Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Living Like You Are Ready to Die


Leslie Basham: How do you describe what Jesus did on the cross? Deborah Howard describes it as a substitution.

Deborah Howard: He substituted his righteousness and His goodness for our filthy sins and our unrighteousness. It is a great trade for us.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It’s Thursday, July 21.
Nancy has been in an important discussion this week. Deborah Howard is a hospice nurse and the author of Sunsets: Reflections for Life’s Final Journey. They have given a lot of very important practical advice. If you have missed any of the programs I hope you will get the expanded version of the interview on CD. Just visit Nancy is here to pick back up on that conversation.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I think one of the most important subjects that is touched on in your book, Sunsets, is how to live in such a way that when our time to die comes we are ready to die. And I am afraid that is something that most of us don’t think about enough. I am reminded of a CBS evening news report several years ago when Arthur Miller the playwright died. He died in February of 2005. The CBS anchor said that Arthur Miller was once asked about composing his own epitaph, and he replied that he had never given it any thought. He then added, “I expect to be here indefinitely.” Now this was being quoted after the man had died, so obviously he was not here indefinitely.

Deborah: Right.

Nancy: No one is going to be here indefinitely, and yet far too many of us live as Arthur Miller did, apparently, whether he meant that in jest or seriously. We live as if we expect to be here indefinitely. I am in my early 50s and I am just in recent years starting to think more seriously about end-of-life issues. I have no idea when that will be.

My own Dad died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 53. I have a brother who was killed in a car wreck at the age of 22. So I know that there are no guarantees, but we still think that we are going to be the exception to the rule; that we are going to have this indefinite life. And true, today with technology many of us will live longer than was true of our parents and grandparents, but that end will come at some point.

In your book Sunsets, you challenge us to think about eternity; to think about the day when we will have to die. Do you find that is something a lot of people are just not comfortable facing and thinking about?

Deborah: Yes. When you are 20 years old, you don’t think that you are ever going to die.

Nancy: You are invincible. You are immortal.

Deborah: You are invincible. You are always going to be young. You are always going to be gorgeous. You are always going to . . .


Nancy: Now we already know that is not true—those of us in our 50s.

Deborah: But I think the older you get and the more you start losing members of your family and you are losing your friends to death, it does make you more conscious of your own mortality.

Nancy: I have a friend who says that he likes to write out his goals each year. I don’t know that he does this each year. But when it comes to a birthday or new year, he will sometimes do this by going and sitting in a cemetery. He says there is nothing like being surrounded by these markers, these memories that life does have an end here on this earth. As a result of the curse and sin, our bodies do not live forever here on this earth. He says that is a place for him to recalibrate, to think about his priorities, to think about his goals, to think about what he is living for, to realize that his life will not go on forever as he knows it.

And something that I found helpful along those lines . . . I subscribe to World Magazine. Every year at the beginning of each new year, they have a section of what is called “Man knows not his time.” It is pages of lists and little blurbs of well-known peopleathletes, actresses, politicians, people in the public eyewho have died over the previous year.

Every year I leaf through those pages. It is kind of an annual obituary. It reminds me as I see the ages of these peoplesome of them are 93 years, old but some of them are 23 years old or 53 years old. It is a reminder to me that I could be on a list this time next year. How do I want to live today so that I will be prepared to die when my time comes?

Deborah: That reminds me of something I read in my research for Sunsets about Francis of Assisi. It said that he was tending his garden and some women approached and said, “What would you do if you knew you only had ten minutes to live?” And he said “Well, I would hope that I could finish this row.”

Nancy: So if what you are doing now is what God has called you to do . . .

Deborah: He was that prepared. That what he would want to do; there would be no last minute things that would be set for him to do. He could just go ahead and work at what he was doing. He could just go ahead and finish the last row. I think that we should all be prepared for something like this that happens to other people in our lives and ultimately to us, too.

Nancy: So what are some of the ways those of us who are not, as far as we know, facing death imminently, what are some of the ways we can be today preparing for when that time does come?

Deborah: The biggest thing that I would advise is to learn what the Word of God has to say, not only about this subject but about every subject. To understand the Scriptures I think is the one thing that is going to help more than anything. To not only know where certain verses are but to understand how it fits together, how this is God’s Word to us. This is God’s very heart that He is exposing to us and the only way we are going to know about God is from what He says in His Word.

Knowledge about God is not just zapped magically into a person. It is obtained through effort, and the effort of looking through the Scriptures and understanding the Scriptures and what they say, and the guidelines for our lives. To prepare for the end we need to understand what that means. There is no better way to understand about life than to read what the Creator of life Himself has said to us.

Nancy: And the first thing we must understand is what God’s Word says about our eternal life, our eternal destiny. And the fact that apart from Christ we are all sinners who will die and spend eternity separated from God. But to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the salvation that God provides through Christ, is the foundation, the basis for our hope of life after this life.

You spend quite a bit of time in your book talking about salvation and God’s perspective on that, what God’s Word teaches about salvation. I just believe, Deborah, there are some listening to this conversation right now who have maybe never even thought about the afterlife, about preparing for eternity. In a nutshell, help that person know from God’s Word how they can be sure that after death they will spend eternity with Christ.

Deborah: Salvation is the most important subject in the whole world. It is the most relevant subject to every person living and breathing on this earth. There are people who think, “Well, I’ve got time for that. I don’t have time for it now, but I will make time for that in the future.” But you are not guaranteed one hour on this earth and the time to consider the hereafter is now. Do not put that off because you don’t know how much time you have left. This is the most vitally important subject to every person, and it is one of the ones that more and more people are scoffing at.

What are we talking about when we talk about salvation? We are talking about preparing for eternity now because what we do on this side of death determines what is going to happen to us on the other side of death.

Nancy: So how can a person know that on the other side of death they will be with the Lord in heaven forever? How can they be sure of that?

Deborah: They have to have a relationship, a personal relationship, with Jesus Christ who is God’s son. They have to be brought by the Lord into a place of understanding about who He is, what He has done, and they have to embrace the fact that He has died as our substitute on the cross and was raised victorious defeating death. And because of His victory over sin and death, we can be covered with His righteousness.

One of the ways that I like to express salvation is to talk about it as a substitution. In just simple terms, I will say that He substituted His righteousness and His goodness for our filthy sins and our unrighteousness. It is a great trade for us, because guess what? That means that when God the Father looks at us, what He sees is Christ’s righteousness. That is the only way that we can be brought into a right standing with the Holy God and one who cannot look upon sin; One who cannot embrace sin.

None of us in and of ourselves has a heart that is good enough or intentions that are grand enough to earn this place in heaven ourselves. Therefore God brings us to a point where we can see our own sinfulness and our own failures, and we can know that we need a savior and that that savior is Jesus Christ the Lord. It is only through Christ that we can find the assurance we need to know that what He has promised about the hereafter is true.

There is a time of the year that I think all of these truths are just so brought into such clarity for me and that is during the Easter season every year.

Nancy: Yes.

Deborah: Especially when you participate in meditations on Good Friday, the day that typically Christians will remember Christ’s death on the cross, His agony. And in remembering His death, it brings a poignant reminder to us of why He died on that cross, and that was for me, and that was for you. You know it is a very personal thing and a way of looking at it is that we put Him on that cross. We nailed those spikes into His hand ourselves. Because of our sin He had to die on that cross.

But God doesn’t leave Him there. God doesn’t leave Christ hanging on that cross bloody and abused. Because guess what? Then Easter comes and the tomb is empty, and Christ has risen from the dead. He has defeated the enemy.

Nancy: Amen.

Deborah: And because of that moment, we can then rest in the assurance that where He has gone, He is going to bring us to Him. He has described the kind of heaven that we are going to enjoy with Him for an eternity.

One thing that people don’t realize is that we are all going to be resurrected; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Those who have a belief and faith in Jesus Christ are going to be resurrected and are going to be united with Him in heaven for eternity. Those who do not have this belief and faith in Christ are also going to be resurrected, but then comes judgement and then punishment and that punishment is a banishment to hell for all eternity. And you think about it, eternity is a long, long time to suffer.

People who do not believe in a real heaven and a real hell are sadly mistaken. It is very important that they come to realize through the study of the Scriptures that those are real places. Christ told us about them. In fact, most of the teaching that we have in the Scriptures about hell come from Christ himself. It is just an amazing study when you think about it.

Nancy: There are a lot of theologians today doing theological gymnastics to get around that teaching. It is not something that we delight in talking about, but it is true and something that we need to grasp and believe both as it relates to getting ourselves prepared to face eternity, but also in relation to those that we love. That is why it is so important that we get into God’s Word and find out what He says about the afterlife and about how to prepare for it. We need to be reminded not only for ourselves but for those that we love that there is no hope apart from Christ, but that through Christ there is hope.

In fact, in my quite time within the last couple of days, I came across a verse in Psalm 68:20 that just struck me. It is an Old Testament verse looking forward to the whole concept of the resurrection. And it says “Our God is a God of salvation and to God the Lord belong deliverances from death.”

Deborah: He is talking about eternal death there.

Nancy: And how through Christ’s death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection from the dead, He has made it possible for us to be delivered from that second death; from the judgement and the wrath of God. So we will all, unless we meet the Lord in the air, will die physically. But those who have placed their faith in Christ will be spared that second death because God gives deliverance from death. Praise the Lord. Alleluia.

Deborah: That’s Amen. But the salvation of each of us, that is the most vitally important thing. But I would say that there are also other ways that we can prepare for our own approaching death. It is also through the knowledge of the Scriptures we learn what kinds of things are pleasing to God. The rest of our life after salvation should be spent in ways where we can live a life pleasing to the Lord. The only way that we are going to know what that really entails is to read the Scriptures and to study. So the second thing I would say is to try to live a life pleasing to the Lord.

The third thing I would say about this is that when you find out that you have a disease that is likely to be terminal, it does really strange things to your perspective. You realize that much of what you have been spending your life doing becomes very small and it crystalizes in your mind the things that are really important. When you get a proper perspective of life and death, it does great things for your own sense of peace and acceptance.

Psalm 63:3 says “Because Your love is better than life.” Have you ever thought about that? God’s love is better than life! We are taught in the Scriptures our lives are like a vapor. We think that that is all there is because that is what we have always known. But life is like a vapor. We are here such a short amount of time, so the vitally important issues of our lives need to be the same things that are vitally important to our Lord. That is what we should spend our lives doing.

Leslie: Each of us will die. There is nothing we can do to stop that reality. Deborah Howard has been helping you understand how to face this event with peace and joy. Deborah has been talking with the host of Revive Our Hearts, Nancy Leigh DeMoss. We are not finished, but before Nancy comes back, let me tell you how to get a copy of Deborah Howard’s book, Sunsets. Deborah is a hospice nurse who writes very practically about the dying process. You will better understand how to approach your own death or the death of someone you love after reading this book. You will also get a scriptural, big picture perspective on life and death; living like you are ready to go.

We will send you the book Sunsets: Reflections for Life’s Final Journey when you contribute any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Ask for it when you call 1-800-569-5959, or just visit When you order the CD of the series you will hear longer versions of the conversation between Nancy and Deborah. You can order the CD at I also hope you will take advantage of the chance to interact with Deborah on our website. She will participate in the Revive Our Hearts listener blog. Just scroll to the end of today’s transcript, leave your comment or question, and see what Deborah and other listeners have to say. Again that is .

Now, Nancy Leigh DeMoss is back with Deborah Howard.

Nancy: Deborah, thank you so much for writing this book, Sunsets: Reflections for Life’s Final Journey. You have given us a lot to think about, and you have thought deeply about these things and pointed us to the Scripture and to the Father’s heart and I know that this is going to be an encouragement and a help to a lot of our listeners.

Deborah: Thank you, Nancy.

Nancy: As we have been talking over these past days about death and dying and preparing for our own death and that of those that we love, my mind went back to a former pastor of mine. He has actually been on Revive Our Hearts before, Paster Ray Ortlund and his wife Anne Ortlund.

Back in 2007, I think it is, Ray went home to be with the Lord as a result of a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis. After his home going, his widow, Anne, who is a friend of mine, sent out to those who had prayed for them through this ordeal a letter that Ray had written seven years earlier, January of 2000, to be read to his family after his death.

They came across this letter after he died, and the children agreed to let Anne send this on to those who had been praying for them. I just want to read a portion of that letter because I think it illustrates so beautifully the heart of a man who was thinking ahead and who knew, as is true for all of us, that his time on this earth was limited and was wanting to do what he could to prepare his family for the day when he would be taken from them. He says,

Dear family,

The time has come for my departure. [Which is a quote from 2 Timothy 4:6.] It is strange to write this when I am feeling well and vigorous, but unless Christ returns first, that departure time will come. When you read this it will have happened.

I have had a great journey with Jesus Christ. From childhood I have known about God and reverenced Him. The name of Jesus has always been precious to me. I thank my dear parents for this heritage.

Now life on earth is over and I got to meet the Lord face to face. I trust in Him as my sure savior and rest in His grace at this momentous time of death. I do not fear death. (I don’t like the pain, blood and guts of it all.) Actually, I have been anticipating this new adventure and at the time you read this, I will be with Christ in heaven. So it has happened and I am now in Christ’s presence, probably shocked at all I am seeing for the first time.

I am sorry for my sins and failures which have been many, but I know Christ has forgiven them. "There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus," Romans 8:1. Some of those sins have been against you dear family, and I am sorry. You probably know my sins better than I. Some you don’t know, I know all too well. But where sin abounds grace does much more abound.

And by the way those were the words of a man who didn’t wait until after he was gone to say these things. He had confessed his sins faithfully to the Lord and to his family, so he could die with a conscience that was clear toward God and others. Ray goes on to say,

My dear Anne has been my most treasured friend. If she is still living as you read this, [and she was] I know you will treat her well. When she goes to heaven God will give her blue ribbons and gold medals. What a great woman and wife.

She has loved and stood loyally by me all our life together and our last years have been our best. May God reward her for her hard work, a forgiving spirit, relentless faith, and enthusiastic acceptance of life as it came. She is a woman of God, my Cadillac. We shall meet on the other side and sing a duet of praise to God. As you know Psalm 34:3 has been our verse. We trust you have seen that we did magnify the Lord.

Each of you children and spouses have been the joy of my life as have been the grandchildren. I have never doubted your love for me, and you have been too kind. I will see you in heaven, and we will bless God together.”

And then he gives a word of exhortation and charge to those who have been left behind.

I urge you to remain true to your savior. I have no doubt that you will. Love each other deeply in your marriages. Keep your family ties strong. Lay up treasure in heaven because the stuff on earth is empty. Bank accounts, houses, and furniture mean nothing to me now. Actually, they never did. Beware of sin and confess it as soon as you discover it in your life and let the Spirit’s gift of joy color all of your life. As you mature, remain a happy person in Christ. Get even sweeter as you get older. Sour old people are a pain.

In my death be sure God is glorified. Jesus glorified the Father most in His death. John 17 tells us he faced impending death with that prayer for the Father to be glorified. So at my memorial service glorify God. Have a holy party. I was saying to Anne recently that this world has become less attractive lately, and I feel a bit out of place. So it is good to go home now.

I love you all and each one. I will see you sooner than you think.

And what an encouragement to each of us to ground our lives deeply in the Word of God, in the ways of God, to be prepared for that day when we will face the Lord and to do what we can this side of eternity to prepare those who will follow behind us.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.





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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.