What If Today Were Your Last?
Many memories remain in my mind of a year in my life surrounded by the fog and violence of war tramping the jungles of a far off place, Vietnam. This is one: as an Infantry Platoon Leader I was constantly on the lookout for any soldier who had the skills and the fortitude to be what we called a Point Man. Such a soldier would lead a Platoon or a Squad forward in enemy territory; someone always has to be in front. The man pulling point is the one who will most likely encounter a lethal booby-trap, the firepower of the enemy, or any type of deadly force first. It is not a job for sissies. In fact, he needs to be a person who sets aside his own safety for the benefit of his fellow soldiers; he knows his survivability percentage is extremely low. He must be highly trained and alert to all the signs of enemy presence or contact, to all the peculiarities of the landscape which might betray the presence of hidden booby-traps or ambush, and when to warn those behind him to stop or take cover.
One Point Man I had in my platoon for a very short time was a soldier whose parents were both active military and who was presently on his third tour, consecutively, because he voluntarily and repeatedly chose to extend his time in Vietnam, which was highly unusual. Consequently, he had a boatload of combat experience. My platoon had been ordered to take a patrol outside our protected perimeter late at night, hoping to interrupt the enemy in their normal nighttime tactics and catch them off-guard. This type of patrol is especially fearful because of the deep darkness with no significant moonlight. When we were maybe 20 minutes away from our perimeter, our silent single file column suddenly halted and remained so for a longer than usual time. I passed the word up the column one soldier whispering to another to find out the cause of what was happening. My point man had suddenly stopped and was apparently in a catatonic state. He was unable to move, was shaking all over, and was basically frozen in place. Not a good situation in a deadly location. I moved forward to investigate his condition and made the decision to return the patrol to our base camp and get this soldier medical help. Returning the patrol at night when we were not due back until morning was in itself very dangerous, for our own men in our perimeter could fire on us and this had to be accomplished with extreme caution.
Subsequent investigation once inside the safety of our defensive perimeter revealed that this soldier had extended his courage in a combat zone for so long (2 1/2 years), disregarding his life and safety in numerous critical situations, that it finally caught up with him; in the midst of this nighttime patrol all his subdued fears came to the surface. He was struck with the probability in his mind that this might be his last night of life. He had pushed his “luck too often.
What was your first thought this morning? Did you think this may be your last day of this life? I doubt it, because it is not the way most think who do not have a terminal illness which has reached its last stages. Young people think little of death or its consequences being largely oblivious to the idea that their life may indeed be brief. At my age I am thinking more about how much longer on this present earth God has for me, but since Vietnam I have not normally awakened to the thought that this might be my last day. The Scripture is replete with the thought and warning for you that you consider the day of your departure and how that consideration brings a truer perspective to how you live your life today. If the Bible speaks so constantly about the brevity of this life, do you not think your mind would be considering “How brief?, rather than “I have lots of time! The facts of history and observation prove to you that a relative few proportionately live to the age of my father who is 97. Your first thought when you awake should not be wondering how long you will live, but rather if today were my last day am I ready to meet my Savior face to face and stand before my Father in Heaven? The Apostle Paul had a great freedom in his life, loosed from the fear of death as observed in his testimony, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. But he also had a great recognition of God’s purposes for him and how his life was being lived out now, “[Yet] I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. (Philippians 1:21-26)
Your first thought waking ought to be “Thanks be to God, today may be my last day on earth, which is good, for I am convinced I will be with Christ; but if He wills for me to remain, I will spend my life for those around me for their progress and joy in the faith. Freedom and not fear of death, the joy of faith in Christ, ought to characterize my life. My point man in Vietnam did not possess such freedom; he could not do what he was skilled at doing suddenly because he feared death, and in the years prior to that catatonic fear he lived in denial that death could come at any moment. We do not know the day or time of our departure, but if we are always ready such ignorance truly doesn’t matter, does it?
Living in denial or living in fear, one or the other characterizes how most wake to face a new day. It is not the way to live your life no matter how long or short it is. What you do today with Christ can make a transformational change in how you wake tomorrow.
“Awake my soul, and with the sun your daily stage of duty run: shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise to pay your morning sacrifice,
“Lord, I my vows to you renew, disperse my sins as morning dew; guard my first springs of thought and will, and with yourself my spirit fill.
(1st and 4th verses of Thomas Ken’s Morning Hymn, “Awake My Soul, 1695)
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