Ephesians 4:15-16 (CSB): “15 Pay careful attention, then, to how you live — not as unwise people but as wise — 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”
John Newton wrote this, on July 24, 1793, to a Mrs. Coffin about a recent death and about the nature of time: “We sensibly miss dear Mrs. Gardiner, but this is a changeable state. Meeting always implies parting in this world, but they that meet above shall part no more. Let us look upward and forward. Time, which is short in itself, passes swiftly away. Like passengers in a coach, whether we sleep or wake, we are lessening our distance from home every minute. Our coach will not stop, or make a moments’ delay, till it brings us to our journey’s end; and the hills and dales we have already travelled [sic] over, are out of sight and gone. The trials of yesterday are no more to us now, than those of the antediluvians. And tomorrow shall be as today; when once past it will return no more…” (“Letters of John Newton” Pages 380-381).
Newton is best known for writing the hymn “Amazing Grace,” but he was also a very wise pastor. One aspect of his life he considered a great ministry to others was his letter writing. He had a gift for it. Now, let us look to a few points we can learn from Newton’s comments above on time.
1. Time cannot be stopped. I can remember one of my children telling me in recent days the following comment: “Daddy, I wish that and mommy could always stay at home so that we don’t have to grow up.” My young child is already grasping an idea many adults resist: Time cannot be stopped. Her longing for time to stand still is fueled by an awareness time is pressing onward, and we are all aging. I told her time cannot be stopped and we all either grow up or we die. In the midst of our busy lives, we must realize time is moving forward, with or without us, and we cannot stop it. We will not be young forever, and neither will we be old forever; we will all die one day and time is thrusting us all towards that moment when we will cease to walk this earth.
2. Time flies. Time cannot only not be stopped, but time moves quickly. We are born one year, and the next year, in essence, we are 90 years old! We blink and suddenly the life we thought was “ahead of us,” is now behind us. It is a startling realization, for many of us certainly, and for some of us probably, we have more years behind us than in front of us. We must be very careful to live our lives wisely, knowing time is moving faster and faster as the years come and go. The old saying of, “The days drag on and the years fly by” certainly has been true in my experience. I just turned 40 this year and realize, given the typical age many die, my life could be halfway over at this point. This is startling and should spur me on the live for God and to commit my life to eternal realities rather than fleeting temporal passions.
3. Time from yesterday is gone Think for a moment about all the trials you’ve experienced in your life. The deaths, the fights, the illnesses, the losses, the griefs, the disappointments, the betrayal, the dead dreams, the frustrated hopes, etc. The trials that are in our past need to remain in our past. There is nothing we can do about them and there is no need dwell on the hurts; all of that is behind us now. It is very difficult to live for today and to look forward to the future whenever we continue to look back in the past. We must look to what God has for us today and plan for tomorrow and not let either our sinful past or our hurtful past to hold us back from what He has for us right now. We allow, if you will, “ghosts” from our past, who are long gone, to continue to shackle us and have power over us. We must, in the Lord’s strength, allow the blessing of passed time to bring us to our senses and spur us on to look ahead and not back.
4. Time will be no more one day Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” One day, we will die and time, as we know it down here, will cease. The psalmist is reminding us to “number our days carefully.” We must realize our lives could end today and that we should make the best use of our time with what we have left. We gain wisdom by numbering our days. What type of “wisdom” do we gain by numbering our days? Mostly, it causes us to focus our lives on what matters most and to forsake that which matters least. Priorities are established when we number our days. We must always think, from the perspective of being 95 in the nursing home, what will we most regret at that moment. Most likely we won’t regret working less or spending less time in the office; the time we will regret the most will be the time we neglected our most important relationships. We also will look back at that moment and regret not living for God, Whom we are likely closer to seeing at 95. Allow the prospect of death to awaken you to the reality of eternity and of what matters most in this life.
Billy Reinhardt is a regular faith columnist for The Tribune.