Will Your Life Count When You’re Gone?
A Plea for Spiritual Fathers
Article by Greg Morse, Staff writer, desiringGod.org
A good friend recently found out that his biological father may have Alzheimer’s disease. When I asked him how he felt about it, he replied, “I’m torn. On the one hand, I’m terrified for him. The disease is savage, and it’s pitiable for anyone to slowly become a stranger to all his loved ones and even himself. I pray to God that he does not have it.”
I nodded, waiting for him to continue.
“On the other hand,” he began, and then stopped. “Can I be honest? I know how this will sound.” When I assured him he could, he looked down and continued, “My first thought was that he had Alzheimer’s his whole life. Alzheimer’s when I was a child trying to ride a bike. Alzheimer’s during my first peewee football game. Alzheimer’s for almost every birthday, most Christmases, and at graduation. The hurt I hate to still have crushes me. Should he have this disease — and I pray to God that he doesn’t — I’m angry he won’t have memories of me to forget.”
What can be said about the internal bleeding that a father can leave with a child? My friend is not the only son to be forgotten. Fatherlessness, real or functional, is not only prevalent in our homes, but even (and more tragically) in the family of God. With male discipleship in the church so rare, with much spiritual leadership in the home so distinctively absent, how many men in the church, if they were to die suddenly, would have spiritual children to leave behind?
The Man Who Began Well
Men of God, we are engaged in a multigenerational war for the glory of Christ. Unless our Lord returns first, our sons will have a battle to fight long after we are gone. Should we show so little interest to train them? Let the story of Judah’s greatest king, Hezekiah, warn us from doing many valiant deeds for the Lord and yet, in the end, failing the future men who need us.
This king accomplished many notable feats during his life. If half of what was said broadly of Hezekiah could be said of us, we could die blessed:
He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. (2 Kings 18:5–7)
Several great accomplishments marked his mostly-impressive 29-year reign.
He Abolished Idolatry
Hezekiah began his rule as a man of God. At just 25 years old, he tore down all idolatry within his grasp. He removed the high places, broke the pillars, and cut down Asherah poles. He shattered Nehushtan, the bronze serpent Moses lifted up for their salvation in the wilderness that the nation had come to worship as an idol (2 Kings 18:4; Numbers 21:9). He also waged military campaigns not seen since the reign of David, striking down the Philistines as far as Gaza (2 Kings 18:8).
And he didn’t just cut out idolatry from the land, but promoted unity of worship of Israel’s God, inviting other tribes to join them in Passover. He sparked a spiritual reformation by opening the doors to the temple, putting God’s house in order, and returning the people to the law of God (2 Chronicles 29:3–11). Hezekiah burned with jealousy for God’s name.
So far, so good.
He Defied the Pagan Superpower
Hezekiah ascended to the throne when Judah lay sandwiched between two superpowers, Egypt to the south and Assyria to the north. Assyria swept across the lands asserting itself as the imperial power of the day, conquering and making smaller nations, like Judah, pay taxes. When Hezekiah initially refused to pay them, things escalated, and Assyria mobilized to invade.
While King Hezekiah flashed brilliance as a military tactician, switching the water channel from outside Judah’s walls to inside to undermine a siege, he demonstrated his real worth as king by trusting in his God. While Assyria surrounded the city, calling out in an effort to intimidate their surrender (2 Kings 18:19–35), Hezekiah tore his clothes and prayed, “O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone” (2 Kings 19:14–19).
God listened to his prayer and promised that Assyria “will not even shoot an arrow” within the city (2 Kings 19:32 NLT). And they didn’t. “That night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians” (2 Kings 19:35). Sennacherib would retreat home to be greeted with an assassination. Hezekiah proved to trust God in the face of their mighty enemies.
So far, so good.
Sought the Lord for Healing
In the very next verse, we discover that Hezekiah becomes fatally ill. Isaiah gives him this word from God: “Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover” (2 Kings 20:1). Upon hearing this, Hezekiah wept bitterly and cried out to God, “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight” (2 Kings 20:3).
God heard his prayer, saw his tears, and added fifteen years to his life (2 Kings 20:5–6). When his life lingered in the balance, Hezekiah went, as he had to that point, to his God for help.
So far, so good.
How Not to End Well
Hezekiah’s story, however, ends on a surprisingly ungodly note. It began with a foolish decision. Once the king recovered, the prince of Babylon sent his greetings. Whether flattered, proud, or perhaps hoping for a political alliance, Hezekiah welcomes the Babylonian envoy and shows them his kingdom — including Judah’s treasure house, its silver, its gold, its costly oils, its armory, and all its riches (2 Kings 20:12–13).
Afterwards, the prophet Isaiah brings this solemn word,
Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. (2 Kings 20:17–18)
Because of his decision, his children and people would be plundered, captured, and enslaved. Any good king or father would be compelled to fight, to pray, to sacrifice, to defend.
So, how would Hezekiah respond? Would he tear his garments and seek the Lord, like he had when his kingdom was threatened by Assyria? Would he weep bitterly, like he had for himself when the fatal illness came? Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “‘The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.’ For he thought, ‘Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?’” (2 Kings 20:19).
A king forgot his people. A general forgot his army. A father forgot his children. All he had been charged to lead, provide for, and protect would suffer, and suffer horribly. His own sons would be slaves. But he would be long gone by then. What did he care?
Call for Spiritual Fathers
Hezekiah’s stunning end stands as a plea for older men of the faith to not forget about the next generation. Our churches need more spiritual fathers — present, pastoral, praying. Strong men to lead their families in the Lord, and men to love spiritual children outside their homes.
It may be well with you in your day. Perhaps you grew up under religious freedoms, spent your youth for Christ, have seen spiritual forces of darkness flee before the banner of our King. Perhaps you feel that many of your most prominent victories lay behind you, that your lot has fallen in pleasant places. You’re content to let the young men in the pews figure it out — just like you did. They serve the same sovereign Lord who will sustain them as he sustained you.
But as a young man speaking for young men, please do not take off your uniforms. You may have the scars and stories to prove your valor, but your ribbons and medals are no protection for yourself or your spiritual sons following after you. The same enemy that has hunted you these many years hunts us both still today.
Do not fall to the temptation of selfishness that slew Hezekiah. We ask you to imitate Paul and take under your watchfulness your own Titus, Onesimus, and Timothy. Will you delightfully overhear Paul’s counsel to pass on all that he has received to other faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2)? Let the thought of more crowns before the Lord entice you to spend even these last stretches laboring for the eternal good of those who you leave behind to carry on the work (1 Thessalonians 2:19). Young men in the church need your wisdom, your prayers, your fatherhood, your help.