Lord, Free Me from the Fear of Death

Jesus has a deep, intense desire to give you a gift so great you do not yet have the capacities to conceive of it (1 Corinthians 2:9). But you do catch glimpses of it in biblical metaphors and imagery, and in sublime moments when an experience of glory briefly transcends anything else here on earth.

Jesus longs so intensely for you to have this gift that he pleads with the Father to give it to you:

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

This supreme request is the great culmination of Jesus’s prayer in John 17. That you may receive this gift is the reason why he manifested the Father’s name to you (John 17:6), gave you the Father’s words (John 17:8, 14), and guards you so you will not be lost (John 17:12). It is why he prays that you will be kept from the evil one (John 17:15), know the joy of helping others believe in him (John 17:20), and experience the sanctifying wonder of knowing and living the truth (John 17:17, 19).

More than any other good thing Jesus asks from the Father for you, he wants you to be with him forever. More than anything else, he wants you to see and savor the glory that the Father bestowed on him from eternity past (John 17:5, 24). For he knows that nothing else you ever experience will provide you such profound and lasting joy and pleasure (Psalm 16:11).

What Do You Fear Most?

But Jesus’s fervent prayers for you come with a sober implication, one that makes you recoil, even fear. In fact, one day you might find yourself pleading with God to give you the very opposite of what Jesus wants for you. The answer to Jesus’s prayer eventually requires your physical death. Unless Jesus returns first, you must die before you experience the forever fullness of joy in his glorious presence.

We must endure what we hate and fear most in life in order to enjoy what we love and long for most.

Yes, we hate death and resist it — and we are right to do so. God originally created us to live, not die. Death is a curse we bear, the tragic wages of rejecting God and his kingdom (Romans 6:23).

Nowhere does the Bible encourage us to view death itself as a good thing. Death is not a good thing; it’s a horrible, evil thing. Anyone who has watched loved ones die can attest to its hideousness. Death is our mortal enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26).

How Is Death Gain?

If that’s true, why does God count precious the death of his saints (Psalm 116:15)? And why do his saints even call death gain (Philippians 1:21)? Because in that most horrible, most evil moment of the death of the Son of God himself, death as we fear it — the extinguishing of our life and the seeming loss of our soul and joy — was killed! Jesus conquered our great enemy when he rose from the dead (Romans 4:25; Revelation 1:18), and will ultimately destroy death forever (1 Corinthians 15:26).

In fact, so powerful, so complete is Jesus’s defeat of death that he speaks of it as if Christians no longer even experience it:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25–26)

It isn’t death itself that is precious or gain to us. It is the Resurrection and the Life, who has removed death’s sting and swallowed it up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54–55), in whom we are receiving an eternal inheritance beyond our wildest dreams (Ephesians 1:11), and in whose glorious presence we will experience unsurpassed joy forevermore (Psalm 16:11). He is precious to us. He is our great gain in death.

Prepare Through Prayer

When our earthly assignment from Jesus is done (Acts 20:24), he will call us to be with him to enjoy most what we are made to most enjoy: him. This will make death gain for us on that day (Philippians 1:21).

Jesus is eager to give us this great gain, and he wants us to grow in our eagerness to receive it. How do we do that? Like he does. We ask the Father for it! We join Jesus in praying for the time we will finally see him in all his glory. We ask him to decrease the hold that the fear of death has on us due to unbelief in our hearts. And we ask him to give us such faith and longing to be with Christ that we no longer wish to live as long as possible here, but only long enough to faithfully finish our course (Acts 20:24). Because to finally be with our Savior will be so much better (Philippians 1:23).

Whatever It Takes, Lord

Someday Jesus’s prayer for us to be with him will overrule our prayer to be spared physical death. And when it does, we will know such joy and pleasures that we will wonder why we ever felt any reluctance to pass through the valley of its shadow (Psalm 23:4).

Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my faith and joy in the truth that death is gain for me, so that I can “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” Do not let the fear of death cause me to resist your will for me, and let me die in a way that declares that Christ is gain.