This week we’ve been pondering the mystery of God’s eternity and the responses we should have to it. Here is my final suggestion for now: It should make us wise. After emphasizing how short and difficult life is, Moses concludes in verse 12: “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker: “He who dies with the most toys wins!” We smile at that because so often that’s how we behave. We get so caught up in planning for the future and the day we finally get to retire that we forget about forever. Not that planning for the years ahead is wrong. God is a meticulous planner, so planning how to provide for ourselves and our families is not only smart, it’s godly. My reminder is that in all of our planning, let’s not forget about eternity because we’re going to spend an awful lot of time there!
Part of Christian maturity is recognizing that since we’re going to live forever, we don’t have to get it all right now. Just as we teach our children to delay their gratification so they can save for something they really want, we need to invest our lives in things that last forever. The wisest place to do that, Jesus said, is heaven where our treasures are safe from moth, rust, thieves, and downturns in the economy. This was also John’s advice in 1 John 2:15-17, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
I don’t believe John was suggesting that it’s wrong to own and enjoy the things of the world. For “every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from” our Father in Heaven who “gives us richly all things to enjoy.” Then what’s his point? John is saying: Don’t let the thrill of earthly pleasures and possessions distract you from what truly matters. Thomas a Kempis’s advice was wise: “Let temporal things serve your use, but let the eternal be the object of your desire.”
C.S. Lewis added: “If we consider the staggering rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum, because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea, we are far too easily pleased.” Let’s not make that mistake! The brevity of life and the vastness of eternity should make us wise, leading us to invest our lives in things that truly matter—like the cultivation of our character and leading our friends and family members to love Christ too.
The other thing we’ll do if we’re wise is learn to be patient. For if the God we serve is eternal, it means we can take the long view of things. Ours is the instant generation. We pop microwave popcorn. We eat instant pudding. We surf the internet where we can immediately access information and entertainment. So it’s easy to expect all of life to be that way. “That debt I’m trying to pay off, that habit I’m trying to break, that illness I’m fighting, that relationship I want to restore, that ministry I’m trying to build—if God is in this, it shouldn’t take long at all!” But then we read the Bible, and we find that though God wants us to “redeem the time because the days are evil,” He Himself is not in a hurry. Instead, so often what He asks us to do is to slow down and wait on Him in prayer. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 NKJV)
The truth is: Most of the important things in life take time. For example, if you want to grow a squash, all you need is a few months. But if you want to grow a giant oak, it’ll take a little longer. In fact, the really tough thing to accept is that some things may never be completely resolved in this life. I was talking to a dear Christian friend who was discouraged due to a chronic back problem she suffers. “Pastor, why is God letting this happen to me? Have I don’t something wrong?” she asked. “No,” I said. “God isn’t punishing you.” I know her, and I know she’s sensitive enough that if God wanted to get through to her, all He’d have to do is whisper a few words to her heart and she’d obey Him. Instead I encouraged her to ask God for healing and get all the medical help she can, but if healing doesn’t come right way, this may be one of those things God asks us to bravely bear as we live out our lives in a broken world. I then quoted 1 Peter 5:10, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
Imagine, for example, that you’re talking to the son of a wealthy man who is frustrated because at age 19, he has to wait two more years to inherit his father’s fortune. What would you say to him? I’d say, “Be patient, friend, and wait! For in no time at all, you’re going to be rich!” That’s what God’s eternity is saying to us who love Christ. “Be patient and wait because that thing that is bothering you—that pain, those bills, that worry—won’t last long. For as a prince or princess of the Most High King, you’re about to inherit a kingdom that will never end!”
But then I don’t want to be simplistic because I know how great the pain can be and how hard it can be to wait. For that reason I want to close this message by pointing you to the One with all the grace and power He needs to comfort you and strengthen you as you wait. Read the following words very slowly reaching out to Him in wisdom, humility, and repentance, and enjoy His grace and peace.
Slow me down, Lord. Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time. Give me, amid the confusion of the day, the calmness of the everlasting hills. Break the tension of my nerves and muscles and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values that I may grow toward my greater destiny. Remind me each day that the race is not always to the swift; that there is more to life than increasing its speed. Let me look upward to the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.
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