A couple of blocks north on our Iowa country road, nestled among cornstalk-spangled fields and soybeans aplenty, sleeps the town cemetery. I like to walk there from time to time to read the inscriptions on the headstones. Some are new, while others date back nearly a couple hundred years.
It was near harvest time last October that I saw a familiar face walking through there. It was a Christian school teacher visiting from Michigan. He came to Iowa to attend the annual Protestant Reformed Teachers’ Convention. The convention met right next door to the cemetery, at Trinity Christian High School in Hull, Iowa.
“I know more people here,” he said pointing to the graves, “than over there,” motioning toward the school building. There was truth in what he said, for he was born in Northwest Iowa. Many people he knew as a boy were laid to rest in this burial place.
Unless the Lord hasten, so shall we all be.
No matter how many years we live, our life is extremely short. It is what the book of James calls “…a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” The Psalms declare our days are like an handbreadth, and as grass. In Job, our life is likened to a shadow that fleeth and a flower that is cut down. One generation is born and quickly dies. And so it goes, over and over again. As Solomon once said, “…for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart” (Eccl. 7:2).
Our contemplating this fact is God’s way of jolting us awake. None of us is guaranteed to be alive tomorrow. That thought is startling. We tend to get sleepy, and so we need a regular dose of cold water splashed onto our face, spiritually speaking. The Lord desires us to be sober and wise, and to make good use of our very short life.
May we pray with faith and urgency supplications such as Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Martin Luther, in his German Bible translation, aptly translated this same verse in guileless manner. It literally reads, “Teach us to consider that we must die, so that we will become wise.”
We have a tendency not to think about our inevitable death. Death is ugly. It causes pain and great sorrow.
I Corinthians 15:26 says, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Thanks be to God for Christ’s work on the cross, for “Death is swallowed up in victory” (I Cor. 15:54). For His people, death is merely a passageway to glory. In order to enter God’s incorruptible Kingdom, we cannot have a cor-ruptible body.
One day my young daughter looked at me with wide, solemn eyes and said, “I don’t want you to ever die.” With a hug I told her I loved her, and understood how she felt. I reassured her that we have nothing to fear in Christ. Christ brings us to Himself when we die, and that is what we long for. It is our goal.
God wants us to keep in the forefront of our minds that our life on earth is short. He desires us to grow in wisdom. I talked with her about an aged saint we once knew who has since gone on to glory. This was a man who experienced much pain, sorrow, and suffering for Christ’s sake. He put into practice numbering his days and growing in wisdom. When asked of his welfare, he took great pleasure in responding with a certain Dutch phrase: “Niets te klagen.” Translated into English this means, “Nothing to complain about.” We and our children need to pray humbly for such grace. Then we will have nothing to complain about, but rather in everything we will give thanks. God’s righteousness and heavenly Kingdom is ours! What more could we want?
I brought up an example to my daughter of the special-needs boy in our church. Unable to walk, or see, and with multiple physical complications, he needs complete care. He has lived beyond the doctor’s expectations. His family and our congregation know that each day with him is a precious gift from the Lord. As the mother of the child once told me, “Caring for our son has been good for us. It makes us think of heaven more.”
I looked at my daughter and said, “That is how all of us should view our own frail life. Each day may be our last as we trust in the Lord’s complete care of us. Each day should make us think of heaven more.”
Thinking upon the shortness of life and the heavenly Kingdom that is ours is not frightening. For the believer, each passing day just gets us closer to the goal. We have a young mother in our congregation with very guarded health. She has a life of being in and out of the hospital. At times she has come close to death. Yet, through her faith in Christ she confesses that her hope is on the goal. On the oc-casion of her birthday she said, “I am 34 years closer to living with Him. What a blessing every birthday is!”
Keeping the goal in the forefront of our mind and heart will help us make wise choices in redeeming the time and setting priorities. Our lives are busy with many responsibilities. We often jot down lists each day of the things we need to get done. This is a good idea and helps keep us organized. But may we always remember each day to ask the Lord, “What wilt Thou have me to do today? I want my will to be submissive to Thy perfect will.”
As children of God, we know this. Yet we are constantly fighting our sinful desires that want sinful, self-serving goals. Job 14:1 says, “Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble.” We can so easily lose sight of the goal and waste time on fruitless endeavors. Never before have we had so much distraction at our fingertips. For many people, the same tool that is used for work is also used for play. Although the Internet and cell phones can be used to serve the right goal, they can also be used to waste much time. Far worse, they can be used to sin grievously by watching things we should never set our eyes upon.
We can search for exciting things to do or places to take our children, but a 30-minute walk through the cemetery can help get our thoughts on the right track. When we visit the graves of our loved ones, we mourn, but mourn as those with hope. Psalm 126:6 says, “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”
The Lord of the harvest is coming soon. He proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). What a blessed hope we have. What can be more motivating than the thought of the glorious resurrection and life to come that awaits us?
“I’m probably related to most of the people in this cemetery,” my teacher friend said that day with a smile. He read aloud some family names that, by God’s grace, are still familiar ones in our churches: “Brummel, Kooima, Blankespoor, Kooiker.” They were people who witnessed his baptism, who prayed with him, who worshiped our sovereign God with him, who loved and cared for him—precious seed.
A gentle breeze was blowing across the fields. It was harvest time, a time to pluck up that which was planted. As Solomon once said: To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.