Anchor Sunday School Class
by Bob Marsh
LESSONS FROM THE BREVITY OF LIFE
A few months before his death, Billy Graham was interviewed by some national publication. The inquirer asked a simple but profound question of Mr. Graham: “having lived as long as you have, surely you have learned some lessons. What have you learned about life?” Billy Graham was terse and to the point: “Brevity,” he replied. “Brevity, life goes by so swiftly.” Not the theological dissertation the reporter was expecting, but an answer that the writers of the Bible would affirm.
The Bible is filled with penetrating statements about the fragility and swiftness of our life on earth. For example, James 4:14, life is like a “vapor that appears for a little while then vanishes away.” The Psalmist was not giving in to dolorous negativism, nor singing in elegiac tones when in Psalm 39:4-6 he asked of the Lord “show me O Lord my life’s end and the swiftness of my days, and let me know how fleeting is my life.” The Psalmist was being disquietingly honest when he observed that life “quickly passes and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10.
So, wisdom leads him to pray in vs 12 “Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” A BLESSING FROM BREVITY. Here David is sharing with all generations the need to realize that life is short, but when we face that reality it motivates us to consider what is truly valuable in life. It helps us to “get shed” of those items in our lives that really do not matter, things that hinder our becoming all that God intends for us to be. It is not morbid to face the fact that we are not here to stay, we are all on a journey that inevitably leads to that thing called death. Thomas Gray wrote wisely and realistically when from A COUNTRY CHURCHYARD he observed: “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, and all that beauty, all that wealth ever gave, awaits alike the inevitable hour, the paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
It is an act of wisdom to seek the blessings that come from facing the Brevity of Life. Otherwise, death become an enemy wrapping us in fear and uncertainty, making “death a king of terrors with no rival, whose flowers are faded lilies on coffin lids, whose music is the sob of a broken heart, whose glory is the darkness of the grave.” Camus would have been correct when he sardonically spoke of death as “the final obscenity.” I prefer Paul’s triumphant view of death through the lens of the resurrection of Jesus, “Thanks be unto God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:56, 57.
A big mistake many of us make is assuming that life as we experience it today will continue to be the same tomorrow. James warns us of irrationally assuming that somehow we will escape the vicissitudes of life (4:13). Such assumptions can be destructive and discouraging. Years ago I was asked to conduct a funeral in a small Mississippi town, and had no knowledge of the funeral home and the personnel working with the funeral. Before the service began, the funeral home director asked me “Dr Marsh, how do you conclude your services? I informed him that I always had a prayer to conclude the service, assuming he would know that I certainly would also have a prayer at the beginning of the service. Bad assumption! What I assumed did not translate into reality, for as the service began, I walked to the pulpit and had the traditional “opening prayer.” As soon as I said the “Amen,” the funeral director came forward with the pall bearers and began to wheel the casket up the aisle and out the front door. It was obvious that he assumed that I had concluded the service. I realized too late that I had assumed too much for this small town funeral home staff, had no choice but to scramble up the aisle and out the door, striving to keep up with the departing deceased. Much to my delight, however, when I came to the door, there were two farmers who had come in, seated in the back, one turned to the other and said “now that is my kind of preacher.” True story. Terrible assumption.
What is the point? The assumption that tomorrow will be like today without a thought of the brevity of life, is flawed and unwise. Wisdom would lead us to pray as David prayed for God to “teach us to realize the brevity of life.” It is then we begin to “be careful how we live, not as unwise, but as wise, and make the most of every opportunity.” (Ephesians 516)
Blessings come to us and through us when we grasp the fact that life is “swifter than a weaver’s shuttle (Job 7:6),” but we are alive today, this moment, and although we cannot change how we began our lives, today we can make decisions and plans that will determine how we end our life on earth. The Roman philosopher Seneca nailed it in his little book ON THE SHORTNESS OF LIFE. “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste too much of it. We can have high achievements if we wisely invest the time we have.” How do we “wisely invest the time we have?”
Many years ago, as a High School student, I walked into a little country café in the middle of nowhere, saw a plaque on the wall that shouted out: ONLY ONE LIFE, IT WILL SOON BE PASSED. ONLY WHAT IS DONE FOR CHRIST WILL LAST. I have no idea if that inscription was believed or merely decorative, but it reflected the words of Jesus “this is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit and show yourselves to be my disciples (John 15:8).” We wisely invest our time when we respond to Jesus’ loving invitation to “come and follow me.”
The fact that LIFE IS BRIEF (Psalm 90:12) teaches us, helps us grow in wisdom. Wisdom prods us to find in Jesus Christ the true meaning and purpose to our life. Wisdom teaches us to recoil from the idea that life is at the mercy of blind chance, that it is simply the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms. Wisdom instinctively knows that we may have plenty to live WITH, but we long for something to live FOR. Wisdom guides us to do more than merely exist. The brevity of life teaches us to have a driving purpose, and to realize that the “only thing that really matters is “faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).” It encourages us “not to become weary in doing good, for we will reap a harvest if we do not give up, so let us do good to all people (Galatians 6:9). Wisdom learned from the BREVITY OF LIFE shouts out that it is “love that never fails (I Corinthians 13),” so let us “follow the way of love (I Corinthians 14:1).” Wisdom learned from the BREVITY OF LIFE instructs us to “love one another, for love comes from God…for God is love. And this is love, not that we first loved Him, but He revealed His love for us by sending His Son into the world that we might live through Him (I John 4:7-9).”
Knowing the presence of God in our lives not only lifts us out of the darkness of merely existing, but shines the light of courage and strength to “forget what is behind and press forward to what is ahead. (Philippians 3:13). We rejoice in the truth that “those who receive Him have become the children of God (John 1:12), and though our time on earth is like “water spilled on the ground that cannot be recovered, so we must die (II Samuel 14:14), we can triumphantly declare that “I am crucified with Christ, yet I live, and I no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20).” Wisdom embraces us with the comforting truth that death does not speak the final word, but the final word is one of victory and praise: “for we know that the One who raised Jesus from the dead will raise us with Jesus and present us with you in His presence (II Corinthians 4:14).” Learning the lessons from the BREVITY OF LIFE will give us the assurance that when “our time for departure has come, we will have fought the good fight, we will have finished the race, we will have kept the faith (II Timothy 4:7).” Our commitment to finishing life well, teaches us “fix our minds on Jesus, focus our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 3:1-3; 12:1-3),” and focus on “Him who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy, to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority, both now and forever more through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN (Jude 24).”
THE BREVITY OF LIFE is not a tyrant, but a teacher. A teacher to impart wisdom, so that when we have finished well, it will be factually said “well done good and faithful servant.”