Can you make your life longer?
It's a familiar passage of Scripture, the Sermon on the Mount. And parts of the Sermon on the Mount are more famous than others. You'll likely recall the part about not being anxious about life, what you'll eat, or what you'll wear. Lilies of the field, and birds of the air, right?
But how often have you stopped, cold still, at Matthew 6:27? I don't know that I ever have. Yesterday, however, when in his sermon, my pastor pointed out that none of us can add a second of life to our time here on this planet, I sat bold upright:
"And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" (ESV)
Because it's true, isn't it? God ordained when we were born. And before we were born, God knew when, in His sovereignty, He would call us home to be with Him.
...Or not - which is really the only scary part about this. If you don't have a personal relationship with God's Son, Jesus Christ, knowing there's a celestial clock somewhere in Heaven clicking down the seconds of your heretofore unrepentant life should send chills up your spine. As a reformed believer, I believe God doesn't lose any of His own, which means that if that celestial clock's alarm goes off on your life, and you're not saved, God's sovereignty still works. But that doesn't mean the moment of salvation can't come after too much of one's life has been wasted on selfish pursuits. Even if God draws you to Himself in the final days of your life on this planet, that doesn't mean He'll give you more time to do something else for Him while you're here. Suffice it to say that it's in your best interests to surrender your life to Him sooner, rather than later. Waiting won't lengthen your life.
It's so profound, it bears repeating: nobody can lengthen their life. According to Psalm 139:6, all the days God ordained for us were known by Him before one of them came to be. So once we arrive, pop out of the womb, work our way up through high school, and on into college - if we even live that long - there's nothing we can do, no education we can pursue, no life choices to make, that will add one second to the time God, in His sovereignty, has ordained for you and me.
And don't think because I say it so bluntly means that I appreciate the gravity of such truth. Frankly, it strikes me as bizarre. How counter-cultural to believe that all the good things we do to our bodies won't lengthen our life, and all the bad things won't shorten it.
Think about it: Jim Fixx, the jogging guru, died of a heart attack immediately after finishing his daily run in 1984. In 2010, a woman in Britain died at age 102 after smoking since she was 17.
Does this mean, then, we can treat our bodies as though our physical self doesn't matter? Can we eat, drink, and sit our way through life since our health means nothing to our longevity? Of course not!
Laziness is a sin. So are gluttony and being drunk. Keep in mind: our body is still the temple of the Holy Spirit for as long as we're here. Good health habits may not extend our lives past God's original expiry date, but they can certainly make the days we have more productive. Treating our bodies right makes us feel better, gives us more energy, and keeps us more healthy, all so we can glorify Him more effectively with the talents and abilities He's given us.
Does this mean we shouldn't take death-defying risks? Should we bungee-jump every day, skydive every other day, play Russian Roulette every weekend, or attend the Democratic National Convention this year with one of those "Miss Me Yet?" t-shirts with that goofy shot of a smirking George W. waving his hand? (OK, that last one is a complete joke).
Wisdom, maturity, self-control, a healthy respect for death, and common sense are all Biblical qualities. Leading a risk-averse life might not lengthen your days, but might your personal testimony of faith be stronger by abiding in God's purposes for satisfaction instead of ruthlessly pushing the daredevil envelope? How much of a testimony do you set by taking too many foolhardy risks? If you jump off of a bridge with nothing but a glorified rubber band keeping you from plummeting to certain death, whether you survive or die says little about your own ability to cheat death, and more about God's sovereignty. So what's the use? Some personal thrills? If that's what it takes to get your juices going, you may not sinning, but I would question whether you're putting your thirst for adventure to good use.
Granted, in the specific context of Matthew 6:27, it's anxiety that doesn't add any more days to our lives. In fact, science tells us that anxiety is bad for the heart. Although the irony of this is that anxiety won't cost us days of life in penalties, either, will it? We'll just be that much more miserable in life, and display that much less faith in God's sovereignty.
After all, anxiety poses one of the strongest suppressive agents to our faith, doesn't it? From worrying about how things will look to other people, to whether or not we'll experience rejection, to even fearing for our lives. Not that prudence and discernment aren't also Biblical qualities, but sometimes, don't we forget that we're supposed to be "anxious for nothing?" As we contemplate ways to serve God, how often do we relish the reality that there's nothing we can do that will cost us our life prematurely? Or give us a few bonus years?
None of us can add any time to our lives. They're ready. Their timeframe is set. So why don't we go and live them?
For His glory, and through His sovereignty, we've been given all the time we need.