There is something terribly serious about a countdown. Counting down means that there is an important event anticipated. And a countdown, by definition, means that there is a limited amount of time before that event happens.
Our lives are full of countdowns. The media begins counting down the months and days before an election; our microwaves count the minutes and seconds until our food is cooked; our snooze alarms count the minutes while we pretend to grab just a little more sleep. We especially love to count down the days before a graduation or a wedding or a vacation.
When our kids were little, we used to countdown from ten to let them know that there were consequences if they didn’t obey by the time we hit zero. They never got serious until we reached two or one. It’s funny how those last few numbers got louder and slower, since as parents we hated the consequence part worse than the kids!
I spent part of my youth living in Huntsville, Alabama. My family would love to watch the testing of the giant rocket boosters that launched our astronauts to the moon. To me, a rocket launch is the ultimate example of a countdown. When the count reaches zero, someone is going to be headed heavenward in a glorious blast of fire, smoke and noise. Once the launch begins, there is no turning back. Everyone involved has to be ready to go.
What if each of us thought of our lives as preparation for a rocket launch into heaven? We would hopefully plan for the event and take it seriously. We would work hard to be ready for when the final launch day arrived. We might even be both excited and a little frightened.
Unfortunately, the most important countdown for each of us occurs without our knowing how many days we have left. But that’s how God designed our lives.
King David wrote, “LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered–how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4).
Who wouldn’t get suddenly serious about living on purpose if we discovered how few days we had left before ‘launch day’? I’ll cherish the blessing of knowing that Elijah lived his last few months with such intensity that he was ready indeed to meet the Lord. He told Melanie and me that he felt a tremendous urgency to reach people for God, and he needed to prioritize those efforts. He would sometimes give up sleep in order to spend time studying scripture, praying and talking to God. None of us knew his days were limited, but we are thrilled that he lived as though they were.
It’s a false security to think that we have an endless number of days left to count down. To make it worse, we never get those days back. And the days that are counted seem to pass in the blink of an eye.
“You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” (Psalm 39:5).
From now on I’ll be counting down on purpose.
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