Buna Guthrie taught me a lesson that I’ve never forgotten and often remember. I had been her pastor and was leaving to serve another church. At 84 years of age she thought that her days were nearly over, and thus she had a unique test for calling a pastor. She said, “When you’re my age and you’re calling a pastor, you always ask the question, ‘Do I want this man to preach my funeral?’”
I’m sure I chuckled when she said that, and I think she laughed too. But over the years I have come to appreciate Mrs. Guthrie’s test. In fact, I think her test applies to more than pastors. We could use this with Sunday school teachers, deacons, ushers or anybody who effectively ministers Jesus to others.
“Do I want this man to preach my funeral?” If the answer to the question is “Yes,” it means that this is a man who I believe cares about me. He doesn’t just care about the crowd or the work or the project, he cares about me as an individual person. He may not know everything about me, but I sense a genuine love for me in his heart, a sincere kindness, if you will. The person I want to speak at my funeral has influence in my life because I not only admire him, I love him because he loves me.
“Do I want this man to preach my funeral?” If the answer is “Yes,” it is because this man is humble. Forgetting himself, he will minister to my friends and family. He won’t seek to glorify himself, but he will bring glory to God. The man I want to speak at my funeral is confident of Jesus’ work for me and in me. And he will commend Jesus to those I leave behind. “Do I want this man to preach my funeral?” If my answer is “Yes” it means that I trust him. I trust that he has a genuine walk with God. I trust that Jesus has produced in him a gracious and generous spirit. And I am confident that he will minister to my children and spouse in a way that honors my Savior and represents Him well to those I loved in life.
Perhaps you can list additional attributes of the one you want to speak at your funeral. But more importantly, consider that a similar question is asked by those to whom you minister and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not that they are thinking of asking you to speak at their funeral. But they are asking themselves if you are the kind of person with whom they want to spend time.
The question, “Do I want to spend time with him?” Or, “Do I like him?” is sometimes called the “first conversion.” Before a person truly hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, they ask themselves, “Do I want to hear anything from you?” It’s similar to the question, “Do I want this man to preach my funeral?”
I had an opportunity to share Jesus with a young man while I was donating blood. This was the second time I spoke with him. I sensed in him an openness to talk about spiritual things the first time we spoke. This time he really opened up. He said, “I really like talking to you” (the first conversion). He went on to say that he had been a “wicked man” and even confessed to certain sins. I could tell he felt ashamed and wanted a different life. I told him the story of the woman who wept on Jesus feet and wiped them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). You remember the story. It’s the one where Jesus said that he who has been forgiven little loves little, but he who has been forgiven much, loves much.
The young man was visibly moved as we discussed the meaning of the story and the power of the Cross and the grace of God. He placed his faith in Jesus and asked Him for the power to live a new life.
As I left the blood bank I thought of the irony of giving blood that could save a life, while simultaneously speaking of Jesus’ blood, shed to give life to that young man.
And I also thought of Buna’s test when calling a pastor. She died last year at the age of 104, having found the man who would preach her funeral.