One sunny afternoon in May 2001 I remember calling up Annie (then my fiancee) on my lunch break to tell her about the odd conversation that I had with the solicitor who was then taking care of all the legal proceedings that were required before owning a house and getting married. It was all very new to us. We had no experience with solicitors emphasised by the fact that we knew none of the endless jokes about the profession. The bit of that conversation that I found odd was talking about a will.
We were in our early twenties. We were a couple of months away from getting married. And it was sunny. Why did we have to talk about wills? Besides, between us, all that we owned could be reduced to the corner of a small bedroom and following what we would pay our solicitor for the courtesy of strange conversations with him, there would be very little left in our bank accounts to be significant or grand enough for a will.
Back then neither of us would have imagined that a decade later we’d willingly set aside time to talk together about our will. That’s what we did today. I wouldn’t say that we were excited about allowing it to take up time in our day, but death is not taboo for us.
I highly recommend that you read through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi before you consider writing your will – whenever that might be. It really put the whole process into perspective for us.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. – Philippians 4:12
Since having his life completely transformed from the pursuit of religion into a relationship with Jesus, Paul had known great hardship and great blessing. And with that he knew what it was like to have rags and to have riches. Either way, what he had or didn’t have on this earth didn’t effect his faith, his purpose or his joy.
Paul’s faith in Jesus was not hinged on the condition that he would always have health, wealth and prosperity. Paul’s life purpose was to spread the good news of the gospel whatever the season of his circumstances. And if there’s one thing that letter to the believers in Philippi is full of, it’s joy; some 16 times the word ‘joy’ or ‘rejoice’ is used by Paul in that letter. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a Pauline post-card from some exotic far-off mission field (Greetings from Sunny Cyprus!) You’d also be mistaken. He was writing that letter from the inside of a prison cell.
For Paul, the good news of the gospel was simply awesome.
There was nothing better to talk about, nothing better to hear, nothing better to sing about, nothing better to live for and nothing better to lay down his life for than the good news of the gospel.
Before Paul met Jesus he was enslaved by a religious life. He lived his life the way millions of people have done and do so to this day. He believed that if you did enough of the right stuff, God would be pleased with you; and if you didn’t God would be angry with you; and you didn’t want to be on the wrong side of God.
Paul (then Saul) was a fundamental religious terrorist. He hunted down Christians who were preaching and living something very different. They lived and loved something unique but in Paul’s mind, completely blasphemous. They taught about a God who loved the world. A holy God who deserved to be worshipped and praised; a wretched world, enslaved and addicted to rebellion against God and deserved to be separated from Him. They taught about a God who loved the world so much that He would come to this earth as a baby, a boy, a man; a man who would eat with sinners and contend with the religious authorities; a man who would wash the feet of fishermen and tax-collectors; a man who would take on the filth, the guilt, the shame, the outright unholiness of sin – our sin – all the way to the cross and to the grave. As far as Saul was concerned, Jesus was an ignorant, blasphemous, dead man who was followed by deluded rebels who were better off dead.
Then Jesus, the Son of God, risen from the grave, met with Saul. Life and priorities change when that happens. Listen to what Paul writes:
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ – Philippians 3:8
In his original tongue, the word Paul used to describe all the things of the world that he once cherished and held precious, was…well the polite way of putting it is ‘dung‘; a word the NIV politely translates: ‘rubbish’.
The word in the original Greek is ‘skybalon‘. It translates ‘refuse, as the excrement of animals‘. This afternoon I had to do a bit of ground work before mowing the lawn. Having a dog means that I have to do a bit of minesweeping before I can mow! It’s not pleasant. In fact, after leaving it a few weeks since I‘ve done that job last it was frankly revolting. It was exactly the image Paul had of all the precious things of this world when he compared them to the treasure and beauty of the gospel!
So, when Annie and I were beginning to sketch out a will today, we kept in mind the glorious hope of what we have in Jesus…and then everything else we had to talk about, was just…dung. You can write a will a lot quicker when you simply see it as a means of muck-spreading!
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” – Matthew 6:19
The last couple of days Annie hasn’t been so bad but she hasn’t been great. She was really glad to have enough health and strength to enjoy the day with Philippa, and Phil’s cousin, Patience (Nubby) who has become a dear friend to us and sister in the Lord. This freed me up to meet with our Pastor and a few others in the morning.
The last time Nubby came was close to when Annie first got the news in September. When she left us that day Annie was teary and wondered if the next time she would see her would be in heaven. So, it was another blessing counted to enjoy another visit from Nub this side of heaven. Thank you, Lord!
Today, Annie has had a similar day health-wise. The main thing she has contended with has been the chronic fatigue. Each ailment has its own horrible charm. It always saddens me to see Annie so tired and exhausted. And it upsets Annie too. She doesn’t want to lie around losing time in bed, Annie has always been one of those people who knows how to make the most of the day. Her ability to multitask astounds and exhausts me. She often says to me: “Ryan, watching you is like watching something in slow-motion!”. Before I can offer my defence she has achieved several other tasks! But now I am having to learn Annie’s art while she takes things a lot slower.
Right now she is sat with Philippa preparing the music for our next choir practice, tomorrow evening. Please pray that she might have strength to be there for that. She really would love to.
Desiring to live according to the will of our Heavenly Father,