The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled, so that you can pray.—1 Peter 4:7
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.—Ephesians 5:15,16
What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short.—1 Corinthians 7:29
Most mornings, I read a page from a book called A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie. It contains 62 short devotional thoughts, one for every morning and evening of the month, so the same ideas get repeated 12 times a year. One of my favorite lines from the book comes around on the 1st morning of every month, and over the course of several years now I still haven’t gotten tired of reflecting on it: “For the great and mysterious opportunity of my life, I praise and worship Thee, O Lord.”
God, thank you for the great and mysterious opportunity of my life. My life isn’t a punishment, and it isn’t a pleasure cruise. It isn’t meaningless, and it isn’t all about me. It’s not a competition or a race or a treasure hunt. It isn’t a problem to be solved or a sentence to be endured. It is a great and mysterious opportunity.
If life is an opportunity, that means it’s a chance that must be seized, because it won’t last forever. It means there are great things we can do, and great things we can miss out on. It means there are unique things about this life that will never come again, even in eternity.
If you know me, you know that I believe strongly that eternity matters most. Jesus came and taught us all sorts of important things, but above all He came to make a way for us to enter eternal life. He said that it was foolish to gain the whole world and in the process lose your soul. He warned us not to be like the man who used his wealth to build bigger barns to store more wealth, then died in his sleep and was not “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). He promised that if people believed in Him, he would “raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39,40).
But it would be a mistake to think that because eternity matters most, this life doesn’t matter at all. In fact, it’s the opposite. Because eternity matters most, the things we do in this life are really important. Sports fans wouldn’t say that because the playoffs are the most important thing, the regular season doesn’t matter. On the contrary, the regular season prepares you for the playoffs, and it determines your standing when you get there. One builds on the foundation of the other.
I had a friend in college who had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She was born with the joints of an elderly person, and lived with pain every day, all the time. She was a believer, and on the door of her dorm room she had a sign that read: “I will be praising God for all of eternity, but this life is my only opportunity to praise Him through pain.”
This life is my only opportunity to praise God through pain. It’s my only opportunity to trust Him when the future is scary. It’s my only opportunity to honor Him by choosing faithfulness over the sin that tempts me. It’s the only chance I get to share His love and His truth with the people who don’t know Him. One day I will enter eternal life, and everything will change. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. He will wipe every tear from my eyes. Sin will be no more. I will live by sight, not by faith. And a great many unique opportunities to bless and glorify God will be gone forever. I will bless and glorify Him in new, amazing, beautiful ways, but not like I can right now in the midst of this broken, needy world. This life is a great and mysterious opportunity, and I dare not waste it.
Jesus often used the image of stewardship to help us understand this life. We are not the masters of the house; we are stewards who have been entrusted with care of the estate, and one day the Master will return to take stock of our faithfulness. He will reward us according to what we have done, and entrust us with new privileges and responsibilities that will make the details of this life seem small. But those details matter because they show Him what kind of stewards we are. Faithful in little, faithful in much.
My daughter is taking algebra, and she often asks me “Why do I have to study this stuff? When I am I going to use it?” And I tell her “Probably never. But you’ll be using your brain for the rest of your life.” We make high schoolers take algebra because we are training their brains, not to do algebra, but to think. And we know that never again will they be able to devote time to developing their minds like they can while they’re young. Similarly, when football players take the field, there are no weights to lift. But the weightlifting they did beforehand prepares them for the demands of the game.
In the same way that we train our minds and our bodies, this life is a great and mysterious opportunity to train our souls for eternity. It is not the main event, but it is a critical period of preparation. We will never again be able to serve God, and trust God, and draw near to God, in the ways we can right now. What is something you could do that would be pleasing to God that you won’t be able to do in heaven? What unique expression of love and faithfulness do you want to offer to Him while you still have the chance? Who do you want to become while you still can? This week, what can you do to make the most of this life, in order to make the most of eternity?
“As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”—John 9:5