A Watch In the Night

A thousand years in your sight
 are like a day that has just gone by,
 or like a watch in the night. Ps. 90:4

I remember my concept of time when I was a child. It went by slowly. On my seventh birthday my present was a fishing rod and tackle box ordered from the Sears catalog. (Remember those?) Every day I watched for the mailman hoping he would bring my package. It took six weeks to arrive. To me, it seemed like an eternity. 

As a young child, I liked to think that it would be a long time before I would die. My grandparents and other “old” relatives were in their’ sixties and still very much alive and well. Sixty years seemed like a very long time to a boy still in his first decade of life.

Does time still seem to go by slowly for me now that nearly six decades have passed?

Not so much.

It’s going by at warp speed. Sometimes when there is a remembrance on television of an event that happened twenty years ago, I am stunned because it seems like the event happened only a few years ago. I once reminisced with a younger co-worker only to have him kindly remind me that he couldn’t relate because he hadn’t been born yet. It just didn’t seem that long ago to me.

I am beginning to understand what the Bible means when it says life is but a vapor.

However, coming to the realization that life is short doesn’t mean that time always goes by quickly. Our circumstances may be so unpleasant that time seems to stand still. We may cry out “How Long O Lord” when he is slow to bring justice1 or when it feels like God, distant and deaf to our cries, has forgotten us.2

It is especially during times of suffering and despair that we need perspective. We need to think about the fleeting nature of our lives. We need to be reminded to look forward to a glorious future with Jesus that is really not that far away when compared to eternity.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.    2 Corinthians 4:17

Viewed from the perspective of our temporal lives, our suffering is oftentimes anything but light and momentary. Our suffering is in the here-and-now. Eternal realities may seem dim, unable to be grasped. When we suffer a significant loss, especially for the first time, we wonder if the grief and sorrow will ever abate.  Yet we know that our Redeemer lives.  We have hope.

How should we live knowing that our present life is like a watch in the night compared to eternity?

All of us will one day enter eternity. One should not presume when that will be, like I did as a child.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15 NKJV3

Making presumptions, apart from God’s will, about how long we will live or what we will be doing is childish.   Worse still, it is foolish and prideful. When we go our own way and choose friendship with the world we demonstrate hatred toward God. God wants us to forsake our double-mindedness. He wants us to humble ourselves and submit to him; then he will give us grace and lift us up. (See James 4:4-10)

For the unbeliever, denying life’s brevity or adopting a “you only live once” mentality leaves them in a precarious position.  Their suffering won’t be relieved in eternity.  The here-and-now is as good as it gets for them and completing their bucket list won’t come close to offsetting an eternity filled with torment.  We must warn them.  We must warn them that this life is not all there is; eternity awaits.  We must warn them they will be punished with everlasting destruction for not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus.4 We must warn them now and not be deceived into thinking that there will always be another day to tell them.

God has given us enough time. We should use it wisely.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Ephesians 5:15-17

Our life may be a vapor when compared to eternity, but God gives us enough time to find out what pleases the Lord and then he gives us enough time to do it, provided we make the most of every opportunity. It is possible to waste our life satisfying foolish desires.

The apostle Peter offers some ways we can use our time wisely:

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:7-10

If we are not spending time with other Christians, praying for them, loving them and serving them, then we are not using our time wisely. It is not God’s will that we live isolated from those he calls us to serve. To not use our spiritual gifts is more than a tragedy of disobedience; it is a denial of the truth that God has prepared, in advance, good works for us to do.5

We should trust God in the midst of our troubled world because he will fulfill his promises. His timing is perfect.

God is not slow in keeping his promises;6 it just seems that way to us. God’s plans are perfect. Our understanding of them is not.  God will keep his promises to you and me.  He will keep them through good times and bad.  Some we will see fulfilled in this life, others in the next.  Should we live long enough to see the end of days with all of its tribulation we must remember that God sent his Son in the fullness of time7 and that Jesus will return at the perfect time.

We should fix our eyes on what is unseen and not lose heart.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Let us throw off the temporal perspective that hinders us from running the race God has marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.8

Our lives are but a watch in the night. In the morning that follows we will behold the beauty of the Lord. Forever! Let’s live like we believe it.

 

Notes:

  1. See Psalm 35:10-18; Revelation 6:10
  2. See Habakkuk 1:2; Psalm 13:1
  3. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  4. See 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9
  5. See Ephesians 2:10
  6. See 2 Peter 3:9
  7. See Galatians 4:4
  8. See Hebrews 12:1,3

 

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