As we start a new year, I think it is worthwhile to reflect on the topic of TIME. Having split 2013 between vastly different cultures, I can say that perhaps no other issue more clearly highlights the differences between the two. Time may not be a common topic of conversation over coffee, but in my opinion, other than the forces of good and evil, no other entity has a greater influence on our day-to-day existence.
In 1973, two Princeton University psychologists wanted to examine the effect of time on human behavior. Their study involved a group of seminary students, half of whom were asked to prepare a talk on Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable and the other half of whom were instructed to prepare a talk on the job market for seminary graduates. These students were asked to meet at one location but had to give their presentation at another area on campus. Before each student headed to the place of his or her presentation, they were randomly given one of the following instructions:
1) “Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago.”
2) “The assistant is ready for you, so please go right over.”
3) “It’ll be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head on over.”
Now here’s where the experiment gets interesting: en route from the meeting place to the location of the presentation, each student passed a staged individual who was bent over, coughing, and obviously in pain. So how did the students react? Sixty-three percent of those with time to spare stopped to help, 45% of those who were right on time offered their assistance, but only 10% of those who were late did the “good deed.” Interestingly, students who had prepared a talk on the Good Samaritan parable were no more likely help than those who had not. In short, behavior appeared to be a product of time, or at least one’s perception of time.
Before looking at what the Bible says about time, I think it is interesting to see what the world has to say (at least in the States):
“Time is money.”
In response to that James Taylor remarks “Time my be money but your money won’t buy time.”
“Time waits for no man.”
“Time will tell.”
“Time flies when you’re having fun.”
“Race against time.”
“Time is of the essence.”
“Right on time.”
“Just in time.”
“Stand the test of time.”
“There’s no time like the present.”
“There’s no time to lose.”
“All the time in the world.”
“Time’s a wasting.”
During my eight months in Kenya, about the only expression I’ve discovered that references the calendar or the clock is “Chai time.”
I’ll admit that, historically, I’m just as guilty as anyone for being obsessive about time. Shortly after finishing residency, I think the Lord decided enough was enough, and He laid a few verses on my heart to ponder. And for years I simply could not get them off my mind. The first is from Ephesians 5, verses 15-16: “Look therefore carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” The second is from Psalm 103, verses 15-16, which state “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”
Some other passages that put our earthly life into perspective include:
Psalm 39:4 – Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.
Psalm 102:11 – My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass.
Job 8:9 – for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow.
James 4:14 – Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
1 Peter 4:7 – The end of all things is near. Therefore, be clear minded and self-controlled so you can pray.”
At this point you may be thinking, “Wow Paul, thanks a lot for the words of encouragement!” You’re right, I don’t expect to see these verses gracing the front of some T-shirt or refrigerator magnet. And I don’t plan on greeting one of my patients with “Good morning, did you know that your days are like grass and the end of all things is near?” But sometimes we need a reality check from God’s word to humble us.
Yet before we despair of the fleeting nature of our lives, we should consider this miracle: the shadow of our existence can be made eternally significant by an omnipotent and infinitely loving God. That He would look down on the broken billions, whose lives are but a mist, and freely share His power and plan with those who choose to follow Him, is beyond comprehension. And to me, this makes every day, even every hour, a sacred gift. As I enter into another year, I’m thankful that in Him, and only in Him, the vapor of my life can have an eternal impact.
I pray that this day I won’t be so quick to follow my own purposes that I walk right past His.