That Steady Ticking
(Finding Real Life in the Nick of Time)
Time flies. Steadily, unrelentingly time has an unfailing way of passing us by. If you don’t believe me, just remember the last time you thoroughly enjoyed yourself. The day or evening or weekend was over all too quickly and you were faced with the same routine once again.
As I write this, I am sitting in a room where a clock is ticking off the seconds. Perhaps a hundred ticks have sounded in the short time it has taken to type these opening words. One hundred seconds have come and gone, never to return. In those seconds, people have been born and others have died. Unique events have occurred which can never happen again.
Most of us live under the illusion that we have plenty of time. It is only when some sobering event happens that we are shaken out of our false security. We wake up to find that we have graduated, or we have turned thirty, that our marriage has dissolved, that our children are grown, that we are gravely ill–and we realize that those ticking seconds have come and gone in their hundreds of thousands.
I like the elegant way in which Psalm 90 expresses this bitter-sweet passing of time (verse 10), “The days of our years are three-score and ten (70); and if by reason of strength, fourscore (80), yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off and we fly away.” Ah yes. The King James Version is unbeatable for poetic expression. It simply says that the maximum most of us can expect is to live is seventy or eighty years, and that when we reach the end, it seems like such a short time. Then we die and cannot return to any of the days we once had. But although this quotation is indeed poetic, it certainly is no exaggeration —as people in their retirement years will testify.
But the Psalm goes on the give some reassurance that though life goes by with startling speed, there is a very definite consolation. Verse 12 counsels, “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Apply our hearts to wisdom? Yes, on at least two levels:
First, we must ask God to show us how to live each day fully. This means that we should make a practice of asking God’s guidance each day. “How shall I walk with you in the hours and seconds allotted to me today, Lord?” For all of us, there is a blessed urgency to each day because the opportunity to accomplish something, to enjoy someone or something, or to finish that particular day with a clear conscience will never come again.
Secondly, in all of our activities we must hold onto an eternal perspective. What is the purpose of life in general? What is my particular life’s purpose? How have I been gifted, trained and provided with opportunities to make a significant contribution in the world? Money, fame, prestige and power–the things so many people spend their lives pursuing–are all sadly temporary and ultimately unfulfiling. As enjoyable as many things can be, real life is found in Christ. Listen to his words in John 17:3, “…this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (New International Version).
Let me be very clear. Jesus isn’t saying that eternal life is in church. Neither is he saying that eternal life is in Christian activities and programs. They are, at best, channels through which we may find God and Christ. Jesus is promising that we will find life in its fullest sense (the Greek of the Gospel of John describes it using the term “zoe”–the highest form of life) only in knowing God through himself.
There is so much to this that a few brief paragraphs can’t begin to do it justice. The enjoyment of the blessings God makes available, as good as they are, cannot give us life. That’s why so many people who have so much are so empty. Things simply can’t give life because it isn’t in them. Life comes from its source: God. God has made that available through his Son who has become one of us precisely to make it accessible. Until we draw our lives from God through Christ, and stop trying to draw it from other people and things, we will remain unfulfilled.
Just one more thing: don’t put this off. Those seconds continue to tick away, stopping for no one.