“All men are like grass, and all their glory like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40: 6, 8
A couple of days ago I was walking our dog, Mr. Hollywood, and enjoying the scenery. The grass was turning a rich green, purple violets were springing up all around, and forsythia bushes burst forth with bright yellow blossoms, while trees all over the neighborhood were decked in pink and white. Our own front yard had over a hundred jonquils opening to greet us and herald the spring. I smiled to think that one of my favorite times of the year had arrived, with all its colors and fragrances.
The next day, however, a blanket of white had buried it all. This would have been a beautiful sight a few months ago, as it was one of those snowfalls that coated every twig on every tree and reminded one of the tranquil scenes on a Christmas card. But beneath that beauty I knew lay a smothered spring. Flowers crushed beneath the weight of a heavy snow would probably have to wait until next year to display their colors again. Even sadder were the trees whose blossoms had opened too early, catching the weight of every flake. Now twigs, branches, and whole limbs lay strewn across lawns and sidewalks, their blossoms wilted, frost-bitten, and shattered. The branches that somehow hung onto the trees will likely bloom again next year, but those on the ground would soon be collected and burned.
Of course, if spring had progressed as it usually does, sooner or later the flowers and blossoms would have wilted and shattered, anyway. That wouldn’t have surprised me, although it always brings with it a kind of wistful awareness of the passing of time. But yesterday was a freakish blast from a winter that seemingly refused to be forgotten or dismissed, leaving a wake of destruction.
So sudden. So sad. But I had to ponder the times when life itself is like that, and the tragedy of having a sudden storm destroy the beautiful, shatter dreams, and crush the innocent. Although many of us will live to be a ripe old age, there are no guarantees. We can take care of our health the best we can, but ultimately our control is limited.
I was walking to the gym with my husband, who is not fond of working out and only participates because he’d like to stay healthy and live a little longer. As we stepped carefully over the ice and slush on the sidewalk, he grumbled, “This had better be good for me, that’s all can say. If I end up getting hit by a truck, I’m gonna be [angry].”
But that is a possibility, isn’t it? As the bumper sticker says, “Eat right. Exercise regularly. Die anyway.” The question isn’t, Will it happen? but How and when? It could be like a regular spring, our youth and beauty fading with each passing year until we are hardly recognizable. (I’m not at all sure that’s preferable.) Or it could end suddenly, like the storm that destroyed the beauty of spring in a single night.
The all-important question is, Are we ready? The disadvantage of a sudden, unannounced death is that if preparation hasn’t been made, there is no time to prepare when the heart attack, the fire, or the accident occurs. On the other hand, the disadvantage of a slow demise is the tendency to take tomorrow for granted, because there have been so many “tomorrows.” So when the end comes, it could still take us by surprise, and we could still be found woefully unprepared.
The crucial thing to realize is that while death comes to us all, there are two very different destinies that we need to be thinking about now.
As the cleanup from the storm takes place, the branches that didn’t stay connected to the trees will be burned, but the branches that held on will live and bloom again next year. In the same way, whether or not we’re hanging onto Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, is what will determine how we will spend eternity – whether seated with Christ as His Bride “beautifully dressed for her husband,” (Revelation 21: 2) or in “the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13: 42) Jesus said, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15: 6)
Whether you are looking forward to the springtime of life and anticipating a bright future, or enjoying the prime of life now, or picking up the pieces after the storm and wondering if you have a future, the key to eternal life is the same for us all:
Abide in Jesus.
Prayer: Father, in spite of Your many wake-up calls, we can still be so oblivious to eternity as we live our daily lives in the present. Open our eyes to the everlasting consequences of our choices, even our little moment-by-moment decisions, and help us in everything to abide in You. Lord, as we reach for You, take our hands and walk us through this life, and on into the next. In Jesus’ name, Amen.