A POINT IN TIME
Today is the first day of the year. It did not feel any different to any other day – the sun rose at 6 am. We had breakfast, cleaned our teeth, drove the car or went for a walk, perhaps finished off Christmas left-overs, then spent the afternoon with the family. We will linger over a bedtime drink, and then climb up the stairs to bed. In Old Testament Israel, New Year was not in January, but at Passover time in March. And the tax year starts on April 6th. So, is January the first a purely arbitrary marker? Yes, and no. It is still linked to the earth’s position relative to the sun, to which it will return precisely 365.25 days later. Our life is made up of these cycles. Our years are defined by the sun returning to its starting point amongst the stars. Our months come and go as the moon works through its waxing and waning. Our days are divided into hours, and smaller divisions of minutes and seconds. There are even watches that claim to be accurate to 1/1000 second over 10 years. What difference would it make if the watch were out by that much? Then on a much longer scale, there is the cycle of life, from baby to adult to old age and death. We remember Shakespeare’s riddle - ‘What is it that goes on four, then two, then three?’ Each of us is at some point on that great circle.
This raises the question of how important time is to us. In East Europe, or the South Sea islands, time is very approximate. Some retired people do not even wear a watch. Yet for many of us, the clock dominates our lives. ‘I’ll do it if I have time’. ‘There wasn’t time to do it’, we moan. Surprisingly, even though we have amazing gadgets to ‘save’ time we still never have enough. We have washing machines that slosh and swish and spin tumble dry all by themselves. instead of mother perspiring all day on Mondays boiling water, scrubbing and mangling. We have computers to send emails instead of posting letters. We have mobile phones to text our friends in seconds. Yet we still seem much busier than 60 years ago, when the milk came by horse and cart and we walked to the shops for bread and bought fruit on the street market. We always had time then to stop and chat.
Or does our perception of time changes as we age? Perhaps the days were actually the same, but they just seemed longer at the time? To a child, a year until next birthday seems a lifetime. At 65 the months fly past. At 80 breakfast is served every hour. Old people drive slowly. Not that we can do anything about it. As Jesus says in Matthew 6 v 27 NIV ‘Who of you by worrying can add one hour to his life?’
NUMBERING OUR DAYS
Psalm 90 looks at the brevity and uncertainty of human life. In verses 1,2 – God is eternal, not bounded by time. In contrast we are mortal and finite, verses 5, 6 – on his time scale, we are here for a day - verse 9 our days are ‘told’, or numbered. We each have an allotted span of time – for some longer than others. Thankfully we do not know our allocation. ‘Strength’ in Hebrew is ‘pride’ - what man glories in, his achievements and success are always mingled with sorrow, and spiral downwards to the inevitable grave. The path of wisdom is found in verse 12. We must number our days, making full use of them in working for God, and not wasting them on idleness or frivolities. Paul has a similar thought in Ephesians 5 v 15, 16. We must get the best bargain for each minute we are granted by God. So at the start of each day we should ration our time, ensuring that God has his proper share. Let’s determine to do our daily readings, at the same time each day, putting aside the washing up and the mobile phone in order to sit quietly and listen to God speaking to us, giving us our instructions for the day. Let’s make a determined effort to see that no matter of worldly business or pleasure seeking keeps us from the time we set aside to read the chapters from the Bible. We start a new programme of reading today (see Bible Reading Plan on the web page). Let’s see that we are always here on Sunday morning to give thanks to God, to ask for his guidance and help, and to share each other’s burdens.
We are in control of our lives. We decide where we go, where we sit, what we look at, and whom we meet. Psalm 1 spotlights two men. The first walks in the counsel of the wicked – he follows their advice, guidance which leaves God out and seeks self and pleasure. He stands in the way of sinners, the broad way which Jesus warns leads to destruction. You need to find him? He is laughing and joking with the crowds in the pub or the racetrack, having a good time. He sits in the seat of the scornful – the mockers, those who despise God and his commandments. There he is, comfortably enthroned and joining in the repartee – the life and soul of the party. Now there is another man, the man of God. He, verse 2, takes his guidance not from the false prophets of Mammon but from God’s law, his handbook for life. He makes time to meditate upon it, even at night when he is in bed. Then he can appreciate the emptiness of the entertainments, the binge drinking, the hours wasted in Facebook and Twitter, the endless striving for profit and gain. He is to be found near the house of God, with his fellow pilgrims. He produces fruit, v3 - not euros and dollars but deeds of love and sacrifice that bring comfort and help to his brothers and sisters. Now, says David, fast forward to the Day of Judgment, verse 4. Where is the man of the world? He is blown away like chaff, nothing left of his life. Where is the righteous? v5 he will stand firm when God reviews our lives, like the house built on rock. He will find his seat in the assembly, not of the mockers, but (verse 5b) in the assembly of the righteous. Here is reality. Here, with God’s perspective, is true wisdom. When the Day of Judgment comes, all the sorrow and sacrifices will disappear in a moment. That is how Psalm 90 concludes – verse 13 is a prayer for the end to come soon. Verse 14 – the days of joy will far out balance the days of tears, verse 15. And how close we must be to the end now.
SIGNS OF THE END
Our newspapers have been looking back over the year. The impact of Brexit in the UK. Terrible bush fires in Australia. Floods in the Philippines. The end of ISIS in Syria. The impact of Russia in the Middle East. Knife crime in London. Shootings in the USA. A secular society, preoccupied with self, with ‘human rights’, and with no time for God. Our world is sliding rapidly downhill, just as it was in the days of Noah. All these are clear pointers to the nearness of Christ’s return.
Like Noah and Lot we sigh and cry for the abominations that surround us. And as Paul says in Romans 8, we from time to time we ourselves have to join in the suffering in which all creation groans in travail, and add to the vast sea of tears that have been falling since the gates of Eden were closed. But we know there is an end. Our hope is not in the United Nations, or capitalism, or humanism, or Mr Johnson. We can thank God that he has appointed a day and a man to undo the evil that man has brought through sin. The return of the Lord Jesus will bring peace and righteousness to the world, and eternal life to his faithful saints. So let us take courage, remembering that our lives are in the hands of God, and that he wants us to be in his kingdom. Nothing, not even death, can separate us from his love, Romans 6 v 31-39.