By Morris W. R. Bailey
When you read these lines, we will have crossed the threshold of another year. There have been, on the part of some, the usual New Year celebrations. With some it has been a time for making New Year resolutions. With many business firms it will be a time for taking inventory. As the clouds of war loom upon the horizon, and nations are feverishly engaged in an armament race, political leaders view the coming year apprehensively.
To the Christian, confident in the belief that “To them that love God, all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28), business interests and world tensions will be of minor concern when compared with the great issues of eternity. Nevertheless, we live in a world of time. The skeptic, Herbert Spencer, spoke of the five manifestations of the unknowable as time, force, action, space, and matter. Our plans are made with regard to time, and are governed largely by the clock or the calendar. Solomon said, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). Recognizing this great truth, we sow seed in the spring and reap the harvest in the autumn. The events of history have been recorded with due regard for time, either B.C. or A.D. In point of duration they are spoken of in terms of days, weeks, months, and years.
Since time occupies such an important place in the warp and woof of life, the fact that we have entered upon another year should be an occasion for sober meditation. We are one year nearer to our eternal destiny than we were this time last year. We have one year less of our allotted span in which to serve God and to prepare for that day when we must give account to God for the way in which we have used the time that He has given us. The year of 1961 now lies behind us and has merged with the eternal past. It cannot be relived. The unkind and the unjust things that we have done cannot be undone. Unkind words that have been said cannot be unsaid. We can only hope and trust that God has graciously forgiven us our trespasses. Opportunities that we have neglected have probably gone forever. We can only hope to make use of other opportunities that will be ours in the coming year.
The year of our Lord 1962 now lies before us. What will it hold for us? Will it be a year of more devoted service to God? Will it be a year of spiritual growth, or will it be a year of backsliding? What will it mean for the church of the Lord? Will it see congregations standing firm for the truth? Or will it see many of them drifting into apostasy? These are questions that only the future can answer. I am reminded here, of the words spoken by Joshua, in the long ago, as he was giving the children of Israel last minute instructions prior to leading them across the river Jordan and into the land of promise. “Ye have not passed this way heretofore” (Joshua 3:4). How much like life! Insofar as the future is concerned we will be traveling an unfamiliar road, for we have not passed this way heretofore. To this we may add that we will not pass this way again, since the door of man’s past is locked the moment he leaves it.
As our thoughts are turned toward the coming year,–its possibilities and its probabilities, it would be well for us to meditate upon a passage of scripture spoken by the Psalmist David and recorded in Psalm 80:1012: “The days of our years are threescore and ten. Or by reason of strength fourscore years; Yet is their pride but labor and sorrow; For it is soon gone and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of shine anger, and thy wrath according to the fear that is due unto thee? So teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom.”
In these words God teaches us that our lives are very brief. Even if we attain unto our threescore and ten years, or by reason of strength, fourscore years our life has still been’ comparatively short. Ask anyone who has lived out his allotted span and he will tell how rapidly the years have come and gone.
Even those of us who have reached middle age, realize that each year seems to pass a little more rapidly than the preceding one. And so, in view of the brevity of life, David said, “Teach us to number our days that we may get us a heart of wisdom.” How much we need to heed the admonition of David. Time is a precious commodity and should never be wasted. Benjamin Franklin said, “If time is of all things most precious, then wasting time is the greatest prodigality.” How true! Money that has been lost, may be recovered or replaced; but time that has been wasted is irretrievable. In these days of inflation we budget our money and try to make it stretch as far as possible. How much we need to number our days and crowd into them the utmost in service to God and man, realizing that soon they will be gone forever.
The Bible abounds in expressions that teach us of the brevity and the uncertainty of life. Job said, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle” (Job 7:6). David said, “As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field he flourisheth” (Psalms 103:15).
Jesus told of a certain rich man whose land brought forth so plentifully that he had no place to store his abundance of goods. Then he thought of a plan. He said, “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there will I bestow all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up these many years, take shine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night is thy soul required of thee, and these goods that thou hast prepared, whose shall they be?” (Luke 12:16-20.)
God called this man a fool. Why? From the divine standpoint there were several reasons for calling him foolish. He was unthankful for his blessings. In fact there is no acknowledgment on his part that God had given him his bountiful harvest. Then too, he left God out of his plans for the future. Further, he had a false sense of values. He seemed to think that his riches would supply everything he needed.
But another, and perhaps his greatest mistake, is seen in his use of the expression, “these many years.” He thought that he had a long-term lease on life. And how mistaken he was! Already death was knocking at his door. God said, “This night shall thy soul be required of thee.” Yet many are making the same mistake today and living as if they expected to be here forever, not heeding the warnings of inspiration and the events of history which teach us that life is so uncertain. The holiday season just past has witnessed the usual number of tragedies. In the air, in flaming buildings, on crowded highways the grim reaper has struck without warning leaving a trail of frustrated plans, broken homes and saddened hearts.
As touching the uncertainty of life, the language of James is very pertinent. “Come now, ye that say, today or tomorrow we will go into this city, and spend a year there, and trade and get gain; whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. What is your life? For ye are a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall both live and do this or that” (James 4:1315). We have a cloud of mist as it hangs out in the early morning air, and how quickly it is dispelled by the rising sun. One moment we see it. The next moment it has disappeared from our view. How much like the life of man! So short and so uncertain. One moment he stands before us a conscious being, vibrant with life. But tragedy strikes, and the next moment he lies before us unconscious and locked in the cold embrace of death. On this basis James teaches us a lesson that is sorely needed. He tells us that our plans for the future should be made subordinate and subject to the will of God. Some one has well said, “Man proposes; but God disposes.” This is so true with regard to the uncertainty of life. The best-laid plans are often frustrated by the sudden visitation of death.
The Bible lays considerable emphasis upon making the proper use of and the most use of the time that God has given us. Jesus, himself, set an example along this line. “I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4). Thus Jesus taught that this lifetime is all that we have in which to work for God. Soon will come the dark night of death when we must leave our unfinished tasks to others.
In writing to the Ephesians, Paul said, “Look carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil” (Eph. 5: 15,16). Thus Paul taught that time is something that must be redeemed. The footnote makes this perhaps even clearer when it says, “Buying up the opportunities.” During our lifetime we will have opportunities to do good. Time can be redeemed only by making use of our opportunities. The Christian who places the proper value on time will never neglect them. Once they are gone they will probably never return.
How much of our time is given to God and to the things that relate to God’s kingdom? Many professed Christians seem to think that an hour or so spent in the worship service of the church on Lord’s Day morning fulfills their obligations. Statistics sometimes reveal things, which are cause for grave concern. Such is true of an article I read some time ago in which the writer gave a breakdown of the average life of seventy years and the amount of time spent in various activities. The facts presented were as follows: Three years spent in education, Eight years spent in amusements. Six years spent at the meal table. Five years spent in transportation. Four years spent in conversation. Fourteen years spent in work. Three years spent in reading. Twenty-four years spent in sleeping. Three years spent in sickness. The reader will be reminded that the above figures only represent an average.
But the disturbing aspect of the matter is that the article further pointed out that if one spends an hour in church service each week, in a lifetime of seventy years it will amount to about five months. Think of it! Sixty-nine years and seven months of our life spent in temporal pursuits. Five months of our life given to God. Yet many Christians think that their only obligation is to be present at the worship service on Lord’s Day morning. What shall be said for those who attend only casually?
1961 is now past. 1962 lies ahead. We cannot change the past. We can only hope to make the best use of future opportunities. Lord, teach us to number our days. To those who wish to make 1962 a better year, we commend the words of the apostle Peter, found in 1 Peter 3:10,11: “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace and ensue it.”
Truth Magazine VI: 4, pp. 1, 8-9