We all have high and low points in our lives - moments where everything seems to come together to make us feel truly joyful, or events that crush us to the point where we would rather not exist. For example:
I remember several years ago when my cousin, Andre, who was like the brother I never had, depressed and alone in Montreal committed suicide. His sudden death caused a hurt so deep inside that it seemed like a part of me was lost forever. This event marked one of the lowest points in my life.
Of course I can enumerate several high points that brought gladness and great excitement. The day I married Lise, and the birth of our children, for example, are two of the many joyful moments in a life, that I am happy to say has had more highs than lows.
Moments like these come to everyone in some form or another, but thankfully, in most of our lives, they are separated by long stretches of what I call "in the meantime" periods. I suppose we would all like to have nothing but mountain-peak experiences, but real life is not like Hollywood (where everyday is action packed). Most of our lives are spent in the rather flat terrain of the "in the meantime" moments where we are simply taking care of life's every day affairs until the next big high or low comes along.
Since the Bible is a composite of various episodes in peoples' lives, the writers usually provide us with either a "burning bush" like moment or a "deep in the valley" type event in the lives of the Bible characters we read about. But they, like us, probably had a lot of "in the meantime" moments in their long lives. For example:
We read of Jesus' many miracles and teaching periods but most of His actual time was spent walking the seventy miles between Galilee and the area around Jerusalem where He conducted much of His work. He had many "in the meantime" days and weeks in between the high and low moments during His three years of public ministry.
With this in mind, I would like to examine the spiritual life that we experience, not when we are on a spiritual high or brought low by trials and temptations, but the spiritual life that God gives us in between these points. In other words, our spiritual life "in the meantime". There are not many Scripture passages that talk about this particular time, but the one that does, does so very eloquently. Solomon refers to all of the times in our lives (including the "in the meantime moments") in the book of Ecclesiastes chapter three. In this passage, he makes three claims about God and His sovereignty over all of our "times".
Three Claims About God and Time
God Is the One That Sets the Times of Our Lives
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven
- Ecclesiastes 3:1
Note that Solomon says that there is an appointed time for everything, dispelling the modern idea that everything that happens does so randomly. Note also that if there is an appointed time, then there must also be someone who appoints the time (the original Hebrew word for appoints also meant "to fix") and that someone is God.
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
- Ecclesiastes 3:2-8
Solomon reviews some of the key experiences common to all persons. His point is that God is the one that fixes, establishes, sets or appoints these times. After reading this passage it would be easy to conclude that all of life is pre-determined and we have no control, but this is not the intent of the author. What Solomon is saying is that God is sovereign over every period of our lives. He either directly works in human history (e.g. sending Jesus) or permits every choice or event, good or bad, to take place in our lives.
He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.
- Ecclesiastes 3:11
Here, Solomon expresses the idea that everything that happens, happens according to God's timetable.
- The good times are right on time.
- The bad times are right when they are supposed to be.
- The long stretches of "in the meantime" are not any longer than He permits.
Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness. I said to myself, "God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man," for a time for every matter and for every deed is there.
- Ecclesiastes 3:16-17
Because He is sovereign over every time, God will judge all of the time we have spent whether it be much or little, high or low, and all of the in-between time we have experienced. This means that whether we are on the mountaintop, in the valley, or simply "in the meantime," God is always conscious of where we are since He has set all of the times for our lives.
God Sets All the Times of Our Lives
If we go back to chapter 3:1-8, we note that Solomon covers the key moments of an entire lifetime (e.g. a time to be born, a time to die). We often think that God sends the good and the Devil sends the bad, but listen to what Solomon says in chapter 7:14:
In the day of prosperity be happy,
But in the day of adversity consider—
God has made the one as well as the other
So that man will not discover anything that will be after him.
A good example of one who learned this lesson was Job. Job was happy, wealthy, and righteous recognizing that all the blessings he had came from God. When adversity came, he didn't stop believing in God but he did question God's justice in allowing his suffering.
- Job knew that God was ultimately responsible for the good and the bad (in permitting both to happen).
- His problem was that he doubted God's wisdom in fixing a time for suffering in his life. He thought God's timing was off, unfair, etc.
- In the end he learned that God's wisdom and power were so far beyond his own that to question these was a sign of foolishness, ignorance, and pride.
No matter how high, how low, or how long the "in the meantime," period lasts recognize that God is the One who has fixed the height, the depth, as well as the length of that time.
God Sets the Correct Time in Our Lives
Again, we go back to Solomon in chapter 3:11 where he says, "He has made everything appropriate in its time."
- Bad things pile up and we say, "What bad timing."
- Good things happen and we say, "Right place, right time."
- Boring, monotonous stretches occur and we say, "Same old, same old time."
What we do not realize and what Solomon teaches is that all of the times of our lives are the correct time for us from God's perspective. There is no such thing as lousy timing, or great timing, or boring time because all time is God's time and it is correct by His schedule, not ours! Perhaps the hardest thing for us to learn as finite beings with only eighty or so years of time on this earth is that God, who is beyond time, allots and controls all of the time we are given.
Our Response to the Lord of Time
Of course, not everyone ascribes to what Solomon and the rest of the Bible say about time:
- That God sets the time in our lives.
- That God sets all the times in our lives.
- That God's timing is always correct.
The majority of the world does not believe in the God of Abraham and Jesus Christ, and their views of man's time on earth are different. Some ideas of time from strictly an earthly perspective are:
- Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we shall die.
- Life is short - Do it! (whatever it is).
- Take your time and enjoy life, you only live once.
For disciples of Jesus Christ, however, the Biblical view of time presents unique challenges for our faith and our lives in this world. As far as being faithful is concerned, Solomon's view of time means that:
1. We Must Try to Discern God's Time
One of the challenges of living by faith is that we try to know and submit to God's timetable for our lives. This is difficult because even Solomon admits that God's timing is not always possible to know.
Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.
- Ecclesiastes 11:5
He does say, however, that when you can understand and comply to His timing, there is great satisfaction.
He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure.
- Ecclesiastes 8:5
Living by faith involves a constant search for God's timing in our lives, and we do this primarily through prayer and careful observation. As far as the "in the meantime" periods, I believe that these long stretches of flat spiritual road afford us the best opportunities to meditate on the highs and lows of the past and prepare us for the changes that inevitably come.
2. We Must Accept God's Timing
Job got into trouble because he questioned God's timing for his suffering; and yet, God's timing was perfect. Since Job had grown spiritually as much as a person could from being blessed, it was time for him to learn a lesson about God that only suffering could teach. To reject or complain about God's timing for our lives is to put our own short lives in danger. Solomon says:
Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time?
- Ecclesiastes 7:17
Free will allows us to thwart God's timing, but it is never for the best. My prayer to God when I am unsure of His will or His timing is this, "Lord, please reveal your will, your plan, or your timetable to me so that I am not forced to use my own."
3. We Must Live Appropriately
To live by faith is to live in the "moment" that God has given us.
Solomon explains this in chapter 3:2-8 where he says that there is a time to mourn, a time to laugh, etc. Living by faith is to accept God's timing, and mourn when it is time, speak when it is time, build when it is time, and when the time comes, leave this world. We can do this because of faith in God. In chapter 3:11 Solomon says, "He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end." In other words, we are limited as to time and our best use of time is to know and submit to God's timing for our lives.
However, God has also created within us the ability to understand the concept of eternity as well as the presence of an eternal God so that we are not the prisoners of time but see time as a way to know, glorify, and honor the God who made us as well as time itself. Every time we live in God's moment whether it is high, low, or in the meantime, we acknowledge our ultimate freedom from time constraints. A freedom that will come when Jesus returns bringing with Him the end of time.
And so, time spent "in the meantime" pursuing the will of God in every day matters, persevering in the long stretches between the key events in life, is not wasted time but the very essence of faith. For many it is easier to be faithful on the mountain of Transfiguration or in the boat during the raging storm, but walking the lonely back roads with Jesus, keeping time, this becomes their true test of faith and the real place of challenge for not losing their way. In all cases let us remember that no matter what the time or place is, Jesus..."will be with you always" (Matthew 28:20).