In a recent interview with Greta Van Susteren, Billy Graham was asked what he would change if he could do things over again. He responded, “I would study more. I would pray more, travel less, take less speaking engagements. … If I had it to do it over again, I’d spend more time in meditation and prayer and just telling the Lord how much I love him and adore Him, and I am looking forward to the time we’re going to spend together for eternity.”
Well said. When life is coming to an end, certain things become more important to us that, frankly, should have been important all along. These things are faith, family and friends. And as the end of life nears, we recognize either how important they are or that we are lacking in one or more of these areas.
As a pastor, I have discovered that people who are strong in their faith become even stronger under such circumstances. On the other hand, those who have not been walking with God often become aware of the fact that they need to do something about it.
The Bible tells the story of Hezekiah, king of Judah, who found out that his life was quickly coming to end. Hezekiah became very ill – so ill, in fact, that he was on his deathbed. The prophet Isaiah was dispatched to the king by God and was told to give him this message: “Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness” (Isaiah 38:1 NLT).
Hezekiah was not prepared to accept these ominous words. He called out to God and reminded him of what a faithful king he had been. Then he asked God to spare his life and heal him. God answered Hezekiah’s prayer and sent Isaiah back to the king with this message: “This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will add 15 years to your life. …” (Isaiah 38:5)
But that was not necessarily a good thing. During those extended 15 years, Hezekiah gave classified information to his enemies – a biblical version of WikiLeaks, if you will. This gave the Assyrians a motive to later invade Judah, taking its people into captivity for 70 years.
Also during those 15 years, Hezekiah had a son named Manasseh, who went on to rule Judah in his father’s stead and effectively undid all of the good Hezekiah had done. In fact, he was one of the most wicked kings to ever rule the nation, even killing and offering his own son to a pagan god. In all honesty, it would have been better if Manasseh had never been born.
Over the years, I have come to realize that it is a good thing God does not answer all of our prayers. As you get older, you can look back on a closed door in your life and ultimately recognize that it was a good thing.
So when Hezekiah found out that his life was coming to an end, maybe he should have said a prayer something along the lines of, “Well, I would like to live longer if that is in your will, God, but if this is my time, then fine.” He should have put it in the hands of God.
In contrast, the apostle Paul, knowing that his life was coming to an end, wrote, “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6–7 NKJV). In the original language, the phrase “the time of my departure is at hand” was also used to describe a Roman soldier breaking camp. So Paul was effectively saying that it was time to break camp. He was ready to leave. And he had no regrets in life. Everything God had called Paul to do, he did. He had lived life to its fullest.
Would you be able to say the same thing? Are there things in your life that are left to do, things that you feel God has called you to do that you have not yet done? Maybe there are people you need to forgive. Maybe there are things you need to stop doing that you know are unproductive and things you need to start doing that would help you a great deal. When it is all said and done, the only thing that will matter is whether you accomplished the purpose God had for you.
There are three things we can offer to God in this life: our treasure, our talent and our time. First there is our treasure, which consists of our possessions, our financial resources. And whenever you put your money into something, you develop a vested interest in that thing. Ideally, your treasure will go where your heart is. So if you want your heart to be in the things of God, put your treasure into the things of God. Invest in God’s work.
Then there is our talent. God has given to each of us certain abilities, skills, even gifts, and we are to use those for his glory.
Finally, there is our time. God deposits 86,400 seconds into our bank of time every day. They cannot be carried over from day to day – there is no such thing as a 27-hour day. We are given 24 hours each day to use as we choose. The Bible tells us to redeem the time because the days are evil (see Ephesians 5:16). That means to make sacred and wise use of every opportunity.
When it is all said and done, it is not about just living a long life. It is about living a life that is full and purposeful. Corrie ten Boom said, “The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration but its donation.” What kind of donation is your life making?