My family and I returned from a short but very enjoyable vacation this past weekend. We’d had fun, but were glad to be home. Less than twenty-four hours later, however, we received the news that a lady in our church, an active and long-time children’s Sunday School teacher, had been killed in a car accident Sunday evening on her way to worship with her husband. A suspected drunk driver crossed into their lane while speeding and hit them head-on, killing her instantly and injuring her husband.
For the sake of this article, I will call her Kathy. While I did not know her well, I appreciated her intelligent perspectives on world events and her compassion for the kids in our church. She taught all three of our children, had a beautiful spirit and was exceptionally dedicated. She and her son would often bring her guitar into the classroom and play for the kids. At one point, she even composed a song to Psalm 121. After a family in our church performed the song and recorded it during worship, she copied it onto CDs and provided these to the children in her class, many of whom since had memorized the song or nearly so, including my daughter.
As I drove home last night, pondering the news, the reality of her death started to sink in. I moved from the “shock phase” into the realization that she was truly gone from this earth. There’s no question about where she is–she knew her Lord well and is praising Him face to face at this moment! My heart praised Him as well, and then moved from joy to grief again as my thoughts slipped to her husband, daughters and teenage son, left behind for a time to go on without her hand and heart, not to mention all the Sunday School kids. Would her husband, driving during the accident, blame himself? How would her children carry on without her in these pivotal times of their lives? How would my wife and I explain this to our children?
It was at this point the Holy Spirit swiftly took my thoughts in a different direction. As He often does, He “plunked” down into the midst of my ruminations the truth that it could have been me. Or my wife. Not one of us knows when we will die, nor how. I became aware that I tend to live my days as if death is quite distant, barely on the horizon. I suppose this is primarily due to my age; but people of all ages die every day. Understand, this awareness doesn’t spark fear in my mind as much as urgency. Each day is not just a gift from the Lord; it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to follow Christ and give myself to whomever He brings across my path. It’s another opportunity to move beyond talking about trusting in God’s character and word and love for me to living that trust. I believe this is the heart of James’ distinction in James 2:14-26, where he states unequivocally the stunning truth that “faith without works is dead.” Good works born from faith in God prove that faith genuine. With each sunrise on my life, I’ve been given another piece of time to spend. And then I arrived where I suspect God intended to bring me all along: how will I spend the next one?
So many days I’ve wrestled with indecision, sinful lusts, figuring how to get more of what I want. Even a few spent arguing a point I knew was wrong, permitting my flesh to fight to justify its actions. Are these works proving my faith is true? No. All of that just bogs me down, like trying to walk forward with mud up to my knees. But I’m not condemning myself or even berating myself over it, I’m just coming to the point. And here, as I rolled into my driveway, the question bubbled to the top: how many more days will I allow to be squandered wrestling with questions borne of my flesh’s attempts to obtain its desires?
The looming career decision that will impact my time and my family–why is that difficult to make? Because down one path wait prestige, recognition, money, professional relevance and admiration, all goals my dying sinful nature longs for, but they carry the price tag of giving up time with those I say are the most important people in my life. Does my saying they are make it true?
I look again at James: “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (vv. 15-17)
It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Exasperatingly so. I can think my family is second only to God Himself, tell others this is true, even write the same, but only living it means anything. The rest is chaff, dust, garbage. Worthless.