsake the myopic disposition of life that the fear of death enslaves us to and embrace the reality that we will live forever; that the death of the old is only the gateway to the new. Let’s embrace the fact that this life is but a vapor and will soon be past, and “only what’s done for Christ will last.”5
We must all adopt Memento Mori into our daily mindsets and habits lest we live for the temporary present rather than the eternal future.
How to overcome fear, defy death, and embrace the reality of life after death
The simple answer is FAITH. Faith is how Jesus sets us up for victory over the taunts of fear and death.
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”6
~ The Apostle John
Let’s break it down into 3 ways that faith is applied practically. Embracing and implementing these mindsets will enable us to overcome the fear of death.
1) Death is not the end
We must believe the Gospel message. The good news is that because of Jesus’s work–His life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and future return–we don’t have to fear death. Death is not the end of the story.
According to the Gospel, those who put their faith in Jesus are set free from the hold of death and will live forever in the presence of Jesus as children of God and joint heirs with Christ in the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom, this new world, is a real world folks. A place much like our current world. It will resemble ours but be totally new. It will be perfect–no sin or destruction, no brokenness or hurt, no sickness or deformities, no murder or war, no death.
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”7
~ The Apostle Paul
2) Trust the timing of your death to a perfect and wise Father
Sure, you can avoid death via idiocy by not doing stupid things, which I would encourage you to do (aka don’t be stupid). But in the end, the timing of your death isn’t going to surprise God. You will die when you’re supposed to die. If you’re living for Jesus and on His mission then He knows the bounds and places that He has set up for you. You will die when you are supposed to.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed His offspring.’”
Acts 17:24-29 ESV
3) Know that you will not die alone
Jesus died alone so you wouldn’t have to. We will all face death. As the Maltese Proverb goes, “Death spares no one.” But we will face death with the One who has already been there. Jesus will take us to the grave and beyond into the new resurrection life.
As Moses Commissioned Joshua…
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear… for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” “Be strong and courageous… It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”8
This same truth is echoed all throughout the pages of Scripture. He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”9 If this is true of all of life, how much more in death.
So I challenge myself and all of you along with me to make a change: defy the fear of death and adopt the discipline of Memento Mori.
Begin by praying and asking God to increase your faith and deliver you from all your fears, and especially the fear of death.
“I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”10
~ King David
Quick Tip/Idea: My idea to embed this discipline as a habit of thought is to write it as the first thing in my journal entries!
- Psalm 90:12 NKJV
- Proverbs 4:7 NKJV
- Lyrics from the song “In Christ Alone” written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend
- Proverbs 28:1 KJV
- “Only One Life” a poem by C.T. Studd
- 1 John 5:4 ESV
- 1 Corinthians 15:55–57 ESV
- Deuteronomy 31:6 & 8 ESV
- Hebrews 13:5 NKJV
- Psalm 34:4 ESV
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