I remember it well, though it’s been decades since I first heard the gospel. The twelve-year-old who shared Christ with me presented the gospel this way: he met me at the classroom door and said, “It’s a good thing you lived through the night . . . because if you hadn’t, you’d be in hell right now.”
His approach seriously lacked tact, but truth he did not lack. Needless to say, you don’t sleep well when you hear the gospel in that manner. Every night, I tossed, so frightened about not waking up that I could not easily close my eyes. That pattern continued for more than eight months before I became a follower of Christ at age 13. Only then did I genuinely sleep again, and never since then has death been a fear.
That doesn’t mean I always sleep well now, though. I still sometimes toss and turn like before, but fear of death is not what keeps me awake. No, my fear this time is life. Dying does not scare me, but living does.
- I fear, for example, I am living well – teaching at a seminary, preaching most weeks, leading conferences – without really caring that my neighbors are often living for dreams that amount to nothing eternal.
- I’m afraid my wife and I are so ingrained in our way of life that we would battle hard against God if He changed our plans. What would we do if God required of us what He demanded of Abraham – to leave all behind and seek His city (Gen. 12:1-3)?
- I am concerned I’m so busy that I sometimes miss people who are hungry, hurting, homeless, and helpless. Yet, their needs are real, and Jesus’ expectation that we minister to them remains (Matt. 25: 31-46).
- I fear that somewhere in the world is a non-believer seeking truth in the wrong place, a new believer longing for a mentor, or an entire congregation pleading with God to send them training—and I will be doing so many other “good things” that I miss the gospel opportunities.
- I’m also afraid I sometimes work more for my glory than for God’s. I would be lying to say my ego isn’t stroked when I see my name on a book cover or a conference brochure.
- I fear I will grow out of what my pastoral mentor called “a sweetheart love for Jesus” — that is, a “I can’t wait to be with you, to talk to you, to hear your voice, to bring you joy” kind of love. I’ve seen it happen in far too many ministers of the gospel.
No, it’s not death that scares me. What scares me is the possibility of coming to the end of life, looking back, and seeing little but wood, hay, and stubble to be burned in the fire (1 Cor 3:10-15).
At the same time, though, this truth I know: God has given me this day to serve Him with all of my being. What I do right now will determine whether my life will have made a difference when the Lord calls me home. Present-tense radical obedience will trump my future-tense fears.