Today we celebrate the commemoration of All Souls Day. It is certainly a day when our thoughts turn towards the topic of “eschatology” which is the study of “The Last Four Things,” namely – death, judgment, heaven and hell. Although perhaps not the most pleasant of topics, it also provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the significance of this feast day for the living.
I recently finished reading a book called Simplify from Bill Hybels, Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. In reviewing the book, Amazon says that Simplify “identifies core issues that lure us into a frantic type of life and offers practical steps for sweeping the clutter from our souls.” Ultimately Pastor Hybels takes an eschatological view of this by challenging us to consider our ultimate goal and ultimate end in the next life (heaven or hell) when forming our life decisions now in this life. Allow me to outline some of the conclusions that Hybels offers at the end of the book.
He writes: “There is no point in simplifying your life if you are steering toward an endpoint that doesn’t matter.” When reflecting on his years of pastoral ministry Hybels says that. “When people are nearing death, there are two things that they usually talk about – whether or not they are right with their families and whether they’re ready to meet their maker.” He then relates the stories about two men to whom he ministered, both of whom were facing death.
The first man was an extremely successful businessman who had been in the hospital for more than 100 days. On several occasions he had almost died but, each time, bounced back and recovered. In talking to his pastor, he shared that what most disturbed him about his sickness was how few people came to visit. He had made thousands of people extremely wealthy and successful, but very few of those people came by to visit him in the three months when he was in the hospital. When Hybels asked about family members, the man replied “Well, to be honest I kind of neglected my family while I was building the business and making all these other people rich. And so not all my family made it to visit me while I was in the hospital. Some did but not all.”
Contrast this to the story about a second man whom Bill Hybels visited. Knowing that the parishioner was suffering with and incurable disease, the man first requested to go back to his own home. One day he asked the pastor for a favor. He wanted to know if a number of his church buddies and family members would come over and just sing some “worship songs” that they had sung and enjoyed at church over the years. Everyone gladly came over. They laughed, they sang and they enjoyed each other’s company. In the end the man said, “I found what I was looking for. I love my church community. And God reminded me throughout my whole life that family matters. I have the best family I could imagine and tonight they were all around me – family and friends. I know where I am going when I die. It’s been a good life.” Within two days he was gone.
Hybels writes: “Quite a contrast isn’t it?”
As a point of departure, he reflects on the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, allegedly written by one of the richest, wisest and most successful individuals in history – King Solomon. Solomon had it all: fame, fortune, females, fabulous homes. Yet, in the end, he said that the pursuit of all of this was “chasing after wind.” Hybels lists the “seven parts to wind chasing” which are:
- Physical health and longevity.
In each case he ties in a particular passage from Ecclesiastes – relating it to Solomon’s life – and showing how this did not ultimately satisfy Solomon in the end.
Here are some pointed and poignant questions that he poses:
- Which of these pathways is most likely to distract me from living a life that truly satisfies me?
- When am I most tempted to get distracted in this area?
- What can I do to catch myself before I get distracted in this area?
- Am I currently on one of these trails? If so what steps can I take to turn around and get back on the main road towards a simplified, satisfied life?
So what is the antidote?
First a note of caution is mentioned. “Simplifying is not merely intended to make your life easier. You simplify your life for reasons that matter for eternity: to give clarity, purpose and power to the things that matter most in this world,” …like the man in the second story above.
Hybels then outlines a series of 10 “action steps” but if you want to know them, give the good pastor a break and buy the book. As I mentioned in our “Parish Vision – Forming Disciples, Commitment #2) – Christmas is coming. I might offer some good “Advent reading.”
Audio version of the homily is here: