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    On God's Death Row - by Michael B. Ross

Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. (Mark 13:33, New American Bible)

I'm sure that you have been told at one time or another that all of us, in a sense, live on death row. It is a favorite topic of many preachers. Human beings are mortal, and death is inevitable. As such, death is life's most powerful enemy, no matter who we are-no matter how wealthy, how powerful, how blessed-we all will eventually succumb to death. Instinctively, all of us resist death with every fiber of our being. This is completely natural and to be expected.

Are you prepared for death? Have you thought about that day when there are no more tomorrows? Many of us have not. That is because many of us fear death; it is a very difficult topic for us to deal with, so we ignore its very possibility. Many of us try to deny its power, its inevitability, its very existence. When it does come, usually unexpectedly, we are generally unprepared.

Facing My Mortality. I live on death row. Not exactly the same death row that the preachers will tell you that you live on. Mine is far more concrete, far more immediate. I am to be executed by the State of Connecticut. I will know, to within a few minutes, the exact day and time that I will die. I will know the exact day and time that I will meet Christ. And while I expect that this may sound strange, this has been a great blessing to me.

I have been forced to face my own mortality. I have been blessed with time to try to set things right and make my peace with God. I have been given time to ask and seek forgiveness from those whom I have hurt. I have been given time for my own hurts to be healed and to forgive those who have hurt me. My time is coming, and I have been given time to prepare for my meeting with Christ. It is a blessing that few are fortunate to experience.

Don't misunderstand me: I don't look forward to my execution. I don't welcome the prospect of death. I have my own concerns and fears about it, as I suspect we all do. Everyone fears the unknown, and death is the greatest of unknowns. Every day, I pray that some miracle will come to pass which will deliver me from this man-made death row and spare me from the hands of a human executioner. I would like a second chance at life; anyone in my situation would. However, should I not get that chance, I am at least fortunate enough to have had time to prepare for my death.

How Will We Live?. I recently read about a Christian who was dying of pancreatic cancer. He wrote some wonderful words that I take great comfort in-words that I have made into a personal prayer of mine. I try to live by these words and I would like to share them with you:

My future is uncertain. The joy is knowing that it is completely in God's hands. All I have to do is thank him. If I have not much longer to live, then that is God's will and it should mean something. My task is to find out what it means. I have no complaints, only thanks! If it is God's pleasure to give me a chance to start over again, that's wonderful. If it is not his pleasure and he has other tasks for me, I accept that. Faith doesn't depend upon me having my way; faith depends on God having his way. This must be my highest joy and delight. Otherwise, how can I pray, "Thy will be done"?

Few of us will have the blessing of knowing the hour of our death. But each of us must still face his own mortality. Each of us must prepare for his own death. The question is: How do we do that?

This may sound paradoxical, but preparation for death is not a matter of how we die, but a matter of how we live. It is the great promise of Christ that as we live, so shall we die. To live for Christ means that we must be prepared to die every single day of our lives. For if we are prepared to die daily for Christ, we will receive eternal life and our promised salvation.

To truly prepare for death, we must live each day as if it were our last. We must live that day for Christ. This is more difficult than it sounds; it is very easy to be distracted and count on tomorrow always being there. We must not allow ourselves to be distracted; we must not count on tomorrow. Instead, we are to remember our own mortality and our purpose for being. As the Indian mystic Sundar Singh said: Only during the few years of this life are we given the privilege of serving each other and Christ. We will have heaven forever, but have only a short time for service here, and therefore must not waste the opportunity. These words tell us not to waste the few glorious opportunities that we have to live for Christ.

Cherish Each Day. This is easier for me to do than it is for most people. I have the specter of death always hanging over my head. I will meet Christ soon. Every morning when I wake up, I try to recall that I have few opportunities left to serve Christ here in this world. I try hard not to count on tomorrow, because I may have but a few tomorrows left.

I didn't always think this way. Twenty years ago I was a young man heading off to an Ivy League College. Like most people that age I didn't often ponder my mortality. In many ways I felt immortal; I assumed that tomorrow would always be there. As I sit alone here in this cell, I look back on those youthful days with anguish. Today, I can remember all the lost opportunities of yesterday. I see the things that I could have done and should have done, things I always intended to do "tomorrow." It is terrible to feel that you have wasted your life. It is a terrible feeling I pray you will never experience.

Don't count on tomorrow. Cherish and live each day as if it were your last. Live the life that God has given to you to its fullest potential. And live each day that God has given you for his glory. Don't forget Jesus' teaching about the two greatest commandments: "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37,39). Not just sometimes, not just when you have the time and it is convenient. Every day!

Your next encounter with your neighbor may be your last. Seek forgiveness and forgive those who have hurt you. Not tomorrow-today! Repent to God for your past transgressions and live each day to further his glory. Now, right this minute; tomorrow may never come. If you live each day as if it were your last, you need not worry about death. You will be prepared for that day when it comes, even if it comes unexpectedly.

Join Me in Prayer. I live on death row and I would like to invite you to join me. Not here on Connecticut's death row-there are too many of us here already-but on God's death row. For when you live on God's death row, you live for God, for his glory, every day. You may not be fortunate enough to know when your death is at hand, but you will be prepared.

Are you prepared to meet Jesus? Are you ready to stand before God to give an account of your life? Are you ready, especially if death should strike suddenly? Are you living on God's death row? If you accept my invitation to live on God's death row, then please join me in a prayer from the Way of the Cross, a prayer that has much meaning to me, and I hope will have as much meaning for you:

My Lord Jesus, you laid your life down for me. I willl lay down my life for you. I offer you my death with all the pain that may surround it, accepting at this moment, whatever kind of death you have in store for me. I give you my life and my death, my body and soul, my whole being now and forever. n

Editor's Note: Michael B. Ross is a condemned man who has been on Connecticut's death row since June of 1987. Currently he is under a stay of execution pending the resolution of the appeals process.

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This page was last updated April 8, 2001       Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty          This page is maintained and updated by Dave Parkinson and Tracy Lamourie