Powdery mist lifts off dark waters as the sun calls out from the lake’s far end, beckoning morning to begin. The translucent clouds obey, heading east then gradually vanishing into the light, having finished their course. I am like these vapors, called to come by the Son, made to live this moment where I am. I might have just one minute left. May I reflect Him and the grace He gives before I am no more!
We have been spending this past month in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in Chalet Shalom, the legacy left our family by Mom and Dad (Dwight and Barbara Slater). The Chalet is on the south shore of Piatt Lake, surrounded by forest. My morning haunt has become the ancient desk in the Pine Room that looks out through evergreens and birches at a stretch of lake bordered by forest on the other side. Most mornings as sunlight begins to edge over the eastern edge of the line of trees, mist rises off the waters. The wind blows it gently toward the sun. And then it slowly disappears.
I’ve been meditating on James 4, and the parallels cannot be missed.
One of our quests in this early retirement phase is to discover what we should plan, what activities we should join at church or in the community, how we should spend our time. James warns, in 4:13, that the danger for believers is to focus on self-interest. His example is making plans to enrich ourselves by focusing on some business that we will accomplish somewhere, next year. Then he says:
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. (Jas. 4:14-16 NIV)
The older we get the more we realize that it is true: we are “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Only our Lord knows what tomorrow holds for us. Planning my activities without relying on his guidance is arrogance! This also requires letting go of control and of my fixation on what I desire. My existence is dependent on the Lord’s will; if it is in his plans, I will “live and do this or that.”
This actually takes the pressure off me and leads me to a place of quiet rest, waiting for him to show me how to live out his plan, moment by moment. It means remaining alert to his directives. He may open the door to certain ministries; he may indicate that it is time to rest after running a marathon, or time to deal with physical infirmities. What is key here is recognition that life will not last forever, and in each moment my responsibility is to be tuned to him.
Verse 17 rounds out this segment with another warning:
If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (Jas. 4:14 NIV)
Ouch! If I see an act of kindness or justice that I should do, but I turn my head away, this is not right. (The word “good” can also be translated “right”, cf. ESV, NAS.) Something I had not realized until studying the book of James more in depth is that when the author talks about the “law” he refers to the “perfect law that gives freedom” (1:25), and that those who truly love God and who will inherit his kingdom (2:5) and life there (1:12) will persevere and keep on doing the key thing he has asked them to do, the right thing:
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”1 you are doing right. (Jas. 2:8 NIV)
James points out that this includes caring for the needy, practicing impartiality, being a peacemaker – the list goes on. So here I am, in this moment. How is the Lord asking me to live out his royal law, doing what is right, right now in this gift of time?
The unpredictability of life’s span was underlined for us this spring when Glenn’s sister, just a few years older than he is, died suddenly during the night. She had traveled from Pennsylvania to Michigan to spend several days with her mom, Elva Boese – the one who just turned 100 this month. Diane was known for her kindness and her affectionate ways of encouraging people, and that week she cared for her mother with those giftings. She expected to leave early Good Friday morning to go home for the holiday weekend, but she woke up in heaven instead of here on earth. Her husband, Pete, now reminds us all frequently to always remember to say, “I love you,” never knowing what may come next. Those words are powerful acts of kindness too.
Jesus told his disciples that if they practice loving their neighbor, as well as loving their God with all that is in them, they are actually keeping the whole law (Mat. 22:22:38-40). Living out those two will prevent breaking the other commandments.
We are here on earth momentarily, but if we do right, we can make a difference in the lives of others. And that is what our loving Lord wants. So today, and tomorrow if it comes, let’s do our best to listen for his prompting and follow through, living this moment the way he wants us to. Working at being more like him.
P.S. The poetry that I journaled over the past 20 years, about becoming sensitive to the Lord’s promptings, was published this year, When He Whispers: Learning to Listen on the Journey. You can find the book on the following marketplaces:
Direct from the publisher, WestBow Press: https://www.westbowpress.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/824658-when-he-whispers
Christian Book Distributors: https://www.christianbook.com/when-whispers-learning-listen-the-journey/linnea-boese/9781664224100