Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at the time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12
I am not one to pay a lot of attention to dreams. For one thing, I seldom remember them. Last week, however, I had a vivid dream that stuck with me. I was working at the nursery that employed me during college. My boss came up to me, clearly angry, and said, “Greg, you need to be here more! You’ve got 24 hours.” The message was that I would be fired if I did not change my priorities quickly. It was puzzling, as I had never had that sort of encounter with my boss.
Three things stuck with me about the dream. First was the urgency of the message. Clearly, something had to change, and it had to change now. Next was my boss’s exhortation to be here. Finally, the 24-hour deadline made no sense in the context of my job, but it was obviously important. As I considered the dream, I concluded that it was a reminder that in the next 24 hours my life might change dramatically or – gulp – end. I recalled my mother losing her ability to communicate, my father’s death, and a friend’s paralyzing injury – all happening in an instant. The message, then, was if this were my last day on earth as I knew it, what would I do differently?
Clearly, the urgent message to be here is the key. When we are fully present to the moments in our lives, we are less likely to miss opportunities we might regret later. We make sure that those we love know. We do not allow a beautiful sunset to pass unnoticed. We appreciate and acknowledge the blessings around us. We fix broken relationships and forgive past hurts. We develop and use our gifts and talents for good. When we live our lives intentionally, we do not relinquish a moment of our limited time without receiving something of value in return. Time is a constrained gift, not an entitlement. Certainly, being present does not mean that we let needed tasks go undone. It does mean, however, that whatever we do and however unpleasant the task may be, we take charge of our attitude and experience the available blessings. Being present also means we reevaluate the necessity of certain activities that may have no significant value.
The fact that this might be my last 24 hours on earth, which is a true statement for all of us, should change me. As the writer of Ecclesiastes writes, “no one can anticipate the time of disaster.” The challenge, in the absence of a known and imminent calamity, is to live as if the time is near. That knowledge should change us for the better.
Come home to church this Sunday. What will you do with your next 24 hours?