Final goodbyes are packed with emotion.
One of our very dear friends is currently headed for the finish line, and we must cheer her on to victory. What a difference it is when there is a living hope in the finished work of Christ. He has canceled our guilt by his work on the cross. And He has fired our confidence in the future by rising again from the dead to prove His promises. How hopeless it is to face death without this.
In my 50 plus years in the ministry I have said "goodbye" to many people, and some very dear friends.
Before even getting to seminary (and before we were married) Barbara and I experienced the passing of her grandfather--on her 20th birthday. He was convinced that he had been sent to a nursing home to die, and so he did. It was not, therefore, a pleasant birthday for her.
Then there was the dear old lady friend from our church who was dying of heart problems. While we were visiting her, we three began to sing something like "What a Friend we have in Jesus" and she stopped singing to grasp her chest. When Barbara and I also stopped singing, she made motion for us to continue singing as her pain subsided. Singing the love of Jesus was more important to her than death pains. Not long after this she passed into glory.
I'll never forget the time I was visiting a dear saint who had labored in service of the Lord for many years. Even though she knew many scriptures, I have learned to go with the familiar. God's children always seem to appreciate the old, familiar verses. She was not well enough to communicate at this time, but she knew me and knew I was there at her hospital bed. I decided to recite Psalm 23 without use of a Bible. It was one of those things when the very familiar plays tricks on you. I left out a phrase of this Psalm, and I know she knew it. I can imagine the two of us laughing about this when I see her in heaven.
It has to be a priority of every pastor to visit his people when they are in the hospital. I have always tried to keep this responsibility at or near the top of my list. When I haven't visited in a day or two, or when I have heard of a change in condition, I always made it a point to be there quickly. One such character was in our Wilmington congregation, languishing with cancer tumors popping up here and there. When I came to his bedside one afternoon, he was choking on growths in his throat. He looked at me and said, "You show up at the damnedest times!" To this day I'm not sure that was a compliment or a complaint.
When I'm not certain of the spiritual condition of the one I am visiting, I stay with the familiar, and usually read John 14:1-6, making emphasis in my comments about Jesus saying no one goes to the Father except through Him.
People don't want to talk about dying, but when they are in the process, the subject can hardly be avoided. Even though I may have a man as a captive audience, it's not fair (or helpful) to overwhelm him with nagging toward repentance. But just to lay upon him the simple claims of Christ on him by reading John 3:16; John 5:24 or Romans 6:23 and praying that the Holy Spirit will use it as He pleases.
Those visits must be about Jesus. Certainly it is not about me (how convincing I can be), and not even about my dying friend (pleasant memories or false comfort). I must tell myself, "Keep it simple, Stupid! Keep it simple."