Some thoughts on ‘If I should die before I wake’
One of the first prayers I learned to pray was my bedtime prayer. I do not remember how old I was when I first learned it, but I know I was just a young boy. It was one of the first prayers I taught my children. Over the years it has helped millions of children get ready to go to bed. You probably know it by heart:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to take.
As I grew older, the third line struck me as unusual: “If I should die before I wake.” It seems odd that little children in the springtime of life should mention death in their bedtime prayers. Adults know what children hardly realize: Death comes to all of us sooner or later – sometimes to children, and sometimes in the night before we wake.
I have not prayed that prayer for years, yet I have thought about that third line many times in another context. Frankly, it has remained a rather haunting thought to me. Here it is. What if I were to die before I awake to God’s purpose for me as a pastor? Jeremiah 29:11 further stirred those thoughts in my mind: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Yes, He has a plan for my life. But, what if I die before I awake to fulfill that plan?
I was in my first decade as a pastor when God began to reveal His plans for me in ministry. I was praying and meditating over this matter one day, and I sensed God saying to me that the kind of church He desired was modeled in the book of Acts. I began reading Acts with renewed fervor and interest. Acts 20:20 became the focal passage for me. “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house.” Ah, He wants His church to be the church with an Acts 20:20 vision. What are the characteristics of an Acts 20:20 church?
An Acts 20:20 church is a PRAYING church. If the church was born in Acts 2, it was conceived in the prayers of Acts 1. Our Lord ascended with the promise He would return. The followers of Jesus went away for a prayer retreat, ten days in duration. The Lord honored their prayers on the Day of Pentecost with 3,000 “gladly receiving His word” and being baptized (Acts 2:41). The blessings of God did not cause them to stop praying. They “continued in prayers” (Acts 2:42. See also Acts 3:1, 4:23-31, 6:6, 12:5), etc.). The pattern of prayer in the New Testament is different from the Old Testament. In the Old Testament we see individuals as effective intercessors – Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Daniel. However, in the New Testament, prayer takes place in corporate settings. The early church gathered to pray as a body. Doubtless, this practice began as they remembered these words of our Lord: “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by my Father which is in Heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:19-20).
An Acts 20:20 church is a SHARING church. Not only was there public sharing about Jesus, as in Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, but there was personal sharing of the Gospel as well. “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:42). They believed the command of Christ to go into all the world began in Jerusalem and it began with them. We share because we have Good News. Remember though, it is only Good News if they hear it in time. Believers are not responsible for winning anyone. We are only responsible for sharing. It’s been said, “If we are not sharing, we are sinning.” Has the Gospel been shared with everyone in your Jerusalem?
An Acts 20:20 church is an EQUIPPING church. The book of Acts is very clear: The Apostles, as well as the lay members, shared the Gospel. Acts 8:1 says a persecution against the church arose in Jerusalem which caused believers to be scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. All were scattered, that is, except the Apostles. The activity of the laity who were scattered, Acts 8:4 says, “They … went everywhere preaching the Word.” How did they know what and how to share? They had been trained and equipped by the Apostles. One of them remembered (was it John?) that they were to bear much fruit (John 15:8). One can bear fruit. But, when one equips another to share their faith, he will bring forth much fruit!
An Acts 20:20 church is a HARVESTING church. What a harvest of souls they experienced – 3,000 (Acts 2:41), 5,000 (Acts 4:4), multitudes (Acts 5:14). Some are turned off today by the mention of numbers (not at the ballparks, football stadiums or with electoral votes, only at church), so when we think of the harvesting taking place in the early church, remember Philip (a deacon), left an outpouring of God at Samaria to see the harvest of a eunuch in the Gaza desert. History tells us the eunuch was responsible for first taking the Gospel to Ethiopia. What a harvest.
One day I will die – in my sleep, on the road, in a hospital? Meanwhile, I earnestly desire to be awake to and in the will of God. I’m praying for Missouri to be covered with Acts 20:20 churches! (Gary Taylor is the Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of evangelism.)