My memory isn’t so good anymore. I am not exactly ready for a nursing home but sometimes I am clearly not as good as I once was. For many years I rode a fairly reliable memory to a few advanced degrees and modest acclaim at trivia board games. Not so much anymore. I manage my old guy memory with notes to self and knowing the difference between important do-not-forget-this-stuff and less important nice-to-remember-but-no-dire-consequences-if-I-don’t-stuff. Besides, names and numbers can always be googled. Sadly, you can’t just ask Siri for wisdom and insight to bring your life into focus.
Good memory or bad, we all need to remind ourselves daily of certain truths that give our lives a rallying point. These truths create a context for daily priority setting and decision making. Whether we are conscious of them or not, everybody touches base with personal reality based self-talk. So, what if you could choose only one value or principle to never leave home without? What would that be? Now I realize there is more than one supremely important rule for godly living. But I’m assuming your memory is as bad as mine. Six or eight truth statements might be more than your neuro-hard drive can store. So, assuming I am allowed only one wisdom prompt to structure my life around each day, I think it would be this one:
Remember, Tim: Nobody gets out of this alive. That’s all. Short and sweet. Sounds pretty obvious, huh? Well, that’s because it is. We all know only two things are certain in this life, right? Death and taxes. Sorry but that’s only half true. Tax exemptions abound, but nobody is death exempt. There are no loopholes for death. The Scripture is indisputably accurate and without exception on the topic: “…it is appointed unto to men once to die, and after that, the judgement.” Hebrews 9:27 Death is an appointment that we will all keep. No cancellations. No reschedules. We bury loved ones and they will bury us. Everybody does it. If you haven’t yet, you will.
In light of that inevitability, so what? Is the answer as simple as Tim McGraw’s formula to live like we are dying? I don’t think so. This truth’s application is bigger than a self-gratifying grab for all the gusto while you can life/death ethos. I’m talking about living like you know you cannot hang on to this life and ultimately you are required to give an account to the One who gave it to you. Don’t forget the last phrase of the above Hebrews passage. Death is guaranteed but the subsequent reckoning is equally sure. The Apostle Paul offers this perspective to the tension between the temporal yet eternal nature of our existence:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on the unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. We live by faith, not by sight. So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 5:7, 9, 10. Even I can remember this: By faith, daily prioritize the One who is unseen. Seek to please Christ every day.
Jim Elliot was twenty-two years old when he wrote these famous words in his journal: October 28, 1949 “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” I imagine that was one of his primary orienting truths; maybe even the single wisdom that he would have chosen to remember if he was only allowed one. A little over six years after he penned that sentence he was killed on a river bank in Ecuador. The elegance of his life statement was in stark contrast to the violent horror of its fulfillment. He knew that nobody gets out of this alive and eternity is a long long time. We should all live each day accordingly.