Life Is for Living

“Youth,” an old writer complained, “is wasted on the young.” Why hand the strongest draught of life to those who least know what to do with it? Why entrust bright eyes and boundless energy to those blowing bubbles and scrolling phones and living best friends with frivolity? With too few scars to instruct them, youth, you may know too well, is often wasted on the young.

Oh, if you could bring an old head to young shoulders — how differently life would have gone. To think, really think, about what decisions you were making, what paths you were taking, what hearts you were breaking — if only you knew then what you know now. But you cannot read through and edit life. The past is well-defended and heartless to your pleas.

Life — to be placed on a bicycle before you can balance. You crashed so many times, and others suffered in your falls. You knew not where to go. And yet now, just as you get riding in the right direction, how cruel, it seems to you, to reach the sidewalk’s end. Why do we finally learn to make the most of summer days in breezy autumn?

Where was the Preacher then to instruct you, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)? His prophetic voice spoke too softly, and it all passed by so quickly. If only you could go back and live again; this time things would go differently.

Teach Us to Measure Our Days

How vital is it for us to pray with the psalmist?

O Yahweh, make me know my end
     and what is the measure of my days;
     let me know how fleeting I am! (Psalm 39:4)

How needful is it to “know our end” before we get there? How precious to “measure our days” before we spend them? How priceless to feel our fleetness before our ship sails?

Who shall teach us to measure our days? Man flatters us and hides our end from sight. We conspire, deceiving ourselves, we gods amidst mortals. Satan slithers still, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). The world catechizes of nothing beyond its walls. Who shall teach us of the ill-favored end we wish forgotten? Who shall speak the truth to make us wise?

O Lord, teach me my end! Make me know the finish of all flesh for the good of my soul. Bring near my casket; let me read my tombstone. Let the clouds of that day surround me, show me how dark is that silence six feet below. There, let me think. There, let me learn. For “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

Bury me, my Lord — throw dirt upon my aspirations, my dreams, my life — and then exhume what is worthy, what is true, what is good, what is beautiful, that which is pleasing in your sight. I am but a dream, a shadow, a blade of grass blowing in the wind. Show me death to teach me life!

Prayer of the Living

O Lord, in your school, I learn to measure my existence — not by others, but by you.

Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! (Psalm 39:5)

In your school, I learn to weigh this life and the vanity of its riches.

Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! (Psalm 39:6)

In your school, I learn to chasten all other hopes.

And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
[My hope is in . . . these relationships, things, achievements? No.]
My hope is in you. (Psalm 39:7)

You discipline me, you correct me, you blight the mirages I misjudge as Joy, and lead me to life in you. Oh, teach me the small dimensions of my days! Send forth your cloud by day; shine forth your fire by night. Lead me safely through this dark and dreary land, this cemetery. Teach me to live while I live. Take me to the end of life that I might learn to live this life as I wait for life with you.

Spend Time with Death

We pray this to our Lord because he must teach us how to measure the days he gives. But we must measure our lives through prayerful meditation. Practically, John Bunyan, that tour guide of the faith, advises us to dwell nearer our death.

It is convenient that thou conclude the grave is thy house, and that thou make thy bed once a day in the grave. . . . The fool puts the evil day far away, but the wise man brings it nigh. Better be ready to die seven years before death comes, than want one day, one hour, one moment, one tear, one sorrowful sigh at the remembrance of the ill-spent life that I have lived. (Christ a Complete Saviour, 221)

“Get an eyeful of Christ, a soulful of Christ, and all your wasted days will be redeemed.”

Our problem is not that death comes too swiftly, but that we visit death too seldomly. Reader, are you ready to die? Conclude now, young person, old person, middle-aged person: The grave is thy house. The wages of your sin is death; to dust you must return. But do not stop there, for your soul does not stop there. We must all read past death’s cold chapter. What lies beyond for you? What final destination is death but the turbulent flight? Eternal life or unending death? Is death gain or utter ruin?

Span of Today

Let that thought be a spur to change. Consider how many days have already escaped unfelt, untasted, unvalued. Life has happened to us more than it has been lived thoughtfully, fearfully by us — how much remains? Perhaps not much. The one life we had to live in this world — how unkindly we passed it before our Creator. Youth is wasted on the young perhaps because death is wasted on the young. Life, how valuable; we, how foolish.

Yet consider more. With all the wasted and mishandled days, realize the potential of time remaining. If you are young enough to read these words, you are young enough to hope.

Much can happen in a day. This day, you can place a phone call to a loved one you’ve not spoken with for years. This day, you can extend forgiveness, repair old bridges, heal scarred marriages. This day, we can choose what is right over what is easy. This day, we can confess sin we’ve kept secret for so long. This day, wars can cease, great enterprises begin, revivals ignite, reformation commence, lives change.

This day, Jesus Christ can place scarred hands upon an irretrievable past and amend it, reclaim it. He decisively saves souls within the bounds of today: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:7–8). He will take your wasted and ruined life. He can make something beautiful from it still. From the barren land, flowers may yet grow.

Within the final breaths of this day, you can hear by faith, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). This day, you can discover the purpose of all days: Jesus Christ. Get an eyeful of Christ, a soulful of Christ, and all your wasted days will be returned to his keeping, and your future days will be sceptered by his care.

Redeemer of Days

One has gone before you to your end, into death, tasting death for his people. He changes the calculus of our days. Even a spoiled life plus Christ equals eternal life. Live 969 years as Methuselah (Genesis 5:27) or 16 like Lady Jane Grey (or younger, as some of our beloved children who died trusting Jesus), if Christ is yours, death is gain. He stands beyond our end; distance from him marks the measure of our days. Our life is fleeting, yes, but we fleet to him.

Hear how Christ can beautifully map upon our brief existence:

Lord, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And this Thy grace must give.

If life be long, I will be glad,
That I may long obey;
If short, yet why should I be sad
To welcome endless day?

Christ leads me through no darker rooms
Than he went through before;
He that unto God’s kingdom comes
Must enter by this door.

Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
Thy blessed face to see;
For if Thy work on earth be sweet,
What will Thy glory be!

My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
But ‘tis enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with Him. (Richard Baxter, “The Covenant and Confidence of Faith”)

Life, how fleeting. Life with Christ, how eternal. Life, how shadowed. Life with Christ, how bright. Life, how regrettable. Life with Christ, how redeemed.