In His infinite wisdom, the eternal God marked time and counted the days as He created this world. He is not bound by time, but we, His creation, are. Think of the movies depicting prisoners locked away in solitary confinement or castaways stranded on a desert island. They always seem compelled to mark the days with hash marks on a stony wall. Those marks express a need to bring about order, to exercise knowledge of and perhaps a feeling of control over the passing of time.
In a way, the drama of marking the New Year is a not unlike the hash marks made by those prisoners or castaways. We feel compelled to divide life into manageable, organized segments in order to make sense of it and to order our days. It’s time to put up that new calendar. It’s time to start that diet and exercise program. It’s time to plan to do the things we didn’t get done last year. The passage of time has a way of prodding us to look backward and forward all at once, to remember and to hope, to celebrate and to sorrow.
Recently, my best friend had to put his father into a nursing home. His dad has Alzheimer’s disease and whereas he had been deteriorating for quite some time, no one expected his sudden need for full-time professional care to come so quickly. On the one hand it was a day like any other, but the day his dad went into that nursing home is now burned in the memories of my dear friend and his family. It was the day that his father’s death became a reality, though painfully suspended. Anyone who faces such a moment knows that you never forget that moment in time. You see, my friend’s father doesn’t know the Lord.
My friend has taken special care to share his faith with his dad. This man has heard the gospel many times, but has never opened his heart to Jesus. Who knows? Maybe one day he will regain a moment of lucidity, hear the gospel again and, this time, believe. Or maybe he is now merely marking time until he meets his Maker.
In a way, the current state of my friend’s father is a metaphor for the way many people live their entire lives. They’re marking time, oblivious to its true meaning, unable to comprehend the connections between the past and the present—or the present and the future.
Some celebrate the New Year like it is just one more occasion for frivolity—the kind that promotes forgetfulness. When people don’t have much to live for beyond this temporal plane, they may celebrate the moments when short-lived bliss throws a temporary blind over the emptiness of a life that will soon be over. Many people live their lives this way, but I never want that for myself or for you. Drinking is not the only form of dissipation. If we’re not careful, it’s all too easy to slip into a spiritual stupor.
Dear Jews for Jesus friend, you may have guessed that I am more than a bit sober and somber as we enter 2010, and I hope you will forgive my reflective tone as I think aloud about this passage of time. It is easy to allow the pressures of life, the sorrows and joys that fill our days, to dull our hearts and minds to the greater realities of both the temporal and the eternal. The Bible tells us, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
Most of the “time” I struggle to believe the days really are evil. I know there is evil in the world, but I do my best to see the good in life, to enjoy life’s blessings as much as I can—and yes, there are many blessings to enjoy. But when disappointment or sadness or death comes and grabs me by the throat and shakes me to my core, I am reminded of this truth.
Yes, the days are evil. So then how can we say, “Happy New Year”? It is because when we walk circumspectly we can still enjoy the pleasures of life in God, without ignoring the evil around us. We can be truly alive and yes, happy, because the evil doesn’t overwhelm us when it presents itself to us in all of its lurid colors and rancid smells. We aren’t surprised by it. We were expecting it and we can live life without being controlled by it.
It is impossible not to be impacted by evil. Sorrow, illness and death are all around us. They sometimes mark the passage of time more profoundly than life’s joys and celebrations. But evil can’t overcome us, because we know that this life is only for a moment and then comes eternity. To live is Christ. To die is gain. We are not to live out our lives just marking time, but we are to make the most of each day. That is a difficult and complex challenge that requires us to be both joyous and sober.
As missionaries with Jews for Jesus we understand that “we exist to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.” God has given us that special purpose and it helps us to focus, to prioritize, to make the most of the time He has allotted us. To see life in all its joys and disappointments through the prism of God’s purpose and calling for us is to walk circumspectly.
For what purpose do you believe that you exist? I can think of no better way to mark the beginning of a New Year than by reflecting on this essential question. Living circumspectly means living life in light of God’s purpose for us today and His plan for our forever. We can’t live without time, but neither should we be controlled by it. When we realize God’s eternal purposes for us, we can mark the start of a New Year with a renewed sense of joy and meaning. Then we can discern the priorities for making the most of the time God gives us. That would surely be something to be happy about in this New Year.
A couple of months ago, I visited our Jews for Jesus
founder, Moishe Rosen, in the hospital. He had been having a rough week, not only because of the metastatic cancer he is enduring, though that is pain enough. He had developed a blockage in his lower intestine that required an emergency surgery and it took a huge toll on him. As he lay in that hospital bed for two weeks, he regularly slipped in and out of consciousness with moments of pain-filled lucidity here and there. But when I walked in the room he opened his eyes and said, “Hello, David Brickner.” I knew he was alert.
“Hi Moishe,” I said, “how are you feeling today?”
“I’m disappointed. I didn’t get my invitation.”
“What invitation is that, Moishe?”
“My invitation into the presence of the Lord.”
I paused to compose myself. “Well, I guess that means the Lord isn’t quite ready to welcome you yet. And there are quite a few of us that would be happy for Him to take His time.” He smiled and closed his eyes. A few days later we marked a good day when he was discharged. What a relief it was for him to leave the hospital, to go home and sleep in his own bed, surrounded by what is familiar and comfortable.
But Moishe isn’t really home. Not yet. None of us really is. God has given us many good gifts and many reasons to rejoice during our time on this earth. Still, He doesn’t intend for us to make ourselves too much at home—not yet. But with each passing day and each New Year we can make the most of His purpose for our lives, as we mark the time that happily brings us just a little closer to our true home.