Why Am I Afraid To Die As A Christ-Follower?
Afraid To Die?
Are you afriad to die? I remember being young in my renewed faith – that time of my life when I felt the true work of the Holy Spirit flowing through my veins. Mix that with a 17/18-year-old body filled with testosterone and invincibility and I was pretty much on fire for God. I remember reading stories like Stephen who called out the Sanhedrin and went out in glory (Acts 7). I remember reading about all of the martyrs early on.
I remember reading about Polycarp of Smyrna who, when burned at the stake, did not have any flames touch his body. The story goes, “It’s as if the flames themselves were protesting the execution and refusing to touch this elderly servant of God.” When they ran him through with a sword, they claim so much blood came out it extinguished the flames. (Link to this story here)
Being a young Christ-follower, I longed for the days of becoming a martyr. One of my favorite songs from For Today is called Pariah which details a martyrdom:
“You can’t kill me, I’m already dead, This is the martyr’s cry…Death is only the beginning of everything I’m living for, this is my final stand laid upon the altar!”
If you’ve never listened to this song and you’re afraid of dying, let me reassure you that you won’t be afraid after you listen to it.
These stories are powerful and evoke the Christ-follower towards the hope that our deaths won’t be for nothing. The entire book of Revelation is written for persecuted Christians living under Roman Rule and is a letter of hope that our deaths will not be for nothing in view of God.
But now that I’m a little older I wonder what if one morning I don’t wake up? What if I’m killed in a car accident? What if someone breaks in at night and kills me? What if Coronavirus gets me? What if…
For the past couple of years on and off (note: not days), I’ve been going to bed with this irrational fear that I may not wake up. I’ve lost sleep over it. I’ve feared it. I love to sleep and the truth is that once I’m asleep it’s difficult for me to get up. Falling asleep though…falling asleep has become a struggle for me.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. That irrational fear has come back 100-fold with the ever-growing fear of COVID-19. So I must ask this question, “Why am I afraid to die?” What is causing me to live in this fear that I may not wake up? Why be afraid of death at all? After all, I’m a Christ-follower. I’m called to die to myself each day. Paul says, “Where, o death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” There are countless verses saying that I should not be afraid of death – yet here I am.
As I sit along my metaphorical lake and ponder these questions I notice that little truths begin surfacing. Some are buried deep within the lake while others are sitting close to the water’s edge.
Like many who will read this, my student debt is quite a big fear. Not so much the debt itself but who inherits my debt when/if I pass away before paying it off. I fear leaving my wife too soon, I fear not being able to say goodbye to my friends and family. There are some real fears that we as Christians have about death. And for the most part, it’s probably not death itself, it’s what will happen to our loved ones once we’re gone – which is certainly not irrational.
I think most of all, I fear dying a meaningless death. Let’s be honest, if you know me, I definitely suffer from a smidge of delusion of grandeur. It’s not like “I think I’m awesome” kind of delusions, but with the types of dreams I experience and the way my mind and brain work, I’m definitely prone to wanting a moment of death like Randy Quaid in Independence Day or Tony Stark in Endgame. I hope that my death will mean hope for the Christian community. I hope that my death will inspire people to pursue Jesus at a deeper level. I hope that I can go out like Stephen, or Polycarp so that God is glorified in my death. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’d love to be buried at Jumonville so that if anyone came to my grave they would be at the foot of the cross.
Nevertheless, if we erased all my debt, and all that was left was Lauren, of course, all of you wonderful people, and this fear of dying a meaningless death, I think the true fear that rises from that pit in the lake is not dying at all – the fear is not living fully and the regret of not living the life I’ve been called to live.
I have wasted so many days of my precious gift of life. The thought of leaving this life and not fulfilling my daily calling as a Christ-follower scares me the most. If I lived a full day every day, I probably wouldn’t have a hard time falling asleep at night. However, the truth is that this “daily called life” is elusive. I have bills to pay (clearly). I have responsibilities as an employee, a husband, etc. This world has a way of distracting us just enough that it makes it inconvenient to live out our daily calling.
I originally went a different direction with this article and began listing ways to live fully each day. And if you’d like my advice on that, I’ll gladly write a follow up if enough people ask. But I want to end these thoughts a little quicker.
First, while some find it too hard or morbid to think about death, it’s something we all have to face. When you’re afraid to die you likely fear what will happen with your debt or mistakes. However, you’ll never have it all figured out. If student debt or something of that nature is weighing you down, actively pursue ways to eliminate as much as you can so that your loved ones don’t inherit your debt or mistakes.
Secondly, you shouldn’t take your loved ones for granted. If you fear leaving them too soon, take time to write out notes for them. Let them know how you feel so that if – God forbid it – something were to happen, they can still hear you say, “I love you” one last time.
Lastly, as much as I want to plan my death, I can’t. I gave up control of my life when I began following Jesus. And let’s be real, I could never plan out my own death. As Christ-followers, especially Christ-followers not living through real persecution, we have to make our lives count. I may not get the glorious death I so delusionally want, but if I live my life in a way that glorifies Christ, serves and empowers others, and loves deeply, then it won’t matter if I just “don’t wake up” or not. My legacy will be defined by my love; not my death.
If you’re reading this and you’re a Christian who’s afraid to die, I highly encourage you to find ways to live fully each day. It may be a little inconvenient, but at the end of your life you’re never going to say, “I wish I didn’t help those people” or “I wish I didn’t live out my calling.” You’re probably going to say, “Why did I allow so many distractions to prohibit me from making this world a better place for Jesus?” Don’t fear death. Start by finding one thing you can do well each day that will help build the Kingdom. I can’t guarantee that you won’t still fear death or struggle to fall asleep. I do believe, however, you’ll have a deeper sense of meaning as you live out your calling of following and sharing Jesus. In time, as you see your legacy made whole with love, forgiveness, and empowering others, you’ll slowly begin to feel that fear wash away in the blood of Jesus.
“Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” -1 Corinthians 15:55
About Justin Boothby
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About The Author
M.A. Hebrew University of Jerusalem
M.Div. Regent University
B.S. Southeastern University