Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
The theme the past couple of days has been weakness, aging and death. Many of the dear saints who have walked with the Lord many years and served Him and His people faithfully, by His grace, are transitioning from this life to the next.
J. I. Packer (b. 1926) addresses the reality of weakness. This is not just the weakness we experience in the flesh and the need to learn and live the reality of God’s grace being sufficient, and it is not just the truth that our true spiritual strength is realized in our weakness. Both of those are true and real and ought to be our experience. But Packer also speaks to his increasing weakness as his body ages and wears out. In addition to Packer finding his strength in weakness, he also finds that his inner spiritual life is being renewed, and therefore he does not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:16). This is a good, right and important truth and lesson for us all.
George Beverly Shea’s homegoing (1909-2013) to be “with the Lord” reminds us that this is not all there is to life, that all of us age, all of us die, and those who know the Lord transition joyfully from this age to the next. Though this aging process is marked by many losses, it is not just begrudgingly bemoaned but rather a cause of “boast[ing] all the more gladly of my weaknesses” (2 Cor. 12:9).
In Billy Graham’s (b. 1918) most recent book, Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), he notes something missing in most contemporary Evangelical writing in theology, discipleship and Christian living. Most Christians and books, he writes, address how to live, but they don't talk about how to die. This is precisely what Graham attempts to do. There is much to glean and learn from Graham about aging and preparing to transition to be with the Lord.
It is one of the things I appreciated about Pope John Paul II (1920-2005). He stood strongly for the sanctity of life, all of life from womb to death. And then he modeled that in his own life in the way he aged, weakened and died publicly. This said very positively even while disagreeing with his theology.
I am not there yet, either physically, spiritually or age-wise. I acknowledge it is one thing to speak of biblical truth and the experience of others as if I truly “know” what this is like. I don’t. But I want to. I want to know from Scripture and I desire to learn from other godly men and women who have gone on ahead of me having been faithful to the Lord to the end. Then when that stage and season of life come, which it will as there are no exceptions this being the only path to glory, I will, by God's grace, engage in that season of life faithfully manifesting that in this jar of clay, God’s grace will be personally precious and it will be seen “that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7). It is the vicarious learning that prepares us for the experiential living.
By God’s grace and for God’s glory, and through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, may we live well in weakness, and may we die well in strength reflecting Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.