“THERE is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven,” said the Teacher who wrote Ecclesiastes. And there is wisdom in that, for he reminds his listeners that there was “a time to be born and a time to die … a time to weep and a time to laugh … a time to keep and a time to throw away … a time to be silent and a time to speak …” (Eccl. 3:1-8).
Life’s journey takes us through different stages and ages, different circumstances and roles. In each of these there is an appropriate way to choose and act. In the big picture of life, there is also a need to change perspectives, life orientations and priorities. The psychologist Carl Jung said that the “adaptations that we make in childhood stop working in our middle age”. We need to find new goals and anchors.
While Ecclesiastes chapter 3 provides a certain wisdom to look at life’s changing seasons, the Bible also provides a parallel perspective (the other side of the coin) that should help us live as disciples of Jesus. There are some things that do not change and we are expected to have unchanging lifelong perspectives and habits that will see us move on in our journey with the Lord.
Let us look at a few examples. Firstly, we are to “pray continuously” (1 Thess. 5:16).
Several Bible translations use the phrase “pray without ceasing” while the NLT says, “Never stop praying”. The point is that we are to pray all the time; there is no time or season that exempts us from praying or when prayer is unnecessary. There are two questions that come to mind.
Why is it so? This is quite easy to answer. Most people would understand that we pray because we are dependent on God. And most people would pray especially, or only when they feel they have no more control over their situations, for example, when they are in serious danger or struck with a deadly disease. They pray when they feel helpless and in need of God’s help,or when they think that a little help from heaven would give success to their attempts to solve their problems.
But such limited understanding of God’s providence does injustice to who God is and how He takes care of us. We read in Scripture that Jesus sustains all things by His powerful word (Heb. 1:3). The idea here is that God does not just create us and leave us to our own devices (a fallacy of thinking attributed to Deists),but that He is intimately involved in our lives in a moment by moment sense.
WHAT happens to us in the next moment is not really in our hands – it is only a delusion we carry in our minds. Without God sustaining us, we cannot see the next minute. God’s grace and mercy are needed not only for eternity but also for the next moment. That is why we must pray without ceasing.
How can we do this? This brings us to another important point – that we pray not just because we are dependent on God, but also because we love God. Prayer is essentially a relationship. We relate to God through prayer. We engage in an ongoing conversation with God, and learn to enjoy His presence. It is in this regard that we pray continuously because our relationship with God should be guarded and not be broken by sin or neglect.
In real life, this means that we must learn to practise the presence of God, walk with Him and talk with Him everywhere. If we forget Him, we can carry symbols to gently remind us of His presence – a Bible, a cross, scripture verses, and the like. We can develop habits of praying every hour, every time we meet someone or begin and end something.
Secondly, we are to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:17). Joy is not dependent on circumstances – happiness is. We feel happy when things go well for us. But joy is something that transcends circumstances because it comes not from favourable circumstances but a living relationship with God. It is to be noted that when Paul wrote Philippians he was in a Roman prison. Here he wrote, “I have learnt to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). Here he thought much about God and Christ, his life journey, the deep things of God and his relationship with Jesus. All this brought him unshakeable joy that no adverse circumstance could take away from him. He realised that “The Lord is near” (Phil. 4:5) and that brought him joy even in a depressing prison. Indeed, we will have constant joy if we seek the Lord’s face always (1 Chr. 16:10-11).
Such a living relationship with Jesus would be characterised by love for Him and obedience to His will (Deut. 11:1). The more we love Him and obey Him, the fuller our joy will be.
Thirdly, we must be prepared to preach and share about Jesus at all times. “Preach the Word, be prepared in season and out of season …” (2 Tim. 4:2). Once when a few of us church leaders visited Nepal to explore mission possibilities, we were taken to a village where a tent had been built.
We were told, to our great surprise because we were unaware of it, that there would be a celebration lasting a few days and that we would be preaching. We had to quickly pray and organise our thoughts and ourselves to preach a few times every day. As a result God brought many into His kingdom.
What is true for preachers is also true for all Christians. Scripture does say:
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15). We must be ready to witness for Jesus any time.
Whatever circumstances you may encounter this year, however your days will turn out, remember that there are some things God expects you to do all the time, in season and out of season. These things have no season because they arise from a living and growing relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, all the time, you can have a praying soul, a joyful heart, and a witnessing voice and life.