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The idea of a person becoming a Christian in the last few days or hours before they die sounds like an attempt to cheat God. Someone lives their whole life selfishly, and then, just before judgment day comes, they say, "Sorry," and it's all forgiven. We like the idea of getting away with it ourselves, and we would like to think that our non-Christian relatives could sneak in under the wire; but to be honest, most of us would be skeptical about whether or not such a deathbed conversion represented true repentance. To be genuine, the person would have to be saying that, if they had it all to do over, they would not have waited until the last minute.

Soldiers facing enemy fire in foxholes are notorious for making promises to God in exchange for protection from death. But most forget the promise as soon as the battle is over. Their conversion is only as valid as their faith; and if their faith doesn't hold up when times are easy, then it isn't real faith... just an attempt to have their cake and eat it too.

But take a closer look. Are soldiers in foxholes truly facing death, or are they looking for a way to escape death? Striking deals with God has little, if anything, to do with real faith.

Real faith transcends death. It looks death in the face and reaches out to God in joy, knowing that death is the doorway to a closer experience of the one we have faith in.

There is a sense in which deathbed conversions are the only true conversions. Not superficial schemes to outsmart God, which are common at such times. But very deep and very genuine revelations of the power and greatness of God in the face of this almost insignificant experience we call life. Jesus said, in essence, "Take up your deathbed and follow me." Paul said, "I die daily."

It is only in the face of death that we are able to truly appreciate God and Truth. Most, if not all, of our lives are lived in a prison called life. All our talk about God is so saturated with thoughts about life, about the people who inhabit this world of time and space, and about what they think of us, that we rarely ever escape from that prison into the arms of God, where mortal life is seen for what it really is.

Jesus told a story about workers who were all paid the same wage, even though some worked the whole day and others only turned up at the last minute. (Matthew 20:1-10) He was trying to challenge our natural thinking about faith in God being an unpleasant thing. For the only way the story makes sense is if we think of the workers who arrived late in the way that we would think of someone who arrived late at a party. Yes, they might be able to grab a few of the refreshments like the rest of us, but they really missed out on all the fun and excitement and fellowship of the party. Such is the pity that we feel for those who wait until they are literally on their deathbed before they start seriously facing death.

As I write this, my father is dying. He has, as he has approached death, moved further away from the "churchy" idea of God and heaven that dominated his earlier life. All of the squabbles over minor points of doctrine seem so pointless now.

He still cannot discuss the teachings of Jesus with me (or with anyone else as far as I know); but facing death is putting many of our differences into better perspective now, and I count it a privilege to be near him at this time.

He told me that his big regret was that he did not learn some of the lessons that he is learning now, earlier in his life. And that is one of the signs of true conversion. You start seeing what absolute stupidity it is to follow lesser ideas of God than what Jesus and his life of love represented.

This deathbed vision of truth is what each of us needs to cultivate every day of our lives if we are going to truly live our lives the way that God intended for us to live them. We need to become obsessed with death in order to be obsessed with eternity; and we need to be obsessed with eternity in order to be obsessed with God, who is the source of all life. Anything less than that is just an obsession with religion.

When we stop running away from death, and reach out to it as one of the most important experiences of life, we will start to change in powerful and dramatic ways. Daydreams about dying and facing God are probably the deepest form of prayer that we can experience, and they should highlight every day of our lives. Work at it. And when you do, you will see what true "conversion" is all about.

(See Eternity, and Pawning Your Inheritance.)

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