As I get older and older, the passage of time becomes more obvious and my awareness of time more relevant. To the young person, time is something that is in much abundance and to guard or protect it is not so important. Solomon spent a great deal of Ecclesiastes considering the dynamics of time and its effect on his pursuit of a meaningful life. Gleaning Biblical principles helps the believer to become a good manager of the time afforded him by God which makes life on earth purposeful.
A few years ago a nurse working in palliative care found herself having profound conversations with her patients. The result was a book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. From what the dying wished they had done differently, the living could learn precious lessons about the changes they should make in their own lives — before it’s too late. They express the need to value time more wisely.
Here are the five regrets.
- “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself.”
- “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
- “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
- “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
- “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
Moses addresses time in relation to man’s days (lifetime) in Psalm 90:10-12, “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away. Who understands the power of Your anger and Your fury, according to the fear that is due You? So teach us (make us to know) to number our days (appreciate the passage of time), that we may present to You a heart of wisdom (carry wisdom into the heart).” To number our days is to recognize the passage of time in order to make each day matter the most. If each day is a gift from God, then it has great value and God wishes us to treat it that way. This is wisdom of the heart.
Seasons of life
In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon introduces a discussion of time when he says, “There is an appointed [opportune] time for everything [actions & events]. And there is a time [as a duration] for every event [activity – what one desires] under heaven”. The essence of this verse is that God has given time as a gift to be managed in order to discern its greatest meaning and find His will in the midst of its details. It also brings up the idea of seasons of life when conditions or events govern different periods of life: “A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance”. The summary of the passage is found in verse 11, where God has made everything beautiful or appropriate in its time. The highest quality of life is found when man seeks God’s purpose for each day.
Solomon also discusses time in Ecclesiastes 7:8, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning; patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.”. It seems patience really is a virtue; learning how to wait gives fullness of life! And then there is Ecclesiastes 8:5-6, “He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble [harm], for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble [misery] is heavy upon him”. The king’s command (ie. government regulation) is worth heeding, resulting in temporal benefits (no harm). Everything has a time and procedure or method and the circumstances surrounding the event do not govern it. In Ecclesiastes 7:14, God has made both the day of prosperity and adversity “so that man will not discover anything that will be after him”. Walking by faith usually means not knowing where I’m going. Current circumstances of life are not an indication of the future.
The effects of aging
It used to be that the elders in our society were generally recognized with respect and treated with dignity for their wisdom and experience. I believe that for the most part, our society no longer acknowledges our elderly as ones to be honored, but more like ones to be tolerated. Solomon addresses this subject in Ecclesiastes 12:5: “Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road [elderly fears]; the almond tree blossoms [white hair], the grasshopper drags himself along [physical disabilities], and the caperberry is ineffective [diminished appetites]. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street”. The progression of aging, the effect of time in man, creates all kinds of infirmities, both physical and psychological. In a society that values the aging ones, these conditions are to be accepted and not discarded as those with little value. In fact, God speaks about the elderly in this way in Psalm 92:13-14, “They will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green”. In God’s eyes, man can be fruitful right up until the end; life has great value in its totality.
Redeeming the time
The Apostle Paul expresses the same principle that time is something that should be managed wisely. In Ephesians 5:15-16, he says, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil”. To redeem the time has the idea not only of to purchase, but also to set free. When the believer recognizes the need to value his time and acts on that need, he is set free from the evil influences of the world. Jesus addresses this principle at the end of His Sermon on the Mount when He said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it”. The narrow gate is the pathway governed by the Holy Spirit and the perfect will of God. The choices we make to live while being led by God determine the quality of the time we have been given.
Robert Frost, the famous American poet wrote a notable poem dealing with the choices we make in the directions of our lives when he wrote “The Road Not Taken.”Although not a Christian according to his writings, this poem communicates a biblical principle:
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, Then took the other, as just as fair,
And sorry I could not travel both And having perhaps the better claim,
And be one traveler, long I stood Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
And looked down one as far as I could Though as for that the passing there
To where it bent in the undergrowth; Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay I shall be telling this with a sigh
In leaves no step had trodden black. Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Oh, I kept the first for another day! Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I took the one less traveled by,
I doubted if I should ever come back. And that has made all the difference.
The believer’s walk with God is not defined by the exact steps of other believers gone before us. Rather, it is finding the unique pathway prepared before us by God, so it is a road less traveled. Although we recognize the Biblical foundations of our lives as provided by the apostles and prophets and learn to follow God by watching others, it is up to us, as led by the Holy Spirit, to find the particular steps He has prepared beforehand in which we are intended to walk. To identify that path is not so simple and usually requires much experience, but in the end, those choices will make all the difference.
Just like Jesus was crucified between two thieves, the present is also being stolen from the believer by the past and the future. Too many are driven either by the failures of the past or the unknowns of the future and this robs them of the joy in the relationship God has intended. You see, He told Moses in Exodus 3 that His name is “I Am that I Am” and that means He is the God of the present moment and therefore every moment. Jesus acknowledged that His name is also “I Am” when he told the Jewish leadership that, “before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). Ultimately, God meets each of us in the present moment; learning to “cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) is our place of rest. Jesus taught His disciples to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” and “do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:33-34), meaning His presence is in the present moment.