The new year brings conflicting thoughts. Since naturally we want good things to come our way, we look to the months ahead with hope for our plans, desires, and dreams. Perhaps they will all come to pass! At the same time, the end of the year provokes reflections of a more wistful, melancholic sort. One year of life is complete, never to return.
My thoughts turn to my children. The new year promises growth – they’ll learn new things and have new experiences. Lord willing, as our Jesus himself did, they’ll “increase in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). However, they’ll never be at this exact stage of life again. They’re one step closer to adulthood, when they’ll no longer be our kids at home.
Life is not a still photo for us to linger over, enjoying the moment for as long as we like, but a motion picture that moves onward, inexorably, scene by scene, never to pause or repeat. Each scene brings us closer to the end. So time’s markers, like birthdays and New Year’s, are bittersweet. They remind us that time is precious, and always passing by.
The Bible teaches us to live wisely, knowing our time in this life is short. Moses gives us this prayer: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). David prays in the same manner, “O LORD, make me know the end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (Psalm 39:4). Paul instructs us to make “the best use the time” (Colossians 4:5). This means as Christians we are called to dedicate every day to seeking that which pleases God and brings glory to the name of Christ.
And so we must be faithful stewards of time, this most valuable resource. But we are no masters of time. “Time management” is really a deceptive phrase. It is time that manages us. It manages to make us older, weaker, and dimmer. It manages to take away our loved ones. And it manages to bring us down to the grave. Time is mighty and merciless. The rows of tombstones in a cemetery are not just a silent testimony to the mortality and weakness of man, they are a monument to time’s invincible power to overcome all.
In The Hobbit, Gollum challenges Bilbo to solve this riddle:
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
You know the answer to that! The hymn writer Isaac Watts put it this way in “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”:
Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the op’ning day
Since we are mortal, as far as our earthly lives go, time works against us. But in Christ, you have a new standing with time; it is now your friend.
God is the Lord of time. He created time, and time serves his purposes. History is merely the outworking of God’s eternal plan to glorify himself through all he has created. Christ came in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4), and he will return when the time is right (Mark 13:32). If time serves the purposes of God, then it also serves your salvation. Heaven, glory, resurrection – for you in Christ, all just a matter of time!
Each day there is progress in God’s plan of salvation. Each day Christ’s Kingdom advances a little more. Each day the seeds of the gospel planted in human hearts are brought closer to bearing fruit. Each day is one step nearer to that great day when sin and evil will be banished forever in God’s renewed creation. Yes, time robs you of your youth, your strength, and even your life. But with each moment’s passing, you are that much closer to glory.
And what of time in the life to come (if I may indulge in a bit of speculation)? In the new creation we will be space and time bound creatures just as we are this life. If so, what will time be like in heaven? Perhaps the boundless joy there will be such that we won’t even notice the passing of time, as happens in those happy occasions in this life when time seems to fly by (but for those in hell, each dreadful moment will seem like an age; there will be no joyful forgetfulness of time but only the agonizing consciousness of time grinding on, leading nowhere and bringing no hope of rest or relief).
We will only know then what the experience of time will be like for those who have put on immortality. But for now, as those who struggle with the passage of time, know that in Christ, time is really on your side. “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).