Death Rehearsal


You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. . . . So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:5–6, 12)

For me, the end of a year is like the end of my life. And 11:59 pm on December 31 is like the moment of my death.

The 365 days of the year are like a miniature lifetime. And these final hours are like the last days in the hospital after the doctor has told me that the end is very near. And in these last hours, the lifetime of this year passes before my eyes, and I face the inevitable question: Did I live it well? Will Jesus Christ, the righteous Judge, say “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21)?

I feel very fortunate that this is the way my year ends. And I pray that the year’s end might have the same significance for you.

The reason I feel fortunate is that it is a great advantage to have a trial run at my own dying. It is a great benefit to rehearse once a year in preparation for the last scene of your life. It is a great benefit because the morning of January 1 will find most of us still alive, at the brink of a whole new lifetime, able to start fresh all over again.

The great thing about rehearsals is that they show you where your weaknesses are, where your preparation was faulty; and they leave you time to change before the real play in front of a real audience.

I suppose for some of you the thought of dying is so morbid, so gloomy, so fraught with grief and pain that you do your best to keep it out of your minds, especially during holidays. I think that is unwise and that you do yourself a great disservice. I have found that there are few things more revolutionizing for my life than a periodic pondering of my own death.

How do you get a heart of wisdom so as to know how best to live? The psalmist answers:

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. . . . So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:5–6, 12)

Numbering your days simply means remembering that your life is short and your dying will be soon. Great wisdom — great, life-revolutionizing wisdom — comes from periodically pondering these things.

The criterion of success, that Paul used to measure his life, was whether he had kept the faith. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7–8). Let this be our test at year’s end.

And if we discover that we did not keep the faith this past year, then we can be glad, as I am, that this year-end death is (probably) only a rehearsal, and a whole life of potential faith-keeping lies before us in the next year.