Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Understanding the Times

Out of Africa (1)
by Derek Thomas

For the first time in thirty years I spent New Year’s Eve apart from my wife. No, it’s not what you may think! I happen to be several thousand miles away, and in another continent. Africa!

To be honest, I can’t even work out the time difference between us: is it seven hours (as I think) or is it ten hours (as my wife’s e-mail seems to think). I’m certain of my accuracy but thirty years of marriage has taught me caution when correcting my “nearest and dearest.” So I’ve allowed the allusion of ten hours to pass.

It makes little difference in the end since, either way, I won’t be able to look at the stars at the same time and think, “She’s looking at these stars too.” For one thing we’re in different hemispheres. And for another, whether it is seven or ten hours, the stars won’t be out for her when they are out for me! Worse: by some trickery of science, I will have experienced the New Year before she does, even though my body will not have theoretically fulfilled a full year’s worth of aging! I will have gained 7 hours by this trip (or is that ten?). Is this how death is tricked?

Truth is, we’ve never been that sentimental about the New Year anyway. Only the Scottish (with their Hogmany) and New Yorkers (who get it three hours before Californians) seem to relish staying up late to “see in the New Year.” Why get sentimental over the passing of time in this way? Do all the bad things cancel out at the stroke of midnight and a brand new opportunity open? Hardly! Will a chorus or two of “Old Lang Syne” really make a difference to the way I live my life in the coming year? Of course not! Why especially do we feel regret over unaccomplished promises this evening? Why single this moment to mention these regrets and make promises about the future?

Regrets I have about this past year. Plenty of them. Too little prayer. Too much time wasted on entertainment. Too little writing. Too little spiritual growth. Too little time with family. The list is always endless. I had wanted to accomplish so much more in this past year, but the New Year has arrived. So in the spirit of Jonathan Edwards, “I resolve…”

I resolve to spend less time writing e-mail (who invented this unforgiving monster?). I’ve been gone two days and already there are 73 e-mails waiting for my attention.

I resolve to know my Bible better than I know the details of last week’s sports result (that’s easy! I’m not that keen on sports).

I resolve to be less critical (that’s not easy!).

I resolve to …

Well, the list is mine and not unlike Edwards, not for public consumption.

But here’s one I will share.

“Teach me to number my days that I may get a heart of wisdom” (Psa 90:12).

Yes, I make that resolution this New Year’s Eve in South Africa, thousands of miles away from those whom I love, but as near to my Savior as any other part of the world.

Teach me that time is short, a commodity not to be wasted.

Teach me to look for that city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Teach me to make short accounts of things here and live for that which is to come?

Give me the spirit of Jim Elliot: to live so as to lose what I cannot keep and gain what I cannot lose.

Lord, make me wise!

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