Life Measured as a Breath
“You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” Psalm 39:5
Last week, my youngest granddaughter was born and three days later was in the arms of her Savior, and most probably the arms of her grandmother who died before seeing any of her grandchildren, and the arms of her aunt who died in birth in 1978. God knew Linnea and ordained her brief days (Psalm 139). In preaching her funeral homily and graveside service Monday, I spoke of one of the many lessons for us from her significant life: its brevity. Both hers and yours and my life are measured by God as “a breath,” same length for all. Can we see the correlation of “a breath” to, say, my sixty-nine years, or even more, my father’s almost 98? And you, as well, have a hard time seeing your life, somewhere between 16 and 98, as a single breath. So what is God about in describing our lifespan as a mere handbreadth or a single breath of air?
Certainly as a comparison to all of history, and especially all of eternity, it is like a breath. But is there more to it than just this comparison with infinity? Do you need to have God’s perspective, contemplating your life as brief, considering your many choices in life which fill out your days? What does such a perspective do in developing your world and life view? Does a life seen as brief impact the way you live? I have found in being around teen boys a lot and observing teenagers throughout my life, including being one once, that most of them feel and live as though they are indestructible and have an interminably long life in front of them. Unfortunately, they live as though this is irrefutably true, but it is not. It will have a detrimental effect in you in the long run, continually thinking you have many years, decades, a half century yet to live.
Such perspective encourages procrastination. “I do not need to get to doing this important thing right away because I have lots of time; I will get to it later.” There is a much greater earnestness to life when you see it as “time is precious.” Life demands prioritizing when it is seen in God’s perspective, through His eyes. The need to keep “the main thing the main thing” is much more urgent when life is viewed as “brief” and your main thing really is the main thing. It can rightfully be seen as a wise and Godly perspective because it is the very view God presents in the Scriptures.
The fact is in many, many cases, life is briefer than prepared for or even imagined. Too many of our PAYH graduates, more than we even imagined, have died from accidents not necessarily of their own making within a year or two, even months, after leaving our campus, with no expectation their life on earth would come to an end so soon. Not knowing the number of days God has ordained for you, how much better prepared you might be, without regrets, if you had viewed your life as potentially brief and lived accordingly. Even the staff at the Home were shocked that these lives so recently under their care and guidance were snatched from us so quickly.
The theme has been carried out in movies and novels and even real life that something or someone provides you knowledge that you have only a year to live. What do you do with this limited time running out like so much sand in an hourglass? Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman decided they wanted to live the experiences of their “bucket list”; so they did. What is your bucket list, if you have one? What determines its contents? All bucket lists are built based on world view. If your view is “this is all there is,” annihilation is what happens at your death, your list will be wrapped up with dreams of this world and nothing beyond. If your view is that there is something beyond, I would think you would focus on readiness for beyond and how to best prepare for crossing that threshold. What will I face in the life beyond death? Some believe there is something but do not know much about it; they think they will cross that bridge when they come to it. I imagine they think, “It will all pan out.” But to what Scripture or authority do they look for certainty of such assumptions? Others have an assurance of the place and nature of their eternal destination. So this projected and diagnosed final year of your life would be lived according to your personal world and life view.
Most of us do not receive such a diagnosis. If it is a fast moving, incurable disease, much of the time is spent in the constraints of dying with the medical world surrounding you. Even then, such time can be used very usefully preparing for your life after death; so far preferable than frittering away your last days because you have no knowledge your life may be cut short, and God’s ordained days for you are far less than you thought; for who knows the number of your days other than God?
Consequently, your view of the world and life will determine how you use the number of days pre-determined for you. Without any certain knowledge your life will be a long one, it would be wise to concentrate rather on the brevity of life as God describes this life in passages like Psalm 39:5. If he gives you 98 years like my father, so much the better in the wise use of all your actual days as if they were under self-imposed time constraints. Your regrets, if any, will be small because you consider your time as a precious God-given gift; and what a good thing that is! The Psalmist says, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) The practical outcome of numbering them rightly is numbering them as precious, because they are rare, taking into account God’s description of their brevity ; so you concentrate on what is truly important for the next life. In this life, we have a finite number of days with the sole purpose of preparing for the infinite days of eternity. “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4)
My granddaughter’s 3 days were used wisely; she lived them with perfect fulfillment of exactly what God ordained for her, and she will have no regrets before her Father in heaven. I do not say this facetiously; she was blessed, we are challenged. As Jesus’ letters to us in Revelation 2-3, to those who live beyond childhood, “How blessed are those who overcome (conquer)!” Conquering the challenges, the tests of your faith, is set before you all your days. If you fix your mind on the brevity of those days, you will not waste days thinking you can make it up among the many you believe are left. They may not come to pass.
With a “brevity of life” view, your days will be more treasured, less common, and more focused on eternal preparation, seeing God has a purpose for all your days. God tells you we love Him by loving your neighbor as yourself. Make your days a fulfillment of this. Entering eternity should not be a shock, but an always eagerly anticipated and welcomed part of your days. It is a very good thing your life is in God’s hands; live knowing it is.
“God has given, He has taken, but His children n’er forsaken; His the loving purpose solely to preserve them pure and holy.”
(4th verse of Carolina Sandell’s hymn, “Children of the Heavenly Father”, 1855)
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