Lately I have been thinking about just how quickly life passes. Days seem to fly by in the blink of an eye. It feels like I have scarcely gotten up in the morning when I am lying down again to sleep at night. Apparently, our perception of time speeds up as we get older, and this is certainly true for me. It feels like life is a roller coaster which has been gradually building speed and is now rocketing down hills and around turns at whiplash-inducing velocity.
In your childhood, teens, and 20s, life is something you look forward to. You look forward to learning to drive, leaving home, going to university, graduating, getting married, finding a job, having kids—whatever. Life is a grand adventure that lies before you, and anything is possible. As you move past some of these milestones (or remain waiting for some of them); as life throws you curveballs you didn't expect; as you didn't turn out to be the world-changer you thought you'd be: you start to realize: this is it. Life is not something that lies ahead, it's happening every moment. Every day. Each choice, each action, each moment forms part of your life, which increasingly lies behind rather than ahead.
It can be a bit frightening. I don't know how people without Jesus and without the hope of eternal life cope with it. All that's left is to seek to forget the reality of your own mortality, and to squeeze out of life every ounce of enjoyment you can. Plastic surgery, food and drink, relationships, vacations, alcohol, workaholism—whatever your pleasure of choice is, you seek to extract the maximum out of it in a bid to ignore the rapid passing of time, the inevitability of death, and the frightening uncertainty of what awaits beyond. After all, if this life is all there is, why not “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die?”
The writers of the Old Testament well understood the brief and fleeting nature of human life. It's a theme that crops up over and over again:
“The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10)
Job laments it in a beautifully unforgettable image:
My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle
and come to their end without hope. (Job 7:6)
And a poetic image from another psalm:
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more. (Psalm 103:15-16)
In the face of the brevity of life and the inevitability of death, how should we live? That's a question I've increasingly thought about in the past couple of years or so. I'm relatively young, but at the same time, I recognize I have to make life count. It's the only one I'll get. I can't start to think about death and how I want to live in light of it someday: this is my someday.
This is the question that preoccupied the writer of Ecclesiastes. Every time I read Ecclesiastes, I am astonished by its relevance, although it was written thousands of years ago. The writer struggled with what I suppose today would be called existential angst: if we're all going to die anyway, isn't everything futile? What's the point of pleasure or of wisdom, if life just ends up the same? How best to live in the light of death?
I recommend you read the book if you haven't already, but his conclusion is this:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
As a summary, I think that's a pretty apt one. I want to look back on my life with no regrets. I'm far from living life to the maximum I should, but here are some thoughts I'm increasingly realizing can guide me:
This moment, right now, this hour, this day, this week: this is what you've got. This IS your life. Don't wait for some point in the future or some thing to happen to begin living life the way you know that you should. Each moment, each hour, each choice of how to spend time: these are the bricks that make up the building of your life. Choose wisely now.
In light of the brevity of life and of God's judgement, don't put off dealing with sin or the damage of your past. Don't think that “someday” you'll change or “someday” you'll seek healing. Do it now. You don't know how much time you have left. You are building your life, for good or for bad, right now.
Mend relationships. Forgive people. Seek forgiveness from those you've wronged. Put things right. Pick up that phone and call. Tell that person that you love how much they mean to you, and why. Share the gospel with that friend you've been praying for. You don't know when they'll be gone, or you will, and it will be too late. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)
Love extravagantly. Live generously. Don't hoard time, compliments, resources, money, effort. Don't make comfort and well-being your primary goal. Take that mission trip. Give time and money to causes you care about, sacrificially if necessary.
Do you really need to buy that new piece of clothing or game or whatever? You can't take it with you. Don't be fooled into thinking that the abundance of your possessions indicates the quality of your life (Luke 12:15). Live simply and freely and have more to share with those in need.
If you know God is calling you to something, do it. Don't hesitate. Don't put it off.
Take risks. Be bold. Step out in faith. If there's something God has put in your heart, take the steps to do it, even if it seems risky. Trust that the “everlasting arms” will be there to hold you.
Don't live with regret for what you don't have. Don't wait for something to arrive in your life to begin really living. You are living now. Do you want to look back at months and years wasted living in discontentment over something you had no control over? Be joyful knowing that your real inheritance is in heaven and that this life, and what you didn't have, is only for a brief moment.
What are some thoughts you have about how to live life well in the face of death?