Time: The Subtle Thief
In December 1632, John Milton, the English poet and author of Paradise Lost, penned these words:
How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stol’n on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew’th.
Milton was learning early in life that time is short and opportunities quickly disappear. He was, however, also expressing a sobering reality that God Himself would have us grasp if we are to make the most of our time in this world.
The Bible has a great deal to teach us about time. From the very outset, in the creation account, we discover (though we easily overlook) that God not only created the stuff of matter, but He also created time as the sphere in which it would exist. He created day and night. He established the cycle of days that would form a week, the seasons, and the years. He also built a definite rhythm into the flow of time. Every week, on the day He designated, He says to the entire created order, “This is mine!” (see Gen. 2:2–3). He built this rhythm into the fabric of creation for the good of humanity, and it would in turn lead to the good of everything He had made.
God also makes it clear in His Word that our time in this world is short. Moses, writing as a very old man and looking back on how fast his years have passed, says, “They are soon gone, and we fly away” (Ps. 90:10). How rightly, then, he prays that God would “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). The reality of death and ultimate accountability to God focused his attention on the brevity of life. Whether our days are many or few in this life, the prospect of the day we meet God face-to-face should color them all.
Time is also precious. Indeed, too often we realize just how precious it is only when it is too late. Many people approach the end of life’s journey haunted by the regrets of “if only.” Opportunities are missed or foolishly squandered. Hence Paul’s exhortation, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise making the best use of time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15–16).
It is not without significance that many of our Christian forebears were deeply conscious of this axiom for living. Some marked it, like Jonathan Edwards, by drawing up resolutions for how they would use their time and live their lives for God. Others kept diaries as a way of monitoring what they had done with this precious gift that so easily slips through our fingers.
Our generation, perhaps like none before it, needs to learn that time is a most precious, God-given commodity for us to invest. If we do this wisely, it will not only pay dividends for our families and ourselves, but it will do so ultimately for the church and for God’s own glory.