As the calendar turns from one year to the next, it makes sense that we reflect on time. We remember the year that was and wonder what the new one will bring. “There is a time for everything,” the Bible says, “and a season for every activity under heaven.” (Eccl. 3:1 NIV)
We know that. It’s just the way things are. Sometimes you cry your eyes out; other times you laugh for your head off. Not usually at the same time, mind you. There is a time for one, and a time for the other. And as one comes, so another goes. Such is life under heaven. There is a time for everything.
The king sent him on a quest. He was to find the one thing that would make a sad man happy and a happy man sad. What he came back with were the infamous words of the ol’ King James Bible: “And it came to pass...” The good times don’t last forever. But then again, thankfully, neither do the bad. Sometimes our dancing turns into mourning. Other times our mourning turns into dancing. There is a time for everything.
And this is so, because “God has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Eccl. 3:11 NIV) Or, as other translations have it, he has made everything suitable or appropriate in its time. (see NRSV, NASB) God sets the seasons. He determines the times. As he determined the time of our birth, so he has determined the time of our death. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” the Psalmist wrote. (Ps. 139:16)
So grant me a heart of wisdom, he prayed, that I might number my days aright. (Ps. 90:12) Help me know what time it is, that I might act accordingly. This is the way of wisdom. It is what the wise teacher of Ecclesiastes commends to us: To understand the time and to live in it fully, to embrace this time as God’s gracious gift.
In Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town, Emily, a character who dies giving birth to a child, asks the Stage Manager if she can return home and relive just one day. The stage manager reluctantly allows her to do so, but urges her to pick an insignificant day. She does not.
Emily chooses to go back on her 12th birthday. And she is torn by the beauty of the ordinary, and by our lack of awareness of it. Watching her mother, she cries out: “Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me … it goes so fast we don’t have time to look at one another.”
When she returns to the graveyard and the quiet company of the others lying there, Emily asks the Stage Manager, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”
As another year dawns, may God grant us hearts of wisdom, that we might number our days aright, understand the time, and make the most of every opportunity.
Rev. Ryan Faber is pastor of worship & administration at Faith Church (215 E University, Pella).