During the middle of last week my mother contacted me to let me know that my 94 year old grandmother had died, and that the funeral would be on Friday. After hearing the news I quickly booked a flight at the last minute to travel back to my childhood home for the weekend. The unexpected travel took some effort to coordinate, but it was very important for me to be with my family during that time.
During the many hours that I spent traveling, I was compelled and had the time to meditate on the brevity of life, the swiftness of time, and the vain pursuits of mankind (compare Ecclesiastes 1:14). I was reminded of the statement made in James 4:14, “… For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” Certainly, the time that we have to live a life in the flesh is very short, and therefore the time that we have should be spent on things that are very important.
What is important then? This is a question that I thought a lot about. Do I spend my time on activities that are really important? After experiencing mortality closely, the typical answers naturally become re-evaluated. During the memorial service for my grandmother, I had the opportunity to look at photographs of snapshots taken throughout her life. I listened to stories from people who had spent time with her. The kinds of things that captivated me were the relationships that she had with people, how she influenced the lives of others, and the character of her way of life. Reflecting on her life caused me to realize that character and the ability to influence others in a positive way are very important for our relationship with other humans.
It is the development of our character that is important to God as well. We all have the opportunity to live our lives in a way that is obedient to God, showing our willingness to do what is good and right in His sight. Whether we are able to accumulate wealth or accomplish great worldly feats is inconsequential. Our ability to develop positive relationships with others so that we might influence people is also important to God. Christians are called to be lights in this world, as a living example of good works. As Jesus Christ instructed in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” The ability to live a life that develops good, righteous character, that may cause God to be glorified is what’s important for us to focus on.
The corollary of knowing what is important is knowing what is not important in life. It is all too easy to become distracted and focus a disproportionate amount of time and energy on things that really don’t matter that much. When our lives are evaluated at the end, whether by our friends and family, or by Jesus Christ, many of the things that are seemingly important at the moment will be of little consequence. What will be important is the manner in which we have lived our short lives. Did we show the love for God and people in our lives, or not? Solomon sums it up well in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 where he writes, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all [or, “the whole duty of man”]. For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.”