Only a Heartbeat Away

“LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4)

I once heard about a Christian mother-to-be who was confronted with devastating news from her obstetrician.  Early in her pregnancy the physician was unable to detect a fetal heartbeat, concluding that a miscarriage had occurred. When the young woman told the father about the situation – he became very upset, earnestly praying that the Lord would save his unborn child. When the couple arrived for the scheduled follow-up procedure, the father insisted that the doctor try just one more time to identify a heartbeat. The doctor counseled the couple that he was highly doubtful and that doing so could potentially cause them senseless grief.  But the father remained adamant, and the doctor conceded.  Surprisingly, a fetal heartbeat was detected.  At the end of what would become a full-term pregnancy, a healthy son was born to the couple. Whether at the beginning or end of our earthly existence, the detection of a heartbeat provides the most basic determination of life as we know it.

Early in our nation’s history, Americans expected little from their vice presidents. Therefore, newly elected Vice President John Tyler slipped away unnoticed to his home in Williamsburg, Virginia shortly after the inauguration of President William Henry Harrison. On April 5, 1841, Tyler was sleeping soundly when Secretary of State Daniel Webster’s son Fletcher galloped into Tyler’s front yard at the crack of dawn and hammered on the front door. He delivered the most shocking news—President William Henry Harrison had died.  Because Tyler had been selected only as a means to help balance the ticket, he had harbored no expectations for serving actively in Harrison’s administration. Yet Tyler understood instantly the new role thrust upon him resulting from Harrison’s death, and he hurried immediately to Washington. John Tyler suddenly became the tenth President of the United States, succeeding Harrison who had served for only 31 days. Forcing the nation to confront the death of a president for the very first time, it gave meaning to the phrase that a Vice-President is only a ‘heartbeat away’ from the Presidency.

The reality is that our life on earth is short, and we are reminded of this throughout God’s Word. Moses warned of the curse of disobedience when he stated: “Your life will constantly hang in the balance. You will live night and day in fear, unsure if you will survive” (Deuteronomy 28:66). As David feared the pursuit of King Saul, he told his friend Jonathan, “Yet as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3). Someone once said: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right. Indeed, no one knows the amount of time we have before we die, the amount of time we have to spend with our family, or the amount of time we have to repent and come to the Lord.  Most people think that they will grow old before they die.  However, we all die in our own due time. It is pertinent, therefore that we give thanks to the Lord for each new day and live it for Him. Jesus said: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:25).

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we’re only too aware of how fragile life is. Whether our life ends by accident, by force, by illness, or by natural causes – one of these days will indeed be our last, and it is impossible to avoid.  This mortality that we face should cause us to be “awake and sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6) in the way we spend our time in the things we say and do.  As Christians, we need to make every minute count before our earthly journey is finished.  Just imagine how effective Christians could be if they started to view each day as their last.  Imagine the impact their lives would have because of the conscious choice to prioritize every minute to focus beyond their own selfish and aimless pursuits. As we strive to be as effective as possible in our short lives, perhaps it would be an insightful experience for every believer to ask the question: “If this was the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”  Be careful with your answer . . . it might be only a heartbeat away.

REFLECTION: Are you living each day as if it was your last?  What do you think you would do differently to what might simply be a usual day if you knew for sure that it was? In consideration of the fact that life as we know it is only a heartbeat away, how does this help you to prepare for eternity?

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