The Touchstone of Opportunity!
Ashton Oxenden, 1882
"Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." Ephesians 5:15-16
To use our time well and wisely, is a matter of the greatest importance — for oh, how quickly is it passing away! We should seize our opportunities while they exist, and 'gather up the fragments which remain, that nothing be lost.'
The value of time — its exceeding preciousness — is beyond measure. Our days and hours hasten by, never to return. They are like water, which, when once spilt, cannot be gathered up again. They are like the rays of the sun, which at the moment may warm and invigorate us, but cannot be laid up for future use. Our lives are very short at best — and on the manner in which they are spent will depend our condition forever.
Who can say then how important is every moment which is given to us? It may be turned to good account — or it may be wasted, or misspent. No wonder then that we are charged, 'Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise' — like travelers on a dangerous road, looking around them on every side, and prepared for any difficulty which may suddenly arise. We should live cautiously and carefully, 'making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.'
It is very important, through life, to seize our opportunities, when they occur. It is so in worldly matters. How many owe their whole success in life to the power of being able to see the golden moment, and catch it before it flies! The difference between success and failure — is often owing to the fact that one grasps his opportunity, and another lets it slip by. An unanswered letter, an appointment broken, a train missed — may for anything we know change the color of our whole existence.
And as we look back, do we not see upon what very trivial things — mere accidents apparently have hinged the most important events of our lives? A situation applied for at once, and gained just at the nick of time — a proposal cordially accepted, and not put aside and neglected — a letter answered without delay — an appointment kept, with trouble and pains perhaps, but still kept. These small things have many a time proved to be the keystone of the arch, on which our success in life has been built.
Promptness and decision are all-important for those who desire to leave their mark in the world. Of course the wisest will sometimes make mistakes. But on the whole, far more harm is done by sluggishness and hesitation — than by haste and decision. The feeble man, who never can make up his mind, who lets chance after chance go by, is always a little too late for everything, and never knows that success is near at hand, until it passes away, and is gone forever. Only for a single moment is the tide at its height, and once turned, it flows back forever; the opportunity is lost.
Thus the prudent Farmer will seize the proper moment to reap his corn, or to cut his hay; and will watch the fluctuations in the market to sell his produce. The wise General will lead on his troops to attack the enemy when off their guard. The Sailor will wait until the storm-signals are lowered, before he puts to sea. The Physician anxiously watches his patient, and at the turn of the fever administers the reviving tonic.
This is 'redeeming the time,' seizing the opportunity as it offers, striking while the iron is hot, acting at the proper time. And so also should we act in matters which concern our souls.
If an opportunity is presented to us of doing some important work, we should at once seize it — or the work will be done by others, or remain altogether undone. A word spoken in season — how good is it! An act done just at the right time, and in the right way — what great results it may accomplish! It may prove to be the saving of a soul, and the rescuing of one who was on the verge of going wrong. 'To everything (says Solomon) there is a season, and a time to every purpose:
a time to weep — and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn — and a time to dance;
a time to reap-and a time to sow;
a time to keep silence — and a time to speak.'
If Moses had attempted to deliver Israel at the wrong moment, he would have failed — but he waited upon God, and He showed him when and how to act.
If Joshua had not struck the city of Jericho at the appointed time — its Walls would not have fallen.
When Paul was at Philippi he went on the Sabbath day to a place where prayer was accustomed to be made, and there he joined the little band of worshipers. They put the sacred volume into his hand, and he expounded it. He seized the opportunity — and the result was the conversion of Lydia, one of his Jewish hearers.
Or, to bring the matter more home to ourselves, if God in His great mercy draws our hearts towards Himself — it is important at once to obey His call; and not to hesitate, lest the working of His grace should cease. A person goes to church. He has gone for years — but today he hears something which comes home to his very heart. Here is God's opportunity. He seems Himself to speak as He never spoke before. That voice may never speak so plainly again. Oh listen when He thus speaks — it may be the means of saving you. Let it pass — and its sound, its power, will soon die out, never to be heard or felt again.
And what shall we say of those who let days, and months, and years pass — without thinking of anything beyond their own ease and enjoyment? Time is to them as a tale that is told, which has no particular interest for them, and is soon forgotten. It is like a vapor, which rises before them — but is speedily swept away, and is gone forever. One day is like another — all equally unprofitable — all gone to waste — nothing done for God or for eternity — a number of precious opportunities, but not one of them improved.
Bear in mind then that we all have our opportunities, if we will look out for them — opportunities of doing good, opportunities of benefitting our fellow-creatures, opportunities of doing some work for God — and for every one of these opportunities we must give an account. If neglected — great will be our loss. If seized — what great things may be done — how much may be accomplished, God may be honored — souls may be saved — our own souls, or the souls of others.
Again, our time is very, very short — and all depends upon the right employment of it. These striking words might once have been seen, written in large letters on the wall of an Italian house: 'A God — a moment — an eternity! A God who sees you — a moment which flees from you — an eternity which awaits you.' And remember that our time is contracting, and becoming shorter, every day.
One of the cruel tortures said to have been invented in some heathen country, was that of a cell, which at the prisoner's first entrance presented an appearance of comfort and ease. By degrees however he observed the dimensions of his chamber beginning to contract, and the fact became more appalling every day. Slowly, but terribly, the sides drew closer, and the unhappy victim was at last crushed to death.
What an emblem does this suggest of the sinner's contracting day of grace! Oh, what would the poor victim in such a cell have given to see the door open? Would he have lingered for a moment, think you? Would he not have seized the opportunity, and escaped for his life?
We have, many of us, done but little in the way of 'redeeming the time.' We have allowed it to pass by unimproved. We have lived too long in Sodom. Oh that we may arise as Lot did, and be gone; and while we linger, may the angels of God lay hold of our hands, and be merciful to us, and bring us forth, and set us without the city; so that we may never look back any more, but may escape to the mountain, and dwell safely upon the Rock of Ages.
If young, redeem the time while it is yours. And all the more so if old, for but a short moment or two remains for you!
Old and young alike, we have not an instant to lose. Let us redeem the time, before the evil days come, when our difficulties will perhaps increase an hundredfold. Let us take the tide at the flood, knowing that perhaps no more tides will come, at least for us; for there are but twelve hours in the day, and our last hour may be very near!
"So teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12