Each of us seems to be more and more time conscious these days. I think it relates to the fast-paced overly busy schedules we keep where we struggle to arrive on time and get home before midnight too many days.
We can all thank Thomas Edison for some of that. Before he created the filament for incandescent light bulbs in the late 1800’s, our ancestors’ days were much more related to the rhythm of sunlight and darkness as it changed through the seasons. After his invention, we stretched our working and playing farther into the night until we now seem to no longer recognize the sleep and wake cycles had a purpose for our good and health.
When we are young we tend to feel as if time is passing slowly and we are eager to push it forward for all we want to do or be, but as we get older and see how quickly we are using it up we are more likely to want it to move forward at a slower pace.
With those as a backdrop I have been reflecting on the statement of a pastor from Mexico a few weeks ago who spoke of the Lord coming soon. Yes, I have heard that many times over the years and if we are reading the New Testament carefully, we see Paul’s letters speaking of it. That can leave us quite uncertain about the meaning of the word “soon” in relation to His return.
It was when the pastor used a soccer game analogy and said we are in the last three minutes of the game that my attention was arrested. I have little knowledge of soccer so it was likely not as clear an illustration for me as it might be for others, but it still left a definite impression about the possible meaning of “soon”. If I broaden the idea out to cover other sports I know less well, it becomes clear it means near the end. I know the final minutes of a game often determine the outcome.
I went to a high school where football was king. High school students there first played it in 1891. Prior to the current playoff system that began in 1972, the team won the state championship 23 times. The teams were also recognized as the AP National Champions 9 times between 1935 and 1961 (the most in the nation). Since 1891, more than 10.5 million fans have watched the games of this team.
Every Friday night during football season the whole town would show up at the stadium decked in team colors with lots of enthusiasm to cheer on the team to victory. As a student on such a day, the excitement began with a parade downtown at lunchtime led by our marching swing band and cheerleaders. The idea of losing was not an option in anyone’s mind. We went to games at home and away cheering on the team and I saw more than a few games that came down to the final minute or two of the game to determine the winner.
I loved every minute of it! I first learned the game of football as a grade schooler sitting beside my dad for each game. When I was finally able to sit in the student cheering section, it was an electric experience! I knew every cheer and song and most of the plays happening on the field.
The analogy the pastor was talking about was far more significant and one that often seems to get less attention and fanfare in most of our lives than our favorite sports team. Yes, we know Jesus will return and as we see the world unraveling in every corner of the globe we perhaps think of it a bit more often, but is it a truth that spurs us to respond to the time we have differently?
The truth about Friday night football in my town was not just about watching or playing the game. It was also about preparing for the season as well as each game itself. It affected nearly every choice that was made so we would be in the optimal condition to play and win. It was the spirit and the traditions handed down generation after generation that included a certainty about what we believed about the game and ourselves. We knew we were winners, but nothing was taken for granted or left to chance. It was something that everyone felt a part of and prepared for, not just the players on the field. We all got ready.
As I reflect on those exciting fun times over what could seem like a silly game to most, I wonder where I am (where we all are) if we are in the last three minutes of the game before the Lord returns. Am I living each day with the end in mind as Stephen Covey might ask?
So often I have felt the reminder as I read about the story of the wise and foolish virgins Jesus tells us in Matthew 25. The parable clearly speaks of preparation for a sure end that has an unknown time stamped on it.
Maybe we handle the anticipation about the last three minutes of the game differently because there is no specific time stamp we know and because we have heard “soon” for a long time. Perhaps that has dulled our senses and lulled us to sleep. Sure, we think of it when we face the death of someone close to us or hear a diagnosis of our own that suggests our own days are numbered, but what about the big picture? What about the unseen world we are living in the midst of that has an eternal reality stamped on it?
One thing seems certain. It is closer today than yesterday.
Even though we do not know the exact time, J.R.R. Tolkien’s words spoken by Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring reverberate in my heart, mind, and spirit:
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”