GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 608 • January 27, 2021
IF THE NEXT ONE WAS TO BE YOUR VERY LAST ONE …?
There’s a game called “What if it was your last one.” It’s a fun game to play. “What would you do, say, or want if it was to be your very last ___?” You can put anything you want in the blank, if you are asking the question. People usually put some shallow, superficial, or frivolous thing there. Nobody really wants the game to be heavy and serious. The fact that anything might really be your last in any category is a thought that may seldom cross one’s mind. We don’t want to think of anything as being the last we will have. Perhaps we should think about it more often.
Suppose it was serious, not a game, and you really had to choose your next and last thing We have heard it said: Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might, for there is no work, no device, no knowledge and no wisdom in the grave to which you are going (Ecclesiastes 9:10). If you had to choose your next and last anything, what would it be?
LET’S PLAY THE GAME FOR A MOMENT – I WILL ASK THE QUESTIONS. BUT WE WILL KEEP IT LIGHT WITH SUPERFICIAL THINGS FOR THE MOMENT. NOTHING VERY SERIOUS (YET).
What if your next meal was to be your very last meal ever? If it is truly your last meal, would you want it to be good for you, or good tasting? Would you want anyone to share it with you?
What if it was the last article of clothing you’d ever buy or receive? Would it be casual, dressy, or formal? Seasonal, or “all season”? Would you worry about material, texture, color, fit, and durability? If you chose shoes, would they be for dress, work, or play? Flipflops?
What if it was to be the last book you’d ever read, the last movie or video you’d ever see, or the last music you’d ever hear? Would it be a favorite that you’d like to experience again, or would it be something new, something you haven’t seen, read, or heard yet? Would you want it to be factual or fictional? Entertaining or enlightening? About people or about places? Would it be the Bible?
What if it was your last car, last house, last town or State? Would your car be a sedan, station wagon, SUV or ATV? Perhaps a convertible? Would your house be a town house, or country house, cottage or condominium? Would your location of choice be small town or big city, beach front, or backwoods? East, West, North, South or one of the central states? Or in some other country?
What if it was the last trip you’d ever get to take, your last time to go anywhere? Where would you want to go? Some familiar place, or someplace you’d never seen? Who would you want to go with you, if anybody? If you were “away from home” you might want to “go home.” Our occasional “homecomings” are a small sample of this idea.
NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT SOMETHING A LITTLE MORE SERIOUS.
Suppose it was the last worship service you would ever attend (Hebrews 13:15). Where and with whom would you want to meet? What particular worship activities would you want? How would you participate in singing and praying if you would never be able to sing and pray again? (1 Corinthians 14:15, Ephesians 5:19). If your contribution was the last you would ever be able to give, what would it be? Do you have something laid by in store, or something you should have given before but have not? (1 Corinthians 16:1-2, 2 Corinthians 9:7). What would your feelings be during the communion of the Lord’s supper if you knew you would never again eat and drink in this memorial to Christ with the church and with the Lord? 1 Cor. 11:23-29.
What if the next sermon or discussion of the word of God you hear would be your last? Preachers sometimes think about, “If my next sermon was to be the last I would ever preach, what would it be?” But the point here is about you. If the next sermon you hear would be the last you would ever hear. who would you want to preach it? Probably everybody has some degree of “preacheritis” – a favorite preacher, or someone they’d like to hear one last time. Perhaps you wouldn’t really care who preached it, if it is really to be your very last sermon. The preacher is irrelevant; the message is what really counts. So…. What would you want it to be about? I doubt that many people would want it to be about “the eschatological implications of the epiphany of Moses and Elijah with Christ at his transfiguration.” You might not want to hear about “the mystical use of gematria and iconography in apocryphal and apocalyptic literature.” I doubt many would choose to hear one more “critique of denominational dogma” or “the qualifications of elders and deacons and whether a woman can serve as a deacon.” Those things might be interesting and challenging, probably worthwhile. But is it what you would want for your very last sermon?
A non-Christian might want to know how to be saved (Acts 16:30, Acts 2:37). An unfaithful Christian might want to know how to “come home again to God.” If you have been struggling with temptation, trouble, trial, oppression, persecution, or hardship you might want your last sermon to be about the strength God supplies, and how God will balance all accounts, both for the righteous and the unrighteous. If you are a faithful Christian you might want it to be a reminder of the joys and blessings of heaven, assurance that your hope in Christ has been well placed.
How would you listen to a sermon if it were to be your very last one? Would you listen the way you usually do? Would you give it the same amount and intensity of attention you usually give to the preaching of God’s word? Now, in this case, since you have chosen the subject, and perhaps also chosen the preacher, maybe you could ignore all the usual distractions around you and in your own mind and pay attention, really try to hear and understand every part of it. You would probably listen the way Cornelius did, ready to obey as soon as you were told what was required by God. Acts 10:33
Change the subject for something a little more serious. Suppose it was the last time you would ever see or be with your husband or wife, your children or parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends, your neighbors, or the church. What would you want them to say? What would you say to them? Are there some words you would want to be sure you didn’t leave unsaid? Perhaps you would want to resolve any conflicts existing between you and others, clear up all misunderstandings and apologize for your words, acts, and attitudes of the past – all those things that have hurt you, and have hurt others too. Perhaps you would want to reassure these people of your love and concern, tell them how important they have been and are to you. I doubt you would spend your last time with them trading jokes, talking about weather, sports, the stock market, the design of the new cars, or the cute things your pet does. Perhaps you would be bold enough to tell them some spiritual truth they need to hear. You might talk to them about salvation, even if you know they don’t want to hear it. This point is so important that we will take another look at it in a few moments.
HERE’S SOMETHING REALLY “HEAVY” AND SERIOUS. SUPPOSE YOU KNEW THAT TODAY WOULD BE THE LAST DAY OF YOUR LIFE.
You probably would not want to waste it. You would try to make every minute count. How would you want to spend it? Reading a book, listing to music, watching a movie, or taking a nap? Not likely. Planning, preparing or eating a meal? Food might not seem very important. Let’s get back to the point we were making earlier. You’d probably try to heal some broken relationships and “mend some fences” between yourself and others, seeking forgiveness from those you’ve injured or sinned against, seeking reconciliation with those who have been your enemies. You’d probably want to reassure your loved ones that you do in fact love them, appreciate them, wish them well. You might spend some time tearing down your barns and dispensing your goods to those who can still make use of them and benefit from them. Make sure of your “Last Will and Testament,” and how any assets you have accumulated would be distributed.
Who would you want to spend the day with, have close to you on your final day? Be realistic. Don’t say the apostle Paul. Don’t name your dead relatives and friends. That would not be possible. You would probably want to be with those who mean most to you in your life now: your living family members and friends. Maybe family and friends from whom you have been estranged, those you abandoned and those who abandoned you. Not a stranger, not some person you’ve never met and do not know. If you are a Christian, perhaps you’d want to spend at least part of the day with your spiritual family. I’ve been present when someone died in a church service. He knew he was ill; he knew he could die at any time. But he said he couldn’t think of any place he’d rather be than worshiping God in an assembly of Christians.
You would no doubt spend some time making sure of your right relationship with God, trying to assure your heart before Him (1 John 3:19). It is said, “In a time when death seems imminent, your whole life flashes before your eyes.” I think at such times we do some instant, intense, and honest soul searching. The trouble is, you may see many things that need correction but have no time to correct them, no time to make things right, even with God. One who has not become a Christian at all would certainly want to make sure he has obeyed the gospel of God so that the Lord will not reject him. If one has not done that, he would probably lay everything else aside as relatively unimportant, until he was sure he had done what God requires.
As a preacher I have had this experience a number of times – I’m sure many other preachers could say the same: someone who is dying or thinks he is wants to make a confession, have someone join him in prayer, and hope he can be forgiven. A few times I’ve had someone who had rejected the gospel and refused baptism ask to be baptized. Sometimes it could be done; sometimes not. Strange as it may seem, I’ve had this experience too: a man who had rejected the gospel, refused to obey it, even though he knew he was dying (he did die). He said it would be a sign of weakness or cowardice on his part. He said, “A long time ago I made my choice against God, and I’ll stick with it. I will not try to hedge my bet now, even though I’m dying.”
The fact is, we generally have a hard time thinking that anything in any category will actually be our last one. Surely not our last worship opportunity, our last sermon to preach or to hear. Surely not the last time we will be with our loved ones. Not the last day of our life. Surely not the last “invitation” to obey the gospel and get right with God. But how can we be sure we aren’t right now coming to the last of everything in life on earth? If the one you have now or your very next one were to be your very last one, what would you want it to be?