Seven Resolutions for Finishing Well

A Funeral Meditation

I cannot imagine a better legacy than a believing family. Let’s pray.

Father, I am so thankful that you are more wonderful than a believing family, and a family that can see that you are more wonderful than anything is a miracle to behold. So this moment is a miracle — it’s an awesome thing, and I praise you. Beyond this remaining few minutes, I pray to minister to our hearts. Thank you for Jean. Thank you for Bob. Thank you for their investment in me and in this church, and in all the other people that they invested in, especially this family. Pray this in Jesus’s great name. Amen.

They were very encouraging to me — Bob and Jean. Their devotion to prayer and their devotion to the word, especially Bob with his little cards. They were on my mirror for years. They were — “Know Jesus, Know Peace” with the N-O, and then the K-N-O and the K-N-O. That’s really good. “No Jesus,” N-O, “NO peace.” K-N-O, “Know Jesus,” K-N-O, “Know Peace.”

He’s just giving me these things all the time. And I remember the stories of the depression, and I was always stunned at the faithfulness of your mom and all of that. So there were seasons here at Bethlehem where their kindness to me and their encouragement to me was a power that helped me stay centered through some harder seasons. I’m thankful for them. It’s an honor to do this. Thank you so much for letting me have a part in this service.

Why Psalm 71

I prayed about what I should say, and I think the Lord led me to Psalm 71. It’s not a psalm about death, it’s a psalm about getting old and preparing for death, which she’s not doing anymore. And so in a sense, you might say, “Why don’t you talk about where she is?” And we could have a great time doing that because she is now totally happy, totally free from all pain, totally free from all sinning.

She’ll never be guilty anymore, feel bad that she said something wrong. She will henceforth think and feel and say only perfect things and therefore never have any feelings of remorse or regret or sadness ever again, that she’s ever let anybody down or done anything wrong. This is an awesome thing.

And of course, best of all, the dimness has been taken away and now she knows even as she has been known, and Jesus was the first one in her list of things she was going to say thank you for, namely the gospel and Jesus taking all of her guilt and sin. What a great reading and testimony that was.

A couple of verses to show you what led me maybe to Psalm 71:8–9: “My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day. Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.”

And in Psalm 71:17–18: “O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”

So I think Jean would want me, not mainly to focus on her, but to mainly encourage you with gospel, biblical truth, and grace. Maybe this is why I was led to this psalm.

Get Ready to Meet Jesus

Noël and I were leaving church last Sunday. We park over here, we drove around and I saw these families, young families walking out. I’m so thankful for so many young families and we both looked at each other and said, “It takes a lot of energy to raise kids,” which we don’t have anymore. So God is smart to only let young people have babies because it’s work. You stay up late, it’s stressful and it takes enormous energy.

And then I thought it doesn’t take energy to die well. That’s not needed at the end. In fact, the meaning of dying is losing energy until it’s all gone and you die. So you don’t need that to die well, you don’t need energy to be a success lying on a hospital bed ready to meet Jesus. What you need is biblical grace, God’s grace and God’s word.

I think of those two things when I think of Bob and Jean, God’s grace and God’s word. You need promises. You need help from the Holy Spirit. You need faith to rest in him when you can’t do a thing anymore for the kids or for anybody. You’re not raising anybody to do anything. It’s over. And I want to do this well. We want to do this.

That’s why I’m talking to you. Young people, you’re going to die someday, believe it or not, unless Jesus comes. And those of us who are closer, we know that. And we just want to do the fifty years you’ve got or the one year you’ve got or whatever we’ve got really well and it’s not strength. I mean we think that’s what we need we and get depressed that we don’t have it. But that’s not the main thing.

We need grace, we need biblical truth, and we need faith in it. So here’s what I want to do: Take a few minutes and give you seven resolutions (they go by really fast; not going to be long) from this psalm for living up to death and being successful in it. So start when you’re young or start when you’re seventy. And here we go.

So, seven resolutions — I’m going to put them in the form of resolutions and say us. So whether you’re older or young, I’m going to be included here.

1. Take Refuge in God

Number one — these all come from Psalm 71, and I’ll give you the verse for each one. Say a word, and we’ll, I hope, be encouraged. I was. Get ready.

Number one — let’s resolve to take refuge in God rather than taking offense at our troubles. Psalm 71:1: “In you, O Lord, do I take refuge.” Jean had a refuge all the time. We have a refuge from every storm and from every enemy, and it’s an invisible refuge. It’s called God, and he surrounds us, and he only lets happen to us what he wills. We have a refuge, and it’s forgetting that that causes us to start to moan about our troubles.

I remember my first year as a pastor here 36 years ago. Roland Erickson’s wife, Dolores, had a heart attack. They rushed her to North Memorial Hospital. And I was so proud that I got there almost before the family because I was so new as a pastor, I didn’t know what you were supposed to do and I was nervous. And I got there, and the whole family assembled in the room, and she was in surgery. And Roland looked at me and said, I said, “Pastor John, give us a word.”

I was just caught totally flatfooted. I’d run so fast. I didn’t take my Bible. My mind went blank. I think I murmured something about John 3:16. I felt like a failure. And you know what I did? I went home — I can picture it — got down at my little prayer bench, opened my Bible to Psalm 46. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

I memorized it cold and said, “That will never happen to me again. I will never be caught without a word for hurting people ever again.” I said that to my wife three days ago during devotions, and she said, “Can you still do it?” And I did it. I’m not going to do it now because it’ll take up more time than I want to. That’s number one. Let’s take refuge. We have a refuge. No matter how healthy or sick we are, we have a refuge.

2. Reflect on a Lifetime of God’s Grace

Number two — let’s resolve to remember with wonder and thanks the thousands of times we have leaned on God since our youth and he’s been faithful. Let’s remember.

I’ve leaned on God thousands of times in crises in my life, in moments where I didn’t know what I’m going to do. I didn’t know what to say in the moment. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what the pastoral challenge involved. And I’ve just cried out, “God, help me. I don’t know what to do.” And he has never failed me. He never failed Jean, he never failed Bobby, even through the hardest times, he didn’t fail them and he won’t fail you.

So let’s remember the thousands of times we’ve leaned, we’ve leaned on him and he didn’t snap or break or fail us in any way.

God’s grace — this is the way it should work as you get older — God’s grace is like a river running out of the future of promises, breaking like a waterfall over the present moment of your life in fulfillment of help into a reservoir of ever-growing memory and thankfulness.

So as you look to the past, you see this growing reservoir of memories, of things he’s done to help you, which should cause you as you turn to the future to say, if he’s done it, he’s going to do it. And that’s the way his faithfulness is. So let’s take refuge.

3. Increase Praise and Decrease Murmur

Number three — let’s resolve to speak to God more and more about his greatness until there’s no room left in our mouth for murmuring. Speak to God more and more about his greatness — like that song — till there’s no room left for murmuring.

I’m preaching to John Piper here, complainy John Piper. Psalm 71:6: “My praise is continually of you.” Or Psalm 71:14: “I will praise you yet more and more.” So let’s resolve: “God, fill my mouth with good things about you so that I’m not a murmuring person.”

4. Embrace Undefeatable Hope

Number four — let’s resolve to be people of rugged, undefeatable hope and not give in to despair, even if we have to go to a nursing home, and live out our days there, even if we outlive all of our friends and our funeral is attended by only ten people.

Let’s not give in to despair. The battle will be great. It was great for Jean. She won the battle. It’ll be great for you. You will feel useless. You will come to a point where you’re so weak—so weak that you will feel useless, which is a horrible feeling. It’s a horrible feeling to feel like all the good things are in the past. I am now useless. And the temptation to give in to despair at that moment is going to be enormous if it hasn’t set in already.

And this old man in Psalm 71 says, “I will hope continually” (Psalm 71:14). And Peter said, “Gird up the loins of your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you” (1 Peter 1:13). And Paul — well, Jesus before Paul —”I told you this parable that you might always hope and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

And Paul, facing the very thing I’m talking about, namely the wasting away of our bodies, said, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).

I know Jean would want to say to the young and old, don’t give in to despair. Hope continually in him. He has not left you.

5. Share God’s Wonderful Acts of Salvation

Number five — let’s resolve to go out of our way to find people to tell about God’s wonderful acts of salvation. Go out of your way to find somebody. Just talk about Jesus.

I’m not talking about desperately trying to win somebody to Jesus and how to come up with the right words to have a testimony. I just mean tell them what you read this morning. Tell them something about God. About fifteen years ago, my dad died in 2007, and I’ve written and said many times, my dad was the happiest man I ever knew. I think that’s still true.

I know a lot of happy people. I’m not one of them. I’m just a rollercoaster of emotions. But my dad was a happy man, and I asked him about 85 years old — he died when he was 87 — “Daddy, what’s the key to staying happy?” You know what he said? He said, “Johnny, lead somebody to Jesus.” Are you kidding me?

I mean, there’s a lot of things he could have said, and the point is we were made. Grace is not like the Dead Sea. It’s like the Jordan River. It’s supposed to flow. If it stops with you, you’re going to be an unhappy person. I’ve tasted those unhappy days of mouthlessness. Just open your mouth with your wife, or your friend, or your roommate, or anybody, and tell them some good thing about Jesus, and you will find, whoa, that felt good. That’s what it’s made for.

You were made for that. It is made for that. And it’s not a big complicated thing here. You don’t need to read any books about this in order to be good at it. You just need to think about Jesus and open your mouth.

6. Remember the Incomprehensible Greatness of God

Number six — let’s resolve to remember that there are great things about God above our imagination, and soon enough, like Jean, we’ll know these too.

There’s so many things we don’t have answers for here. We are not God. Is that news to anybody? We are not God. Let God be God. Be patient. First Corinthians 13 says, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Whatever mysteries we need to know in order to be maximally happy, we’re going to know. And all the questions we need to have answered are going to be answered. Psalm 71:18: “your power . . . [and] your righteousness reaches to the high heavens.” No wonder they’re over us.

7. Resist Stereotypes and Express Joy

Finally, number seven — let’s resolve to resist all stuffy stereotypes of old people, and play and sing and shout with joy whether we look dignified or not. I’ve watched myself get old, and you know what happens? People start to have expectations of what old means, and you start to fit into those expectations. And inside, you feel like a kid — you do. I want to go play. I want to throw the ball again. I want to knock it.

Now, you’ve got to be careful because you break your leg if you do what you feel like doing. But the point is just don’t buy it. Don’t buy it. Get down on the floor. Bark like a dog. Illustrate. For freedom, Christ has set you free.

Jean, it’d be neat to talk to her right now. There are no phonies in heaven. There are no facades in heaven. There’s only pure authenticity in heaven — what you see, what you get. So you might as well start now because fronts and fakeness are going away. You’re going to be ashamed of that someday. And we are going to be the freest of all people. You will be what you are, and everybody will like it.

So, let’s not buy into stereotypes of aging as though you can’t — let me read it here — as though you can’t. Psalm 71:22–23: “I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you.” That’s an old man talking.

Reflections for the Wake

Close like this. I said this at Char’s funeral. We’re losing some wonderful women these days. God has not appointed any of you who know him for wrath. He hasn’t appointed you for wrath. He hadn’t appoint Jean or Bob for wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. So that whether we wake, that’s all of us in this room right now, or sleep, that’s Jean, we might live with him. He didn’t appoint you for wrath. He appointed you for salvation so that whether you’re the living, however long, or the dead, you’re alive to him and he with you. Let’s pray.

You are very great. We’re going to sing that, Lord. You are very great. When I pray that our hearts are just abound with thanksgiving for the life of Jean Hamlett. And I pray that all that you worked in her, you would work in us. And all of her failures and sins would remind us of the preciousness of the blood of Jesus, whom she began her praises with. And so come, take these young people’s lives, us older people’s lives, and make us real for Jesus until all of our pain and all of our weaknesses are gone. In your presence, Jesus’s name. Amen.