Whose Words Do You Treasure?

old book opened“Who are some of your favorite authors?” the seminary student inquired of the guest speaker, a veteran ministry leader. “The dead ones,” she replied.

She went on to explain, “It’s easy to write a book when you’re on the upswing of ministry growth and things are going well. When you’re in the middle of success others will listen to you. But I prefer to read their books after they’ve died, when I can know how their life turned out. Did they remain faithful to the gospel? What were the long-term results of their ministry? Did they build others up or damage them? Were they tireless workers to the end like John Stott or C.S. Lewis or Dorothy Sayers or Dallas Willard? Those are the authors I want to read.”

Her comments transported me to two recent funerals. Cancer struck my friend in his mid-40’s and ravaged his body within eighteen months. He was the first person to ask for a book recommendation. A voracious reader across a range of fields, he was eager to learn, look at issues from another perspective, and humble (though opinionated) in his convictions. He’d served on the mission field, on the staff of a suburban American church, and as a field representative for an international mission agency. At his core, he longed to see people around the world come to faith, and constantly thought about how to contextualize the gospel and reach more souls.

A dedicated family man who wouldn’t live to see his children graduate or walk down the aisle, he treasured the moments he’d already had and the present ones without fretting about what the ones he wouldn’t. Not that he didn’t grieve, but the dark days couldn’t extinguish his light and love of life. Through his final weeks, he lived beyond his circumstances with a deep concern for the souls of others.

I’d known the seventy-something woman in the casket for over thirty years. We hadn’t been close, but family occasions kept us in contact. As her relatives reminisced, it struck me– in that box lay the same woman I’d met decades ago. Burdened by an impoverished past and a life which hadn’t met her standards, she hadn’t changed her approach to life, her way of reacting to life’s inevitable challenges, or her methods of handling conflict. Physically she’d aged; emotionally and psychologically she’d clung to over-expectant dreams that disappointed early and often.. Creative and sensitive, the shadows from her past blocked the expression of her gifts. She walked through increasingly dark and lonely days, and wouldn’t look beyond them.

Both of them experienced challenging and painful situations over many years, and taught me a great deal. The one whose advice and example I want to follow is the one who never lost his desire to grow or his thankfulness for what God had provided. He lived his life well to his final days; his are the words I treasure,

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