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The Brevity of Life 16 January 2011 Dr Paul Ferguson

Often we are so caught up in the busyness of life that we lose sight of its brevity. With the passing of another year it should encourage us to reflect on the transient nature of life. As the hymn writer expresses it, “Life at best is very brief, like the falling of a leaf.” In Psalm 90, Moses lamented the brevity of life, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). As humans, we do not like to think about our own mortality. Have you ever paused to consider that in 150 years from now, you and I and everyone else now living in this world will be dead and gone? Knowing these facts should change the way we live our lives. It should motivate all of us to think even more seriously about our future – our eternal destiny! Moses pleads to the Lord in view of the brevity of life, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Therefore, the first sign of wisdom in a person is how sensitive he is in the use of his time while on earth. Someone once pointedly observed, “Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward offered, for they are gone for ever”. WHAT IS THE FUTURE? Many people are curious about the future: some read tea leaves; others read palms; while yet others consult horoscopes or astrologers. However, believers are not people who are uncertain about the purpose of life or its final end point. We have the Word of God which is a “more sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19) that provides objective answers to the fundamental issues of life. Most people start out in life with great dreams and aspirations of what they feel is success. For sure, no one starts out in life hoping to fail. However, failure can be succeeding at the wrong thing or for the wrong motive. The world may call you a success yet you could actually be an abysmal or miserable failure. In James 4:13, the inspired writer describes a person who is keen to have a successful future expressed thus, “Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain” (James 4:13). This man has planned the place, the date, and the scheme to make himself rich. No doubt he must have checked his economic model more than once over. Everything has been set in place. It appears to be very profitable. The prospects are bright. However, it was not the fact that he made plans that was wrong, but that he planned without God in his thinking. His trust was in his business model - not in God. He had replaced the Sovereign God with a so-called sovereign man. God had been dethroned and self was enthroned in his heart. The Scripture has this warning for such people, “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14). Life truly is like the morning mist that soon vanishes. We have no exact knowledge of what will happen in the next few minutes, let alone tomorrow or next year! Many leave their homes in the morning in the vigour of health yet depart this world by sundown, struck down by illness or accident. This may seem overly pessimistic or even morbid but it is the reality of life. It does not matter how advanced the medical facilities are or how skilful the doctors may be; when God decides your time is up, it is sealed. The atheist George Bernard Shaw astutely observed, “The statistics on death are quite impressive. One out of one people die.” In our society, money is being worshipped as a god. It is thought to bring happiness, peace, security, and a glorious future. One author summed up the foolishness of such thinking when he quipped in a rhyme, ‘What Money Can Buy’: “A bed but not sleep

Books but not knowledge Food but not appetite Finery but not beauty A house but not a home Medicine but not health Luxuries but not comfort Pleasures but not happiness Religion but not salvation”. So many, unfortunately even believers, boast in their own abilities, possessions and power but as James warned, “But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil” (James 4:16). King Nebuchadnezzar is a classic illustration or example of man boasting in what he thinks he can do apart from God. He ruled the great Babylonian Empire and the ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylon’ became so famous that the Greeks named them one of the Seven Wonders of the World. From man’s perspective, Babylon was great, but not when weighed on God’s scales! Whilst walking on the roof garden of his palace Nebuchadnezzar boasted, “…Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). Judgment was immediate and unmistakable. God’s Word records thus, “While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will” (Daniel 4:31-32). LIVING RIGHT FOR THE FUTURE The fact that God is sovereign demonstrates that we are not sovereign! You would imagine with the future so clearly explained as not just being probable but certain that every believer would live out his life seeking to do the Lord’s will in everything. Sadly, many Christians profess their belief in God yet live as if He never existed Monday to Saturday and on Sunday as a mere routine attend church. In effect they are practical atheists! Such a one is just as big a fool as the man who denies God’s existence with his lips (Psalm 14:1). Another great failure is that we also effectively replace God with the idols of our own heart. An idol does not have to be an image of wood, stone or metal but is something that we love, fear, or serve more than God. The prophet Ezekiel writes of the elders of Israel that God knew that they, “….have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face…” (Ezekiel 14:3). Often we trust in the gods of wealth, power, position and education to control our destiny. By ignoring the warnings of Scripture we would be living our lives without the proper perspective of the time we live in. Living with the right biblical perspective makes us humbly dependent on the grace of God. All of our plans should be based upon the will of God, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:15). This is not some trite sound bite to be glibly recited at the right occasion but a truth that needs to take possession of our souls. The old Presbyterians used to sign off their church notices “DV” an abbreviation of the Latin Deo Volente meaning “The Lord Willing.” This may be the year that God calls us home. Death is certain and sometimes, unexplainably swift. A person who truly comprehends the brevity of life is a person who is ready to die. This may also be the year that illness, economic depression or family upheaval hits our homes and church. We do not know what a day may bring forth but our God does. It is all tied up in the sovereign plan

of our omniscient God. We do not like speaking in terms of there not being a tomorrow. But that may not be. Do you know that you are alive today simply because God wills it? In light of these things, the psalmist David exhorts, “LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am” (Psalm 39:4). In this new year 2011, let us seek to put God’s will first in our families, our church, and in our own lives. Failing to do so is a sin and there is no excuse for we have been warned, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). The puritan Thomas Brooks commented, Your Your Your Your time is short, task is great, Master is urgent, and reward is sure.

So often we forget the Apostle Paul’s pointed question to the proud believers in Corinth, “…What hast thou that thou didst not receive?...” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Everything we possess is the gift of our sovereign God and He can decide what He wills with it. Let us never forget that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). Let us therefore use every moment we have and everything we possess for the glory of God. By wasting the gift of time we are insulting the Giver of time. Every one of us should challenge ourselves with this question: “What will I have accomplished in 2011 that matters in light of eternity?” Let us live for God each day as if this were our last, “redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:16-17), “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; Only what’s done for Christ will last.”