I looked up to see the flight attendant wearing a determined look on her face and heading down the aisle in my direction. She was going to ask me to turn off my phone and she meant business. As we prepared to take off for our 13-hour flight to Japan, it dawned on me that I’d neglected to text my family. What if something happened to us on our journey and I didn’t text my wife and sons some parting piece of profundity? I couldn’t bear the thought of my last words being something like colon-dash-bracket, “:-]”. Emoticons make for terrible tombstone epitaphs. So I scrambled to send some sweet terms of endearment and appropriate prayers, brief of course, for the tenacious attendant stood beside me, doing her very important job all too efficiently for my taste.
In that moment, I wished I’d had more time. I wished I had put more thought into my potential last words. Howard Hendricks used to say, “Last words are lasting words.” He was right. Our last words are words that those who love us want to remember and, chances are, will remember.
Last Words in the Bible
Scripture records the last words of several great men. The entire book of Deuteronomy is basically Moses’ last words to the people of Israel. As he closes his final speech, he says to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life” (Deut. 32:46–47). Now there’s something worth saying on your way out! The Word of the Lord is critical. Be careful to follow it and be diligent to commend it to the next generation; your life and theirs depend on it.
As David waits on his deathbed in 1 Kings 2, he calls his son, Solomon, to his bedside and says to him, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes.” This is the kind of profound wisdom I wish I’d had on hand for my sons as I hastily crafted my parting sentiments.
Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ words in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19–20. Just before He ascends into heaven, Jesus tells His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
These biblical examples of last words offer a beautiful mission and purpose, a worthy call and charge, a profound expectation and trajectory for the future. Words like these are not uttered by accident. Sentiments like these are not expressed flippantly. These words are powerful due to their heartfelt intentionality. Anyone would be proud to have their last thoughts hold anything close to that kind of weight. But these biblical examples are important for another reason. When Moses and David and Jesus gave their final words, the message they spoke was not new. Rather, it was one they shared and, more importantly, lived consistently throughout their days. Nothing in their last words is a surprise.
The Last Time Shouldn’t be the First Time
How awful would it be if the hour of your death was the first time anyone heard you charge them to pursue and know the Lord? None of us know when we are going to die. We must not wait until we are on our deathbeds to tell our loved ones of the Lord—who He is and how vital it is to know and follow Him. We should not hesitate to express how we feel about our friends and family and what we wish for them. We should be communicating those things in a myriad of different ways as often as we are given the opportunity. We should be intentional about capturing and leveraging opportunities in the course of everyday life for the purpose of eternally significant conversations.
But these everyday moments are not enough. We should be diligent about creating discipleship times with our loved ones. Let’s not just hope conversations about God happen. Let’s make them happen. Let’s create intentional time built into the rhythm of our lives for the purpose of thinking about, talking about and living out the gospel.
The last time that your loved ones hear you testify to the goodness of God should be far from the first time. Let them hear you commending the gospel to them clearly and often. Last words are lasting words, but intentional words offered with regularity and lived out with integrity make an impact that extends from one generation to the next. What I say last still pales in comparison to what my life speaks.