The theme of life and death has been with us from the very beginning of the human journey. How do we make the most out of this brief and marvelous life in the face of death? Does our journey count? Where and when does it end?
Billy Graham, referring to death as the Apocalypse, had this to say: “The specter of the Apocalypse is found in abortion, abuse, addiction, brutality, crime, disease, drugs, hatred, lust, murder, neglect, pestilence, racial conflict, rape, revenge, starvation, suicide, violence and war. Fifty million deaths occur every year. Every year a million people die from man-made disasters. Eighty thousand die from earthquakes and ten thousand from floods.
“Worldwide, there are 5 million malaria deaths per year and 3 million from tuberculosis; 1.8 million children die annually from vaccine preventable diseases, while infectious diseases kill 4 million unimmunized children. There are 5 million diarrhea deaths of children under the age of 5; and 4 million die of pneumonia…
“Add to this an estimated 16.8 million who die from parasitic diseases, 1.3 million from circulatory disease, 5 million cardiovascular deaths, 4.3 million cancer deaths, 3.3 million perinatal deaths, 2.6 million tobacco-related deaths and 401,000 suicides every year.”
Clearly, such statistics are transient. But the point is well made; as the weight of these statistics bear down on us, we must realize that our own end may be nearer than we anticipate. “There are people,” says Paul Tournier, “who go on indefinitely preparing for life instead of living it.”
A Gift to Be Savored or Squandered
You and I cannot afford to do that. As I learned in the killing fields of Vietnam, and so many young people are learning in wars today, life is tissue-paper thin. Death and time, time and death. Inextricably interwoven in a macabre dance. One concept constantly being wrestled with—time. The other concept constantly being ignored—death.
While the fact is that no matter what your diet, no matter how much you exercise or how well you eat, no matter how low your cholesterol level happens to be, someday you will die. It is also interesting to me that we are focusing on the fundamentals of how to face life, but it is how we deal with death and tragedy that says so much about what kind of people we are.
And what of time? Time is immensely valuable and utterly irretrievable. In fact, it is the most valuable commodity we have. And of course, through time, we rush toward death. Time slips, days pass by, years fade. And life ends. What we came to do we must do while there is time.
It would seem that a clear understanding of time would give us a sense of urgency. It is the raw material from which life is made. Time does not go by, we do. It is not time that we have to manage but ourselves. There are volumes written on time management and how to effectively save time when the truth is, we can’t save time at all. We can only apply personal discipline to managing ourselves.
It is clear that one of the reasons it is so important to understand the meaning and purpose of life, as well as establishing values and priorities, is that only then can we live life with a real sense of privilege and responsibility. This, then, manifests itself in the way we use our time. Our personal lives are molded into the image of our priorities. There always seems to be enough time to do what we should do if we have priorities established.
God never requires of us movement in a direction for which we have not been allocated the appropriate time. Consequently, in relation to time, all roads ultimately lead back to management of ourselves. Indecision, vacillation, procrastination all die at the hands of self-discipline. This is what sets people apart.
Human life is a gift from God and is precious. In today’s America, little by little, the sanctity of life is being eroded. We must hold sacred the human life. God knows what we were created for and deplores our misuse. The Bible tells us exactly what death is. Physical death is a separation of the spirit and soul from the body. But a far worse death is a spiritual death which is separation from God.
Billy Graham and Grady Wilson were ministering in Korea during the war. It was Christmas Eve and the Marines they were with had just lost a skirmish. Marguerite Higgins, who would later win the Pulitzer Prize for her work, was interviewing this grizzled combat Marine sergeant. It was forty below zero and he was tired and dirty and worn.
Marguerite, studying his face, asked him — if he could have anything he wanted and she had the power to command it at that very moment — what would he want? She expected him to say that he wanted a bath, or maybe a big steak, hot and piping, with a baked potato dripping with butter and sour cream. Or maybe his wife or girlfriend or a loved one would be the answer. But as she looked in that haggard and hollow face he said, “Just give me tomorrow.”
There is no such thing as being a success in life without being conscious of time. We do not control time; it is something to which we adjust ourselves. Sometimes we want to stop it and other times we want to speed it up. Time, like life, is God-given. God set it in motion. Our life is an existence in a segment of this thing called time. It is the one thing that God gives us that no one else can alter.
It is important to remember our past and think about how we have invested or spent our time and how we have invested or spent our life. What is it that we are putting off that is important to us? Our time, talent, intellect, will, mind, emotions — all of our gifts — should be held sacred. If God has invested the gift of life and time in us, what kind of stewards are we with the gifts we have been given?
Are You Happy with How You Spend Your Time?
Are you thrilled with what you are doing? If you could change your schedule, how would you change it? If your heart and priorities are right, then you will invest your time wisely. Time is also the essence of the life of love. It is impossible to have a happy marriage without the investment of time. Home, children, relationships, vocation all require time. What decision do you need to make next in your life?
Happiness is a choice, and grief is a certainty, but life and time are gifts to be held both sacred and honored until we meet the final universal enemy. Death, the last enemy to be vanquished.
We will someday have to give an account of how we invested or spent this time. Without focus on priorities, we are at sea in this continuum of time. It is only moral courage that can make us indestructible. As with all of life’s fundamentals, there is a momentum to living by principles. Each act of courage adds to your faith in yourself, to your purpose and to dignity of life. Each brave act enlarges your ability to be brave until eventually the process is irreversible.
Much of the confusion and pain we feel when facing death is intensified by misunderstanding time. Our journey here may have the illusion of permanence, but the truth is we are just passing through. Here is where we exercise our faith to trust in God. To Jesus, Jarius’ daughter was only asleep. Death is not an ending, it is a beginning. We see disaster, Jesus sees deliverance. A day of celebration is coming. This is the hope of the ages.