I choose death
By Jolene K. Hodder, Commissioner –
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).
I settled into the big easy chair in our living room. It’s my husband’s favorite place to sit, but every morning it also becomes a sacred place where I pause for a few minutes of prayer and devotion.
The Lord and I were working on goals for the New Year—like most people. I have discovered that without goals, I lose track of my purpose and wander away from his will for me. So that morning, we worked together to construct a plan that would improve my personal life, lay a stronger spiritual foundation, develop my relationships with others, and bring greater power and strength to my character. The plan was set, and I was excited for 2020 to begin.
Then came the call that my father was dying, and that I was needed by his side. I threw a few things into my suitcase, finished up at work and dashed to the airport. Upon arrival, I joined other members of my family around the hospital bed, where we started making plans for Dad’s transition into heaven.
As night fell, I took Mom back to her apartment for a few hours of rest. Unable to sleep, I started rummaging through my suitcase, hoping that I had brought something to read. Fortunately, I came upon Commissioner Phil Needham’s new book, “Christmas Breakthrough.” I randomly opened it and landed on a chapter about death. It struck me as a bit strange to find a chapter on that topic in a book designed for Advent, but I took it as a divine gift and read every word, praying that the Lord would give me comfort. And he did.
I was reminded that death is vital to Christian discipleship. After all, dying to self is part of being born again (John 3:3-7), and we continue dying to ourselves as we grow in holiness. Every time we rise above the things and ideas and passions of this world, we come into closer communion with Christ.
As I contemplated my father’s approaching death, I could see that it was simply the final step in his life-long journey with the Lord. He knew from whence his salvation had come. He had walked with Christ, always seeking to be more like him. And he knew that, ultimately, there could be no resurrection, no eternal life, without physical death.
That’s what would make my father’s death what we call in The Salvation Army a “promotion to Glory.” It would be a time of sadness, of course, as my family and I would grieve the loss of one we’ve loved. Yet because it would be the death of one who knows Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, it would also be a victory, a fulfillment of his promises.
The day after I read from Needham’s book, my family and I found ourselves singing Christmas carols around my father’s bed, and these words struck me like they never have before:
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
In that moment, I suddenly understood what Dietrich Bonhoeffer had meant when he wrote, “Death is the supreme festival on the road to freedom.” It was alright for us to celebrate with Dad. Because of our faith in what God has promised, it was alright to laugh and sing and joke with one another. When you know that Christ has overcome the world, even death holds no terror for you.
The day my father died, I looked again at my goals for the New Year. They were wholly incomplete, and so I added another. I wrote at the top of the list that I will die more to myself and live more for Christ. And if I should also go to heaven in 2020, I’m more convinced than ever that, as Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “I will gain even more.”
Thank you, Dad, for teaching me one last lesson. Thank you for showing me the way.