The Sacredness of Opportunity
J. R. Miller, 1899
Jesus said, "Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you!"
Sometimes darkness is very welcome. It is welcome to the weary man who can scarcely wait until the sun sets to cease his toil. To him darkness means rest. It folds him in its curtains, away from the noise and strife, and restores his exhausted strength. Darkness is welcome in many a home, for it is the signal for the home gathering of loved ones and the joys of the evening fireside. All day the hearthstone has drawn upon the hearts of the scattered household, and the coming of the night—is the signal for the home gathering.
But it is not a friendly darkness to which our Lord refers. The figure his words suggest is that of a wild beast coming upon the traveler, pursuing him, overtaking him, pouncing upon him, devouring him! Thus it was that Jesus urged his disciples to walk in the light while they had it, to be quick to use the few moments of the day that remained, before the devouring darkness should swoop down upon them!
The lesson is for us. Most of us live as if we had a thousand years to stay here in this world! We loiter in the golden hours of our little days—as if the days were never to end! We do not see how swiftly the sun is whirling toward his setting, while our work is but half done, our task perhaps scarcely begun.
We fritter away days, weeks, months—not noticing how our one little opportunity of living in this world is being worn off, as the sea eats away a crumbling bank until its last shred is gone! We set slight value on time, forgetting that we have only a hand-breadth of it—and then comes eternity!
What did you do yesterday that will brighten and glorify that day forever? What record of blessing in other lives did you give it, to carry to God's judgment? What burden did you lift off another heart? What tear did you wipe away? On what soul did you leave a mark of beauty? Where is your yesterday?
Many of us fail to appreciate the value of 'single days'. "A day is too short a space," we say, "that it cannot make much difference if one, just one, is wasted—or idled away in pleasure!" Yet the days are links in a chain, and if one link is broken—the chain is broken. In God's plan for our life—each little day has its own load of duty, its own record to make. We never know the sacredness of any particular day—what it may have for us amid its treasures.
Its sunshine may be no brighter than that of other days, there may be no peculiar feature in it to mark it as 'special' among a thousand common days, and yet it may be to us a day of destiny. If we fail to receive it as God's gift—we may miss and lose that without which we shall be poorer all our life and in eternity.
How often do we see afterward, that the days which are gone, were bearers of heavenly gifts to us—which we had not the wit to recognize, nor the grace to take? When they have passed beyond recall—then we see what we missed in wasting them. How these lost days shame us—as they turn their reproachful eyes upon us out of the irrevocable past!
"Walk while you have the light—before darkness overtakes you!" There are many illustrations of this coming of darkness, this ending of opportunity. The lesson touches everyone's life. There is the darkness that comes—as season after season of privilege closes.
Here the teaching is especially for the young: Some things God gives often; some only once. The seasons return again and again, and the flowers change with the months—but youth comes twice to none! Youth is the time for preparation. The success of the after life depends upon the diligence of the first years. A wasted youth—is followed by the darkness of misfortune and failure.
Youth is the time to gather knowledge. It is the time, too, to form good habits. It is the time to make good friendships. It is the time to follow Christ. It is the time to train the faculties, for the best work in life. It is the time to prepare for life's business. When youth closes, with its opportunities, leaving one unready for the days of stress, struggle, duty, and responsibility that must come—perilous indeed is the darkness that wraps the life and drags it down!
Many young people are wasteful of time. They fail to realize its value. They appear to have it in such abundance, that they never dream it can end. They do not know that a day lost in golden youth may mean misfortune or failure for them sometime in the future. They do not know that missed lessons, squandered hours, minutes spent in idleness, may cost them the true success of their life, bringing failure or disaster, and may even blight their destiny. Young people should walk earnestly while they have the light, redeeming the time, buying up the opportunity, lest darkness overtake them. They should not make the mistake of imagining they have so much time that they can afford to let days or hours or even minutes be wasted. They cannot afford to lose one golden minute of any day. That may be the very minute of all that day on which their destiny hangs.
Says a thoughtful writer: "One of the illusions—is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour. Write it on your heart—that every day is the best day in the year. No man has leaned anything rightly, until he knows that every day is doomsday." This is very true. We do not know what momentous issues, affecting all our future, are involved in any quietest hour of any common-place day. There is a time for everything—but the time is short, and when it is gone and the thing is not done—it never can be done!
"Never comes the opportunity that passed;
That one moment—was its last!"
"Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you!" While you have your eyes, use them! A young man was told by his physicians, that in six months he would be blind. At once he set out to look upon the most beautiful scenes in nature, and the loveliest works of art in all parts of the world—so that, before his eyes were closed forever, his memory might be stored with visions of beauty to brighten the darkness into which he was surely moving. Use your eyes while you have the light. See as many as possible, of the lovely things God has made. Read the best books you can find, and store your mind with great and noble thoughts. Learn while it is easy to learn. Be a student. Be a worker, too. Fill your days full of intense activities—for it will be only a little while till darkness shall overtake you, when you can work no more. What you do—you must do quickly. What you make of your life—you must make in a few years at the most; for the human span is short, and any day may be your last one!
This lesson is for those who are in life's prime, and for those who are advancing toward old age, as well as for the young. Every day that passes—leaves life's margin a little less for each of us. Our allotment of time is ever shortening. We must work—while the day lasts. We must do good—while our hearts are warm. We must speak the words of life—before our lips grow dumb. We must scatter kindnesses in the world—before our hands grow feeble. We must pour out love to bless the lonely—before our pulses are stilled.
We must not crowd God's work out of our busy days, hoping to have time for it by and by—when leisure comes. Ah! By and by—it will be too late! Those who need us now—will not need us then. The deeds of love which we should do today—we cannot do tomorrow. The sick neighbor who now longs for our warm sympathy and gentle ministry—will not need us when our tasks have been finished and we have leisure time; there will be death-crape on the door then, and there will be no use in our calling with our word of love.
The child needs the father's care, guidance, counsel, and loving patience—NOW! A few moments given each day, would make indelible impressions upon the boy's soul, and bind him fast with chains of gold about the feet of God. But a little later—it may be no use to try to bless his life. He will have passed beyond the period when even a father's hand can mould his life!
Never leave out of your busy days—love's duties to your heart's own, whatever else you may leave out. It were better to miss almost anything else in life—than what affection demands. Work while you have the light; do the things that are most important, most sacred, most vital.
Over the doorway of a certain church, is the inscription: "Only the eternal is important!" There are a great many things it is not worth our while to do. Some of us spend our days in poor trivialities which bless no one, and which will add no lustre to our crown. "Only the eternal is important!"
Therefore "Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you!" Waste no opportunity. Despise no privilege. Squander no moment. There is just time enough in God's plan for you to live your life well—if you spend every moment of it in earnest, faithful duty. One hour lost—will leave a flaw. A life thus lived in unbroken diligence and faithfulness, will have no regrets when the end comes. Its work will be completed. It will not be night that then overtakes it in the mystery which men call death—but day, rather, the morning of eternity!