Monday, March 30, 2009

Time, History, and Focused Attention

While in Ireland, Trish and I stayed in a little cottage several miles from Galway. We traveled the narrow roads every day in our rented car.

Each day, we passed the ruins of a church built in the seventh century. The seventh century!

For 1,400 years that little church has witnessed the comings and goings of worship services, weddings, funerals, baptisms and ordinations.

Generations have come. Generations have passed.

Each day, driving to meet other believers to learn more about the Lord and life, we drove by those ruins. We noticed the graves and the crosses. Then we went on about our business.

For fourteen hundred years, people have passed by that property, on their way to do important things. What those things were, we do not know. They would probably not seem very important to us now. Most of those things would seem trivial or even a waste of time to us. It makes you wonder what people in the future will think of our efforts and preoccupations.

Here is the truth: every person alive today will be dead in a few years. That is a fact. It is such an unpleasant fact that I have likely lost half of my readers by mentioning it. People will soon be passing by our remains on their way to do things they think are important.

Morbid? No!


Realizing that our lives are brief and that our deaths are certain is the first great step towards acquiring wisdom. No recognition of mortality; no wisdom; it's that simple.

Without recognition of mortality, we waste our time, our relationships and our talent. One study of people who acquire wealth revealed a single common trait: they all had made wills. Most of them did not make wills after acquiring wealth but acquired wealth after making a will.

Why? Because the same trait that motivates a person to make a will motivates him or her to form a long-range view of life, meaning and productivity.

Without such things, wealth does not accumulate; it drains out through all holes in our attention span.

We intend but never do; we desire but do not focus; we wish but do not plan. Two habits form in the lives of those who become wise: attention on the future and attention on the past – in that order. Attention on the future moves us to think about what comes after us and because of us. When we think that way, we begin to plan and to organize ways to execute those plans. Attention on the past teaches us to learn from the victories, defeats and strategies of those who came before us.

We cannot add to the number of years we will live into the future but we can add to the number of years we have already lived by studying history. We can become 150 years old by studying the civil war and the years that separate us from that era. We become 2,500 years old by studying the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the European states that followed.

Christian life is a life lived in the light of eternity. The kingdom of this world will become the kingdoms of the Lord and His Christ. The Roman Empire came and went. The Soviet Union came and went. All countries and empires are transitory things. Only he that does the will of God lives forever. Prophetic vision has always been the fuel of Christian accomplishment. Christian life is also lived in the light of covenant. We did not save ourselves. We did not invent our faith.

All that we have, we have received. Our faith is a heritage. It was passed to us; like runners in a replay race. We would not have had any faith to practice had it not been for the little church we were passing each day, now in ruins but still elegant and beautiful. Our descendants will have no faith to practice if we do not think about them.

We have to lay foundations for buildings we will not see completed, save money we will never spend, and teach lessons that we may never see take root. The people at the end of the race are counting on us. The people at the beginning of the race are counting on us.

Their success is determined by ours and ours is determined by whether we will or will not turn our hearts toward wisdom.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Pastor Dan, I'm sitting here amazed at how true these words are. It's so easy to live in the here and now without giving much thought to what is to come! Thanks for the reminder.