Summary

A dying man called a preacher and asked him to visit him in the hospital. He was a man who had left the church and was ready to repent. He was a prodigal son, and he was ready to come home. He had made mistakes and was ready to come back. He was ready to forgive. He was in a much better place. He encouraged his family to go to church and to make things right with God. He passed away a few days later.

 

 

A Dying Man’s Wish

It was a normal day when the phone rang.

I was in the office that morning working on a few details for a lesson I was going to present. When the phone rang, I looked at the caller ID and did not recognize the number. Normally, I would have let it go to voicemail, but this time I answered it.

This would be a phone call; I am glad I never let ring. It would be a moment I never expected.

The voice at the other end of the phone was raspy but powerful. The man asked if I was a minster and if I had time to see him in the hospital. I told him to give me a few moments and I would be down to see him once I got some things ready.

I walked to the house and told Carrie I had to make a visit, but I would be home in a little while. The visit, I told her, would not be long. It was someone in the hospital wanting to talk.

Driving to the hospital, I wondered where this discussion would go. At that point in my ministry, I had several of those calls, and each one was different. Throughout my studies in school, there were worksheets, books, and lectures dealing with this subject, but nothing would prepare you for the actual events. Every situation was always different.

Arriving at the hospital, I made my way down the short hallway to the man’s room. Entering the room, I knocked on the door and he invited me in. After a few moments of the usual hospitality, the discussion changed.

“I need to repent.” He said.

Shocked by his four words, I took a breath.

I had been in this position before, but his words rang deeper than others. He could not look at me. He looked forward when he said those words. After saying them and taking a breath, he gradually turned his head and looked at me. He was not crying, but he wanted to. The look on his face is in my memory to this day.

He was sorrowful.

He was ready to repent.

He knew what he needed to do.

He was a dying man.

It is interesting how death brings something out that remains hidden for years. The thought of leaving this Earth is not for the faint of heart. The emotions it can stir in one’s soul run deep and vast. It opens the thoughts of life, mistakes in the past, choices made, and forgiveness needed.

This man was going through those emotions, as his doctors had told him it would not be long before he took his final breath. The end was near.

The brief visit turned into a lengthy one. We talked about his upbringing in the church and how he left the church. He was a prodigal son.

The story of Luke 15 is a challenging reminder of how the troubles of life bring renewed thoughts. As the prodigal son, a Jewish man, sat and desire to eat the same food as the pigs, his eyes were opened. He would have to swallow his pride before he got up to walk home. His pride kept him from staying at home. It was pride in his own knowledge and in his own choices that caused him to leave home.

Now, he would have to lay his pride down. He was ready. He was willing.

Eventually, the young prodigal son of Luke 15 went home.

The older man talking to me that day was ready to go home. He had realized the harm of his mistakes. He had realized his choices pulled him away from God. He was ready to come home, but first, he needed to swallow his own pride.

He told me of his early childhood in church. He told me of the influence of his parents taking him to church. He knew those times in his life were good times. He spoke to me of his baptism in his teenage years. He spoke of being washed in the blood and how his life was going well.

The more we talked, the more he spoke of his family. I learned about his family history and his current family problems. As he sat alone in that hospital room, the family did not come to see him. In fact, they did not know what time he had left. After his wife died, things were different.

As we talked, the older man calmed. His anxiousness at asking a preacher to pray for him at the beginning had subsided. Now, we were friends.

Having spoken about his family, he turned back to what he wanted… forgiveness.

About this time in my ministry, I had been in a situation like this many times, but this older man was as blunt as they came. He had not been to church in years, but he remembered the Bible. He would not leave this hospital to attend services again, because his life was almost over.

So, what do you do?

How do you respond to a man who wants God’s forgiveness when knows his breaths are going to stop in the next few days?

What did I do? I prayed.

We spoke of God’s love and mercy when we acknowledge our mistakes. We spoke of God’s grace when we spoke of our rebellions. We spoke of God.

When we prayed, I spoke the words, but he followed along. When I was done, my eyes opened, and I looked at him. His eyes were still closed. He was concentrating. He had lived a hard life (by choice and consequence) and now he had found forgiveness once again.

After a little while longer, he said he needed to get some rest. When I left, I paused at the door and turned back. His eyes were already closed, but what I noticed more was the anxiousness that had left his body.

He was no longer anxious about leaving this world to meet his Creator, but he was at peace.

The next few days that I came to visit, he was in better spirits and joyful. His voice was still powerful, yet joy replaced the nervousness. Physically, he was not healed. He was still dying. But spiritually, he was in a much better place.

I was there on and off for the next few days, and I was even there when I got to meet his family. I met his son, his daughter-in-law, and his grandchildren. Finally, they realized the situation they were not expecting. However, when I met them, I was introduced as “the preacher.”

I spent hours in those days talking with him and with them about life and listening to their stories. But in the middle of it all, the older man told them of my discussion with him. He told them he had made amends with God, and he was forgiven. He shared his spiritual difficulties. He told them he was sorry.

He encouraged them to go to church, to make things right with God, and to live a life he knew was the one that really mattered. His dying body was spiritually new. The teaching he had hidden for years was now made known to them.

A few days after my first visit, the older man gently left this world in the night and went home. His family called me and told me he had passed.

The family asked me to do the funeral since I was the closest preacher he knew. Even on a sad occasion, I could tell of the stories he had told me and how he had found forgiveness again.

Sometimes I think about his family. I wonder if they ever took his words to heart. I know they heard them because I heard him speak to them. I just don’t know if they comprehended them.

For the next few months, I stayed connected with them, but they had no desire for spiritual things. It was as if they too thought they were a long way away from needing them. This was one fear of the older man as we talked on that first day. He knew his example was not the right one in past years and he wanted them to know what he should have done.

It has been several years since that phone call, but one thing he said remains with me until this day. On that first visit, after we had talked for a while, he told me something that confounded me. He told me he had called the area churches, and I was the only one that came to visit.

“…the only one that came to visit.”

Even writing those words today conjures up emotions. I could not believe that after all those calls, I was the one that showed up.

In case you are wondering, there were others that answered his call, but they never came. Some even told him they would come. Honestly, I hope something changed that held them up. I even hope it was something drastic but not tragic, like a car that would not start or a sudden bout of the flu.

I am thankful I picked up the phone that day. I am thankful I could go; even if I was the only one that went.

The story of those few days was a big impression on a younger preacher. I learned a few things from this older man as he reflected on his life.

I learned there is still time.

No matter what you did, have done, or regret, there is still time. If you are taking a breath, there is time to be that prodigal son and come home again.

The walk home may not be easy. In fact, it will not be, but it will be worth it. I can only imagine what it was like for the prodigal son to return home. He left his family with the idea of never returning. He had more money on his hands than ever before. He was going away and nothing the father did could stop him.

Once the prodigal son took his first step out of the house, the momentum of leaving grew greater. I imagine the momentum was stronger once he was in a distant land. As he entered the land, he did not know; I expect the grass seemed greener on the other side. Not only was he in a land that he did not know; he was in a land where people did not know him. No matter what he did, no one was going to go home and tell his family of his dire condition.

With new money comes new friends. Every lottery winner has experienced the sudden arrival of new friends once the announcement was made. This young man of Luke 15 was experiencing the same arrival of new friends. But, once the money was gone, so were the friends. Friends arriving because of money will be friends who depart with the money.

The prodigal son was stuck. The money was gone and so were his friends. The only thing to do was to find the one job he was glad his family did not know he was doing. In fact, we never hear him speak of this job once he is home.

As a Jew, pigs were disgusting. They were unclean. They were not worthy of being eaten, taken care of, or even looked at. Now, he was feeding the pigs. His life had taken a drastic turn.

However,… he was still breathing.

He had an opportunity to go home.

The journey must have been long as he thought about the words he would say to his father. The emotions of disappointment must have been great. As he practiced those words, he drew closer to home.

He was still breathing, and he still had the opportunity to come home, and he did.

My friend was still breathing, and he had decided to come home… and he did.

Family will be your harshest critics, but God will be your greatest forgiver. God sees what your family cannot see; He sees the real you. He does not see the past; He sees your need. He sees you ready to come home and ready to be home.

We all think our families should be our biggest supporters, but that is not always the case. Even as a minister, our families may not always be our biggest supporters. Typically, our families will see the mistakes of the past and they will think of those instead of seeing the change in our lives.

Note: By families, I do not mean our spouse and our children, even though that may sometimes happen. Our families, since birth, have seen our mistakes, failures, and know all the things they saw as you were growing up. Their tendency is to think of the past instead of the present, or even the future. While they want the best, many times, they do not have the best beliefs for your future. As an example, consider the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15)

When family are your harshest critics, you must continue to work on yourself. God believes in you because He sent His Son to die for you. When the world, our friends, and even our family lack faith, God does not. He gave you the gift of His Son for a reason. That reason is His hope that you will join Him in Heaven for eternity.

As my friend found out, it took his death for his family to finally realize what was happening. It took a drastic measure for them to understand that he would no longer be with this. While death for my friend made him look at life differently, when the reality hit, his family looked at it differently as well.

If you are in a position where your family cannot see the new you, or even your bright future, you must keep being you. You must take advantage of the gift of the Almighty God and know that He loves you and He wants you to come home.

The first commandment in the Bible is to “Love the Lord God with all your heart, your mind, your strength, and your souls. The second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” It is hard to love our neighbor as ourselves if we do not know how to love who we are.

You must love yourself so you can love others. God’s love in your life should be realized and comprehended by you. Other people may tell you about it, but you need to realize it. You are the reason you have the opportunity. God desires all men to come to a knowledge of repentance and come to the truth; this means you.

God wants you to come home.

I am glad I answered the phone that day.

I am glad I met my friend.

Just some thoughts,

 

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