January 26, 2021

Holy Week: There is Always a Day Before (iMonk Classic)


NOTE: As we begin Holy Week, this classic Michael Spencer post from November, 2009 reminds us that each day, each week is a journey into the unknown. We never know if the cross is waiting for us this Friday. Michael wrote these words shortly before he learned that he had a terminal illness.

* * *

The news story is strange and tragic. Three college softball players go for a night time drive in the country. On an unfamiliar road, they take a wrong turn and drive into a pond…and drown.

There was a day before. A day with no thought of drowning. A day with family and friends. Perhaps with no thought of eternity, God or heaven. There was a day when every assumption was that tomorrow would be like today.

My friend Gary has been the night dean at our school for more than 20 years. His wife has been in poor health, but he has been a workhorse of health. He’s walked miles every day, eaten a vegetarian diet and always kept the rest of us lifted up with his smile and constant focus on the joy he took in his salvation.

Two weeks ago, the doctor turned to him and said leukemia. Today he stands on the crumbling edge of this earthly shadow, looking at the next world, fighting for his life with all that medicine and prayer can offer. Our prayers for him as a school community have been continuous, because we never thought there would be such a day.

There was a day before he heard “leukemia.” A day of work, chores, bills, hopes of seeing a grandchild, prayers for students, love for Suzi. Not a thought that the journey of life contained such a surprising turn for him.

And on that day, Gary was full of faith, full of a servant’s heart, ready for many more days or ready for this to be last one before whatever was around the corner.

road into fogWe all live the days before. We are living them now.

There was a day before 9-11.

There was a day before your child told you she was pregnant.

There was a day before your wife said she’d had enough.

There was a day before your employer said “lay offs.”

We are living our days before. We are living them now.

Some of us are doing, for the last time, what we think we will be doing twenty years from now.

Some of us are on the verge of a much shorter life, or a very different life, or a life turned upside down.

Some of us are preaching our last sermon, making love for the last time, saying “I love you” to our children for the last time in our own home. Some of us are spending our last day without the knowledge of eternal judgment and the reality of God. We are promising tomorrow will be different and tomorrow is not going to give us the chance, because God has a different tomorrow entirely on our schedule. We just don’t know it today.

Who am I on this day before I am compelled to be someone else? What am I living for? How am I living out the deepest expression of who I am and what I believe?

My life is an accumulation of days lived out of what I believe is true every day.

Gary lived every day with the story of Jesus nearby and the joy of the Lord a ready word to share.

When the day came that “leukemia” was the word he had to hear, he was already living a day resting in the victory of Jesus. That word, above all earthly powers, cannot be taken away. It speaks louder and more certainly the more the surprising words of providence and tragedy shout their unexpected turns into our ears.

Live each day as the day that all of the Gospel is true. Live this day and be glad in it. Live this day as the day of laying down sin and taking up the glad and good forgiveness of Jesus. Live this day determined to be useful and joyful in Jesus. Live this day in a way that, should all things change tomorrow, you will know that the Lord is your God and this is the day to be satisfied in him.


  1. Actually, if I remember correctly, Michael posted that shortly *before* he got sick. Which is what made it all the more poignant, and is why — of all the things he wrote — this piece is one of his most unforgettable.

  2. Whichever timing is correct, it is a beautiful and though provoking essay.

    I have been watching (on line) the History Channel’s series “Mankind: The Story of All of Us” as well as reading a book of historical fiction set in 1770’s North Carolina mountains. And it is Holy Week. And we have a new Pope.

    All of which has combined to make me think long and hard about the certainty of death and leaving this world, headed for another Land….one we know is there, but the details of which are pretty hazy. I think that the rise of atheism and general lack of faith is because it is so easy to beleive, in 2013, that death will never arrive for us personally. When our forefathers faced death every day and up close and personally, their own deaths were likely never too far from their minds. Childbirth, disease, injuries and infection, animal attacks, fires, hypothermia and plain old starvation were constant companions, and carelessly took the life of the newborn (or stillborn) through children of all ages and adults from 20 to 50…..the latter being an old age.

    With odds like that, prayers and faith were the only protection against what the day might bring….protection that me and mine might be spared, surely, but also spiritual protection if this was the day I did not come home, but went all the way HOME to my Savior.

    So, I have been trying to keep death before me as I live each day. Not in a morbid, fearful way, but as a reason to stay as well at peace with the world and as close to my Father as possible. Like all of us, I may die today, I may die in forty years as a very old woman…..but die I will. I want to be ready when it is time.

  3. Please pray for my Father-in-law Gord as he is currently undergoing brain surgery. He was taken into the O.R. about 2 hours ago. We don’t know what the outcome will be. Up until a couple of weeks ago he was in good health. He was surrounded by family yesterday which was an encouragement to both him and his wife.

    My daughter and wife sang “Safe and sound” from the Hunger Games for him (among others).

    Just close your eyes
    The sun is going down
    You’ll be alright
    No one can hurt you now
    Come morning light
    You and I’ll be safe and sound

    • I am sorry to hear that, Michael. I hope and pray that Gord will recover fine from the surgery.

    • Michael….

      I’ve been there with my Dad when he had his brain surgery. Thought I was in DC I was with him in spirit. Hang in there this is an awesome community.

  4. P.S. If you would like to send words or prayers of encouragement — there is a link on the main page.

  5. This post means a lot to me. It’s one of my favorite essays as it puts life in perspective.

    I remember some of my days before the storm. Specifically….

    I remember my last phone call with my grand mother and telling her that I loved her. I never knew at the time it would be the last time I’d speak with her. I remember the phone call from my Dad telling me that she would not live through the night. What a terrible night….

    I remember the phone call from my Dad when he told me that Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As I was moving and packing in Milwaukee…I remember sitting down against the wall in a dismantled apartment and weeping. I was so scared…..

    I remember on a weeknight in mid-January walking through the door of my apartment here in the DC area, and having my phone go off like crazy. I was confused by the sudden rash of calls and when I put my belongings down after walking through the door I remember seeing the text message about “Dad having a stroke”. I remember the wind being knocked out of me and being anxious. It was the start of a long ordeal where he dealt with a brain tumor.

    Personally I remember last July 29 going to Tysons Corner Galleria to grab dinner here in the DC area. I wanted to see the Dark Night but I didn’t feel that good for someone reason, and decided not to see the movie. I went home changed and went to bed. I had no idea that in a few hours I would be vomiting, violently shaking, and wondering what was going on. I had no idea that I was in shock and that I had medical physicians from the INOVA Care Clinic in Fairfax trying to stabilize me, raise my blood pressure and have a regular heart beat.

    This post is so raw….but I know there will be other days. Appreciate and enjoy life, and love people because you never know what will happen tomorrow.

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