You Can’t Run Out of Time

EE Hale

The graduating seniors—all 34 of us—were asked to choose a quote for our senior page in the yearbook. This being 1977, quotes from rock bands like Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead were popular, but I was always the odd duck in my class. I chose the above quote from Edward Everett Hale, author of the famous short story “The Man Without a Country.”

At that time, I really had no idea what I would do with my life, but I wanted to be of service somehow. I considered becoming a nurse, a special education teacher, some kind of missionary. I felt certain I was here for a reason and God wanted me to do something. Whatever it was, I would find it and, by his grace, I would do it.

Now, more than 40 years on, I have to ask myself: Have I done it?

~~~

Certainly, I’d like to think I’ve done something worthwhile through my work as an inspirational writer, and yet the word that occurs to me most often as I reflect back over my career is failure. Sometimes it settles in quietly, sitting in lowercase letters on my shoulder and whispering of should-have-dones. Other times it storms in and thunders aloud in all caps, with exclamation points following like flashes of lightning.

Either way, I don’t like it. I don’t like feeling as though I haven’t accomplished the tasks I set out to do.

~~~

Recently, I was having one of those down days. That’s what happens when I turn away from living my life as a love story with God, when I choose instead to listen to that cultural chorus that sings high praises to the vocational curriculum vitae. Success and accomplishments are the primary factors when it comes to calculating human worth.

So there I was, looking back over 40 years and trying to measure my life from the worldly perspective. Things did not look good. I had never striven for greatness, but I had desired to do something good—you know, there was always that deep human desire to make a difference. I had managed a few things on my to-do list, but the good I wanted to do seemed somehow mostly left undone.

It’s a deeply troubling feeling, especially considering the fact that—eventually—a person runs out of time.

~~~

In that state of mind, I picked up one of the books I was reading, Heaven by Randy Alcorn. I had just been chatting on Facebook with a few people about how there always seems to be a right time to read a particular book—that is, God brings the book to us when we need it or might most appreciate it. This was one of those times.

Two brief passages stood out to me:

“Christ’s mission was to reclaim and set free not only the earth’s inhabitants, but the earth itself. He came not only to redeem mankind as individuals, but also as nations and cultures, and to redeem not only the work of his own hands…, but also the work of his creatures’ hands….” (1) (Emphasis mine.)

“Moses prayed, ‘Establish the work of our hands’ (Psalm 90:17). The Hebrew word translated ‘establish’….means ‘make permanent.” So Moses was asking God to give permanence to what he did with his hands.” (2)

~~~

It was as though God put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You think you’re running out of time, but you don’t realize you have eternity too. Besides, what I accomplish in and through you isn’t ultimately up to you; it’s up to Me, and I will fulfill My purpose for you” (Psalm 138:8).

I don’t fully understand what all this means, but I’m beginning to understand this: I’m not limited by the time restrains of this world. I’m not expected to complete my tasks in 70-some years and then go on to a place of eternal rest and be done with it all. The work I do here will somehow carry over into eternity, a place of further work, greater work, perfect work, deeply satisfying work that is most satisfying in the fact that it doesn’t glorify us but the God who made us.

~~~

The idea of God redeeming and eternally establishing the work of my hands changes everything for me. It lifts a huge burden from my shoulders, and allows me to look forward with hope. All that God wants to accomplish—through me and through all believers—will be accomplished in the unbounded stretches of forever.

In God’s Kingdom, it isn’t success or failure that matter. What matters is faithfulness and love.

This is the thought I want to leave with you today: Cease striving. Stop measuring yourself against impossible worldly standards. Instead, love God, remain faithful, and he will establish the work of your hands.

~~~

(1) Randy Alcorn, Heaven, Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, p. 97.

(2) Ibid, p. 128.

Yearbook page Senior page, Sanford School, Class of ’77

**Congratulations 2020 Graduates!**

A Reminder from My Six-Year-Old Self

First writing

I still remember it, though the edges of the memory are cloudy after more than 50 years. I am sitting at the classroom desk, fat No. 2 pencil clenched in my six-year-old fist as I labor over my writing tablet. Our second-grade teacher was allowing us a few quiet moments of free time. I must have felt inspired to write.

That afternoon in 1966 I composed my first “ode to life,” if one can call it that, pencil point scratching against cheap paper as I poured out all that I loved about life. I loved my “mama and dada,” the birds that sing for us, the schools, the teachers too. I loved the whole world around me.

“But most of all,” I concluded, “I love God.”

~~~

The words of the six-year-old resonate deeply with one who has now turned 60. If only I could have kept that truth as the central pillar of my life! But like so many others, I suppose, as I grew up I began to move away from the simplicity of loving God to the complexities of loving the world, and consequently experienced all the heartache that entails.

I didn’t live a wild and dissolute life—not at all. My whole life was spent in what I hoped was sharing the Gospel message, first as an editor with Billy Graham’s “Decision” magazine, and then as a writer of inspirational fiction. And I never stopped loving God; He was in fact the love that would not let me go.

But the problem was this: As an adult I tried to build my life on the pillar of success rather than on the pillar of God’s love. After all, isn’t that what the world tells us to do? “Seek success. Be the best. Achieve at all costs. Be somebody!”

~~~

Years of senseless striving followed, filled mostly with feelings of intense failure. The very irony of trying to be somebody is that it blinds us to the fact that we are all born somebody simply because God created us and we are His. Our worth as men and women and the meaning of our lives are found only in Him.

~~~

Another memory: I am sitting by a roaring fire, singing songs with the Vanderbilts. Yes, the Vanderbilts of the Biltmore House. The great granddaughter of George Vanderbilt, the original owner of the Biltmore House, is a woman who goes by the nickname of Dini. Her father-in-law, also named George, is a friend of mine.

Some years ago, George invited Bob and me to a large gathering at his home outside of Asheville NC. While there, Bob and I joined George, Dini and others gathered by the fire. Dini offered me her chair, saying it was more comfortable than the one I had just sat down in. Someone had a guitar, and we all began to sing. Mostly gospel songs, like “I’ll Fly Away.”

Some glad morning, when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away, to that home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away… When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away.

So there I was, with some of the most successful and wealthiest people in America, while my own accomplishments and worldly assets would barely fill a gnat’s ear. But what difference did it make? We all had the one important thing and we were all going to the same place.

George has told me this many times: “When you get the news that I’ve died, the first thing I want you to say is Hallelujah!” Certainly, George enjoys his kinship with the Biltmore House, but his heart is set on another Home.

~~~

Rubbish, is what the Apostle Paul called it—all his accomplishments, successes, worldly possessions. All rubbish compared to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). We all have work to do in this world, but work was never meant to be a means of self-advancement but a gift of service to God and others.

~~~

Another man of God, David Wilkerson, said this: “We are not called to be successes—to be free of all trouble, to be special, to ‘make it.’ Many are missing the one focus that is central to their lives: to become fruitful in the likeness of Christ.”*

~~~

Now at 60, I am fully back to the first love I knew at 6. Thank God and Hallelujah. There’s nothing quite like coming home. Peace prevails as I cast aside the thought that my life has to be a success story. Instead, I realize the one thing that matters is loving God most of all, and so I live my life as a love story with Him.

 

* God is Faithful by David Wilkerson, p. 349.