RICHMOND, Va. – Your days are numbered.
That cheery thought occurred to me – not for the first time – as I read a recent USA TODAY story headlined, “How long do I have, Doc?” Patients often hesitate to ask their doctors that question, but many would like to know the answer. They can visit a new website that offers rough estimates of life expectancy based on their answers to a set of questions. Similar online tools predict longevity based on age, nutrition and level of physical activity.
One medical professional interviewed for the article questioned the value of such tools. “My experience is that patients know and families know that life is not infinite,” she told the reporter.
True, but occasional confirmation of your mortality – if not the actual date – can put things into spiritual perspective, regardless of age or health. “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom,” the psalmist prays (Psalm 90:12).
Time is a holy thing, if we make it so. It is our daily, hourly, moment-by-moment opportunity to love God. We can use it for Him, or we can waste it on ourselves. “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
“Making the most” in that verse literally means “redeeming.” Time needs to be redeemed, to be rescued and made whole. Otherwise it is squandered.
One of the saddest people I ever knew spent most of his life seeking excitement and pleasures for himself. He died virtually alone, having driven away nearly all the people who loved him. He felt cheated by the world because nothing brought him real happiness. In his last years, he kept saying, “Enough. I’m tired. I’ve lived too long. I’m ready for it to be over.” He sounded like the weary Solomon of Ecclesiastes, who finally realized the vanity of all things apart from God. Unlike Solomon, he never admitted his misery was self-inflicted.
Sadder still are young people who waste the gift of time because they think there is an unlimited supply of it. The nonstop distractions available via new media technologies make the process of squandering that gift much easier and more efficient. One day you wake up and realize you have entertained yourself for a lifetime – and accomplished nothing of consequence.
For all our activities and gadgets and apps, we are bored. Why? There is nothing more boring than living for ourselves. We must continually find new pleasures and sensations to stave off despair. The days become evil.
There’s a better way. We were created to love God – moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. It isn’t always easy, but it’s never boring. And it fills our hearts with joy that cheap substitutes can’t begin to match. It’s not too late to redeem the time, no matter how much you have wasted.
Begin with small things.
“Have I ever been carried away to do something for God not because it was my duty, nor because it was useful, nor because there was anything in it at all beyond the fact that I love Him?” asks Oswald Chambers. “Have I ever realized that I can bring to God things which are of value to Him … Not divine, colossal things which could be recorded as marvelous, but ordinary, simple human things which will give evidence to God that I am abandoned to Him?”
Small things have a way of becoming large things. The child you read Bible stories to might become a missionary. The immigrant you treat with kindness might become the first follower of Christ among her people. The friend you encourage might lead thousands to God.
Time is holy, or evil. It’s up to you what to make of it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board (IMB). Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/. Listen to an audio version at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/147/14723/14723-81739.mp3.)