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First Thoughts

Caring for the Dying

How many times have you heard this statement: “Well, heaven has gotten a new angel today?” I’ve heard that so many times in my ministry life following the death of a loved one. But this is not a truthful statement. God has created the angels as heavenly beings, and He did that so they worship Him and protect us from the Evil One. He uses them as messengers, and they are fearsome in appearance (Luke 2:9-10). We should certainly agree with the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21 that when our loved ones depart this life for their eternal one, this is to be our belief– “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Why do we say things like this in the event of a loved one’s passing? We say things that can be unbiblical because we are not comfortable and don’t really know what to say. I learned this as a young man in ministry when I was called upon to visit the hospital for a family. The situation was uncomfortable for me, and the other young man called me out on it for not going to see them. I said, “I just didn’t know what to say.” And he replied, “I didn’t need you to say anything; I just needed you to be there.” That was a valuable lesson for me in ministry and one that has paid great dividends for my care of others, especially at times of great sickness and bereavement.

What are the Scriptures that we can focus on and some explanation of them to help others at a time of their need as they’re passing from this life to the next?

  • Psalm 116:15: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” This verse isn’t teaching us that death is precious; it is terrible! But, for those of us who are saved, death is just a departure from this life to the Greater one of eternity. One that is lived forever with our Father God! It isn’t a gloomy ceasing to be. It isn’t the annihilation of a man. To die is not to renounce existence. For sure, the dead are never more fully alive than in death! Death, when understood correctly, is a blessing from the Lord’s hand! “Precious” tells us that God is very concerned about those of us who are His (those who have been saved). God knows every breath we draw, every pain we endure, every groan that we utter. He’s here with us through all our joys and the wonderful experiences of life. Whether death comes suddenly or after a lingering illness, no matter how it comes, it is because God permits it, and it is precious in God’s sight.
  • How do we minister to others who are dying in response to this Scripture?
    • Offer them the peace of Christ available by faith.
    • Help them to understand that this is ultimately a good thing.
    • Pray for God to prepare their hearts.
    • Use a book like Every Moment Holy, Volume 2.
  • Psalm 71: “In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have learned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you. I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day. Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent. For my enemies speak concerning me; those who watch for my life consult together.”
  • This is a picture of rest and rescue: A much-needed thing in the process of dying. Here are some ways we can minister well to them regarding this scripture:
    • You should seek an opportunity to share the Gospel with them even if you’ve known them well in life. We do not know the spiritual condition of anyone other than ourselves, and there are deathbed conversions.
    • Reading Scripture to them.
    • Sit by their bedside, holding their hand and singing hymns to them.
    • Sit down and listen to them and point them to God faithfully.
    • Help them make the final decisions concerning their life. Fill out a pamphlet with them outlining their final wishes.
    • Making sure they have what they need and their loved ones have what they need.
    • Offering to give their caregivers a break from time to time.

Ministering to the dying is one of the hardest and most uncomfortable things we Christians are called on to do. Why? Death reminds us of the fact that our days are numbered as well. Perhaps we see people struggling with things that we struggle with as well. We really do not want to focus on the negatives of life but rather our own pleasures and selfishness. It brings back too many bad memories for us. Ultimately, that’s how we care well for the dying; we are there for them. Christ has called us to minister to others; we are called to minister to those who are dying. Will you be a true friend to those who are dying?

Listen to Pastor Steve’s sermon on Caring for The Dying from the Sunday night series entitled Reclaiming Love: People of Compassion in a World Full of Hate.

Steve Clifton is the Pastor of Care and Discipleship and has served First Baptist Church of Jacksonville since 1996 in a variety of pastoral positions. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Church Music Performance from Arkansas State University in 1983 and completed post-graduate work in the field of Christian Education. He became certified by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors in 2017 and earned a specialization in addictions counseling in 2021.

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