In the past, I was able to visit various countries. It was interesting to see the different ways people live. They look different, speak different languages, eat different foods. They behave differently. The steering wheel is on the right side of the car, and they drive on the left side. “Different countries, different customs.” But I have noticed something that is found in every country: cemeteries. Even though burial and mourning customs are different, it shows us that people all over the world have “no continuing city.”
Worldwide, an average of 54.75 million people die each year or 150 000 per day or 104 each minute. Very clearly, I can hear the words of the writer of Hebrews, who states that it is appointed (destined) for man to die once (Hebrews 9:27). Nothing can alter this fact. Neither are we able to avoid this fact. Therefore, the verse is of great importance: “Set your house in order, for you shall die.” This means we should intentionally face the fact of death and make the necessary preparations.
In the last issue of the Foundation of Faith, a few points were mentioned as food for thought to consider when you “put your house in order.” The first two were already covered last month: the soul and our interpersonal relationships. Today, we will deal with other thoughts: our intellectual capacity, the body, our assets, and the funeral.
III. Our intellectual capacity
Many people are granted the ability to think clearly until the end of their lives. This is not always the case, however, because dementia and other causes can destroy acumen. When this occurs, we are completely dependent on other people to take care of us, including making decisions on our behalf. Nobody desires this, but we need to prepare for this reality. Of course, this must be done in a timely fashion.
We should determine who will make decisions on our behalf. Who should manage our business and financial affairs? In order to establish a power of attorney, each country requires certain documents that need to be completed. “Ordering your affairs” includes this task. Many have thought, “It won’t happen to me; my mind will remain clear to the end,” and they did not grant anyone the power of attorney. But how much hardship happened later as a result! This could have been avoided.
IV. The body
The increasing years of life are not without impact on our body. Paul noted our outward man is perishing (2 Corinthians 4:16), i.e., our strength diminishes and the body slowly breaks down. This fact cannot be denied. This process can necessitate decisions about our health, even when we are incapable of making them.
One midnight hour found me at a bedside. The patient was in a coma, and the doctor asked the question, “What were this person’s wishes?” No one could answer. These are difficult situations for family members to deal with and often for the pastor as well. Wouldn’t it be far better if I discussed my wishes for such eventualities with my spouse, children, or representative in a timely fashion and gave them the necessary authority to make decisions for me?
It is of paramount importance to think about this early on. To whom do I entrust my health care? Who will make decisions in my best interest and consider my wishes? And what are my wishes? Do I want to be “kept alive” on life support when my end is inevitable, or should I be allowed to die in peace? All of these are extremely complicated questions.
“Set your house in order” are valid words. Arrange everything at the opportune time! Give someone the living will, talk to the appointed person, express your wishes and even write them down. There are documents that should be filled out for this purpose. They may need to be verified by witnesses to be legally binding.
V. Our property (the estate)
I don’t think any area has caused so many family problems as the matter of inheritance. How much misery and broken families and relationships are the result of this. How will the inheritance be divided? That is the real question. It doesn’t even matter whether it’s a little or a lot.
Although you may not want to admit it, you cannot take along your hard-earned savings, your house, or any of your possessions. Everything – without exception – will remain behind. They are your assets for which you are still responsible. Wouldn’t it be better to decide now how your assets should be divided after your death? It might also be advisable to appoint an executor to make sure your will is carried out correctly. That would certainly be the right thing to do, wouldn’t it?
A lot of godly wisdom and common sense is required when making a will. You have to be careful, especially if there are several children in the family. Is it justified to make distinctions? “Yes, since our son is not serving God,” a father said to me. He felt that this would be reason enough to exclude him from any inheritance. I replied, “Surely you want him to be saved, don’t you? Will it help his soul if you exclude him from the will, or could it even turn him further away from faith?”
Don’t make verbal promises without including them in the will. Promising “You’ll get my car when I die” is certainly well-intended, but who can verify later that you really said that? Even if your descendants don’t fight over the inheritance, clear instructions are a loving gesture to spare them potential problems. Have you made your will yet?
VI. The funeral
When the inevitable occurs and our life on earth ends, we as believers will be united with the Lord. And this will be forever. All suffering and hardship will be over. Just thinking of this fills us with exceedingly great joy.
However, it is quite different for our relatives. They will have suffered a great loss. The family circle will have broken. In addition, amidst their grief, they now have only a few days to plan your funeral. You may have experienced how difficult it can be to remember everything important and find all the necessary information. As a pastor, I usually become involved in this planning and walk alongside the grieving family.
I have encountered many families who are completely clueless and helpless in this situation. They don’t know where the documents of the deceased are. The subject of dying had never been discussed, and, consequently, no one knows anything. A search operation begins. Had there been foresight to arrange a burial plot? Had a funeral home been entrusted with arrangements? If so, where are the documents?
Then there is the planning of the funeral service. It is a good opportunity to share the Gospel with those attending. However, the message from God’s Word should also provide comfort to the bereaved. As a pastor, I also like to add a personal touch to the service by sharing something about the deceased person’s life. So I ask questions. Once, in such a situation, I asked the children, “When did your father become a Christian? Was he baptized? Did he receive special answers to prayer, have a favorite Bible verse or a favorite song?” I usually get vague answers to these and similar questions.
It is not uncommon that records of life events are lacking. Often, relatives are missing accurate dates and information. In addition, there is no suitable photo for the memorial service and obituary. Thus, the next of kin may be burdened with unnecessary worries in the planning process during these difficult and sad days.
The words “Set your house in order” are serious words to consider. First and foremost, they refer to the spiritual life. He who is at peace with God and man can also go Home in peace.
However, we must not think only of ourselves but also of the people who lovingly care about us. We have the opportunity to lighten their load by timely discussion and cooperative planning of the required tasks during a sad and difficult time.
The rules for enduring or lasting power of attorney or personal directives vary in different countries. Therefore, it may be wise to access professional advice on the respective documents. When the time comes, wouldn’t it be good for your children or the authorized person (executor) to find the will and all signed and required documents and records in a folder or briefcase?
Write down your life history with a list of residences and dates of moves. It helps if you also write down spiritual milestones, special experiences, your favorite Bible verses and songs. Add a picture of yourself so that everything will be ready at the required time.
Those who are proactive help themselves and their families. They will thank him or her for it. No one knows their last hour. That is why it is not advisable to put these preparations on “the back burner.”