There are many fine books written about the beginning of the Christian life, fewer about the middle, and very few about the end. Since following Jesus is a long-distance affair, believers need help for each stage, particularly on how to end well.
A father and son duo have written a practical and solidly biblical book – How to Finish the Christian Life: Following Jesus in the Second Half. The book fills a great need, not only for those in the life expectancy range of 78.3 (U.S. figure), but for baby boomers in their 50s.
Author George Sweeting is 87 years old – a former evangelist, pastor, author, educator, and now chancellor emeritus of Moody Bible Institute. Co-author Don Sweeting is in his 50s, George’s third son. He’s been a pastor for 22 years and was recently inaugurated as president of Reformed Theological Seminary on Orlando, Florida.
The book has a hopeful tone throughout, without being unrealistic about the perils of old age. For example, the authors tell us that when one is old, the past looks long, and the future looks short, but the gospel changes all that. It blows open the future and makes it look long again.
The authors include sections of humour, particularly when they describe the worst and best funerals they have ever attended. Words of wisdom offered to those in their middle years include Clare Boothe Luce’s advice to John F. Kennedy in 1962: “A great man is one sentence.” Middling men and women are urged by the Sweetings to think about the sentence they want to characterize their lives as believers, and work toward living that way in the present.
I found the chapter entitled “The Somber Season: When Your Health Goes South” to ring true to the experience of many seniors I know. This season of life is complicated by the fact that it is now common for death to advance more slowly; chronic illnesses mean that dying often takes longer. “The somber season” is the time at the end of life over which one has little control, a season of letting go and a time of easy discouragement.
The authors leave readers with a plan for “the somber season,” addressing end-of-life issues seniors should discuss together with their doctor, family, and pastor. The chapter ends with a beautiful description of John R. Stott’s last days. Other examples of “ending well” are scattered throughout the book.
How to Finish the Christian Life addresses topics seldom discussed in churches, like dealing with suffering, revising one’s “bucket list” (i.e. getting relational matters in order before passing), dying well, and gives an exceptionally fine exposition on heaven. I heartily recommend the book.