April 6th, 2012
12:29 PM ET
Pastor Kerry Shook and his wife, Chris, founded Woodlands Church near Houston. They are the authors of the New York Times bestseller "One Month to Live: Thirty Days To A No-Regrets Life," now available in paperback.
By Kerry Shook, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Jimmy Dowden, a church member, approached me after church one Sunday with some sad news. He said his cancer had returned, and the doctors told him he had only six to 10 weeks to live.
Though as a pastor, I’ve faced crises like this, it is always difficult and painful. Filled with compassion, I immediately told him that my wife, Chris, and I, along with our whole Woodlands Church, would be praying for him. His response might come as a surprise to some.
“That’s fine," he said, "but really I need to pray for you and the church. I’m praying for you that you won’t be distracted by life.”
He went on to tell me that when he heard the news that he only had weeks left to live, all the distractions melted away, and he experienced the most amazing peace.
“Before I was told I only had a brief time left, I was running in a million different directions,” Jimmy told me. “I didn’t think about God nearly as much as I do now. Everything is so clear to me now. I finally see what is most important in life.”
Jimmy shared with me how his relationship with his wife, Betty, had changed. “It was good before, but now it’s even better,” Jimmy said. "We focus on each other’s needs and listen to one another better. We always had a good marriage, but it has never had the sweetness that we have now.”
While many people I’ve known who are facing death make radical changes in order to die well, I occasionally meet some who change very little.
It’s not that they are unwilling to change. It’s that they have lived so deliberately and authentically that the news of the end of this life doesn’t turn them upside-down.
Of course, they grieve and struggle with the news. They ache for their families and the people they love. But they take comfort in knowing they have been living focused on what matters most to them: their relationships with the ones they love, their relationship with the God of the universe and the fulfillment of their unique purpose on this Earth.
They strive to live like Jesus did when He knew He had one month to live.
Jesus lived passionately. In fact, it’s no surprise we call the end of His life the passion of Christ. In John 10:10, He says, “I have come in order for you to have life — life in all its fullness.”
I think Jesus wants us to live our lives with exuberance, too.
He loved completely. In his final days, he focused on people he was closest to and on the relationships that mattered most: those with his disciples.
Much the same, he calls us to focus with high intensity on those relationships that are most important in our lives. (And intensity is what he means. It never ceases to amaze me how much intentionality I need to pour into my own relationships with my wife Chris and our children to stay connected.)
He learned humbly. Philippians 2:8: “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” Jesus challenges us to learn even through our problems and pain. When we humbly do so, God fills us with His power.
Jesus left boldly. He changed the world. In much the same way, he wants us to understand our ability to do so — even if it’s on a smaller scale — in His name.
At Jimmy’s funeral, I was struck not only by how he had lived out his final weeks but how much it had impacted our whole church. Jimmy showed us what it meant to truly embrace life, whether you have 30 days or 30 years, much the same way Jesus did. While we grieved for Jimmy and his family, we were inspired by their faith and by how God always brings something good out of suffering.
God repeatedly told us that our lives were short compared with eternity. In James 4:14, He says, “Why, you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while then vanishes.”
Ultimately, what Jesus taught us in his final days was not about dying, but about living. On this Good Friday, try living each day with purpose and intentionality, as if they were your last. I guarantee you’ll feel more alive than ever before by just living the passion that God has placed in your heart.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.