Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
Since the island nation of Japan is vulnerable to tsunamis, it has developed one of the most sophisticated warning systems in the world. When a tsunami was approaching the city of Sendai, warning signals were triggered but the citizens who heard it had only fifteen minutes to respond.
I watched surreal footage taken from a helicopter as that towering wave swept toward many unsuspecting villagers who hadn’t heard the warning. The coverage showed people in cars and on motorcycles riding casually down the road, having no clue that in a matter of moments they would be swept away by a massive wall of water and debris.
Most life-threatening accidents or natural disasters come without warning. And all it takes is one financial hit, one tornado, one illness, and life can change forever.
Go to a cemetery and read the dates on tombstones. While you’re there, consider the fact that the people buried there never planned to die on the date written on their marker.
Go to the nearest hospital and walk through the emergency room. Do you think any of those people woke up expecting their day to include a trip to the ER . . . perhaps as they or a loved one battled for their very life?
James wants us to remember that since every second is a gift from God and we don’t know how many more He’ll give us, we must make the most of every moment. He compares our lives to steam surging upward from a kettle on a stove—it appears for a little while and then vanishes away. He doesn’t beat around the bush. His words are full of realism and urgency, challenging us to see the aerial view of our lives—see how short they really are.
An article in USA Today told of an undefeated high school basketball team that was playing its last regular-season game. The team’s star player was 6’ 2” and 215 pounds.
The game was tied in overtime and the clock was running down. The star was given the ball with only seconds left to play. Hundreds of excited fans watched as he dribbled down the court and popped a jump shot right before the buzzer sounded. It was right on target . . . nothing but net.
His teammates immediately lifted him onto their shoulders and carried him around the gym as the crowd cheered enthusiastically. Seconds later, he toppled from their shoulders as he went limp, then died of cardiac arrest.
It doesn’t matter how young or old, healthy or sick you are right now. No one escapes death . . . and no one knows exactly when the tidal wave will sweep over our heads.
Businessmen during James’ day often wrote the Latin motto Memento mori on the front page of their accounting books. The words meant “Remember your mortality.” They wrote those words to remind themselves that life was not just about commerce and the business of the day.
In the spectrum of eternity, we have but a few moments to live. We only have one lifetime to offer our Lord Jesus Christ.
While growing up, my father often said, “If you had ten lives, you might choose to waste one of them. But since you only have one, you can’t afford to throw it away. And James would add one simple, inspired word . . . Amen!
Pray with the Psalmist, Lord, teach me to number my days that I may present to You a heart of wisdom
(Psalm 90:12). Then recommit the time you have left to God.
Extra Refreshment: Read these passages that remind us of the brevity of our lives and God’s providential care for us: Job 13–14; Psalm 90; Isaiah 40.
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