When you think about it – there’s a lot to prepare for at every stage of life. Lots to think about – lots to do! For example, we try to teach our young people to plan for the future by doing well in their school work. ‘It will pay off in the end’ we tell them – ‘so take advantage of the opportunities to build a strong foundation for your adulthood.’ Parents work hard to provide college educations for their children. Couples try to make wise investments for future retirement. Even senior citizens today are blazing new trails in planning for old age because older folk are getting older and are living longer. The golden age has drastically altered in recent years.
It’s interesting how young people feel they have got loads of time ahead of them and feel there’s no need to start preparing for the future yet. ‘I’ve got plenty of time,’ they say. Little do they realise that the older you get the quicker time flies by. Before you know it, life has moved on and you’re left wondering where all the years have gone.
Now it is true that the things we value during the prime of life more often follow us into the twilight years. If we wisely value faith in the Lord Jesus Christ it will strengthen us in the later years. If we cherish time with our family by giving them love and understanding we are likely to benefit from continued fellowship with them. When we practise the golden rule of doing unto others as we would have them do to us – then we will surely reap what we sow later in life.
I recently read this story. Shortly before the economic downturn in 2008 a successful business man in his 40s proudly announced his stock earnings to the tune of several million dollars. He said it had been a thrill to see his dream come true. Sometime later he reported that is wife had left him and his teenage son had been imprisoned after spending his lucrative allowances on buying alcohol and drugs. The fact is many prepare and invest wisely in business matters but fail to invest time and interest in their most valued possessions – their relationship with God, their spouse and their children and family. Of course, this is certainly not the case for all those with successful careers but the story should certainly serve as an important caution to us all.
Over recent years savings, pensions, retirement funds, investments and nest eggs have all taken a battering one way or another and have lost significant value. Those who are just 10 or 15 years away from retirement might have to reconsider their future and begin to prepare in a different way for the days ahead. One thing is for sure planning for retirement and even preparing for death has become big business and there is great wisdom in taking responsibility now before it is too late.
There’s an interesting story in Genesis 27. We see Israel’s patriarch, Isaac, preparing for his death. He thinks the end is near, so Isaac intends to give the greatest portion of his property to his older son Esau, as custom required. Unfortunately his plan is thwarted by two things: the craftiness of his wife and other son Jacob, and the failure of Isaac’s faculties. To cut a long story short, he inadvertently blesses Jacob leaving the rightful heir without an inheritance.
What is intriguing about this incident is that Isaac’s concern is really for preparing others, namely his two sons, for his death – but it doesn’t go well. Now while there are many lessons to be learned from this biblical account one is that Isaac is too old to ensure his final wishes are executed properly and this causes great turmoil within the family. This is a scenario that can be seen many times even today in 2014.
While no-one likes to dwell on death or prepare for it, the Bible emphasises these matters. Recently a medical doctor was interviewed about death and financial preparedness on a popular radio talk programme. She made a startling statement, ‘we are not made to experience death, death is ugly’, she said. However perhaps she should have taken into consideration what 1 Corinthians 15: 54 says. It tells us that ‘death is swallowed up in victory.’ The Bible references death and dying in many ways – actually nearly 1000 times – yet the Bible remains a book of great hope. Outside of the rapture of the church there will be one death for every birth. Not everyone will experience old-age but death will surely come to all of us. For believers our hope and comfort come from God’s word which says, ‘blessed are those who die in the Lord’ (Revelation 14:13) and as it is inevitable, it makes sense to prepare well for it.
Life is uncertain we don’t know what the future may hold. The Bible tells us we do not even know what will happen tomorrow! Since death is an undeniable reality we should all be diligent to prepare for the last years of life.
Have you ever heard the story about the solicitor who did not practise what he preached? Well he died unexpectedly of a heart attack in his early 70s. For decades people in the community looked to him for legal advice, transfers of property, disputes between neighbours, family conflicts, the making of wills and estates – the whole gamut of legal matters. The lawyer was often called upon to handle all these things. His clients had confidence in him; they trusted him not only for his legal knowledge but also for his practical wisdom and common sense.
Even as he scaled back his practice and brought in a younger partner to take over, people still sought him out to help them. When he died the family was overwhelmed with cards and letters from people that he’d helped over the years. The local newspaper printed an editorial extolling his contributions to the community expressing its sense of loss.
Shortly after his funeral his family made an unsettling, even shocking, discovery. He had never got around to preparing his own will. He never really told anyone in his family about his financial affairs, although from time to time he expressed his desire to leave some of his estate to his church and to several local charities as well as his family including a widowed sister.
However, none of these verbal wishes were fulfilled. It took many years and much expense to sort out his affairs. And it all could have been prevented if he had only done what he advised countless others to do over the years – to prepare a comprehensive will, to prepare for old age, to prepare for death. Why he never got around to doing this or helping his family understand his financial situation no one knows. Perhaps like many, he couldn’t quite face the fact that he was getting older. And like many others he might have thought once he’d done it his death would come sooner?
Whether it is a question of making a will or one of a dozen other practical issues that need dealing with, growing older confronts us with a number of challenges. The truth is, if we don’t take care of the necessary details others will step in possibly creating difficulty for those we have left behind. It is our Christian duty to be responsible for handling matters that affect our families long after we’ve gone. The key here is not to put it off but to sort it now – don’t delay!
Of course, not every decision can be made in advance. Some practical issues can’t be dealt with; they can only be dealt with as they occur. No-one can predict if someone is going to get ill or whether there’s going to be another economic downturn (although chances are there most probably will be). But there are some issues that can be decided in advance and when that is the case we need to take action. These things don’t get sorted on their own, they have to be sorted. God does not want us to leave a legacy of resentment or conflict or confusion behind us, but this can easily happen if we neglect the practical issues that press upon us as we grow older. Remember what Proverbs 14:15 says ‘a prudent man gives thought to all his steps.’ And 1 Corinthians 14:40 tells us ‘everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.’
The fact is the older we get, the harder it becomes to deal with sensitive issues and the important decisions that confront us. They may seem too burdensome or feel too complicated for us to sort out at this stage of our lives. Or perhaps we would rather avoid potential conflicts and tensions that may arise with others. They also may trigger worrisome thoughts about the inevitable march of time or even make us question our own ability to make sound decisions as we grow older.
In addition, the stress and unexpected illness or the death of a spouse or some other crisis may occupy us so much that we are incapable of focusing on other issues. Doctors tell us many people battle with depression and stress and a common characteristic of someone suffering from depression is an inability to make decisions during tough times. If this is something you are experiencing I would encourage you to seek professional advice. But it is my hope that as you read through these pages that you’ll be encouraged to follow through on these thoughts. You see, God is as interested with what you do about your possessions and money when you die as He is with what you do with them now whilst you are still alive!
The Bible pictorial example shows the ant diligently setting aside food for the future illustrating a practical but profound lesson. Proverbs 6: 6 – 8 says… ’go to the ant you sluggard, consider its ways and be wise for it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.’
You see it’s all in the preparation. And talking about preparation, you should not only attend to all your practical and business affairs, the last thing you should do is neglect preparing for eternity. The word of God says, ‘it is appointed once to live and to die and then the judgment.’ The scriptures also teach us, ‘whoever has the Son (Jesus) has life eternal; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.’ The key is to get it sorted now before it’s too late!
Whatever it is – start preparing now – it’s never too early!