The Time Given Us
In his epic novel depicting a great struggle between good and evil, J.R. R. Tolkien narrates the following conversation about the evil threat of Sauron.
‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo.
‘So do I, said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'
[ Lord of the Rings, p. 50
Do we not often find ourselves like Frodo in wishing we lived in a different time, under different circumstances? Those who struggled to support their families during the Great Depression surely longed for the "good old days" of economic prosperity. With our current economic situation, how many young people are wishing they could have entered the work force at a different time? It can be depressing to think about the cultural and moral decline that has taken place in this country over the last fifty years or so. Despite the clear teachings of Scripture, fornication, adultery, divorce, and illegitimacy are everywhere (Hebrews 13:4; I Corinthians 6:9-10; Matthew 19:3-9). Like the Gentile world of the first century many Americans have refused to retain God in their knowledge, thus paving the way for the grossest forms of immorality to become accepted (Romans 1:20-32).
Technologically there has never been a better time to live, but there are so many things around us that we wish had not happened in our time. One can hardly leave the house without being bombarded with sensual dress, coarse language, and a general lack of respect for what was once known as common decency. Even among the most devoutly religious today, the truth of God that can set one free from the bondage of sin (John 8:32; 17:17) has been replaced with a subjective standard that encourages people to "serve God" by doing whatever seems appropriate to them. For many, religion is a product of the human mind (cf. I Kings 12:26-33) to be enjoyed on Sundays with little real impact on morals, business ethics, politics, family life, etc.
We could go on and on and include such things as the ever present threat of terrorism, but hopefully the point has been established. Now, what are we to do when we honestly assess the time we live in and the situations we face? Are we to sit and lament, wishing it were a different time and circumstance or realize that we cannot control when we live, but only how we live?
I imagine Elijah would have preferred to live in the days of David rather than the evil time of Ahab, but in the days of Ahab and Jezebel he was a mighty force for good. No devout Jew could have wanted to spend his adult life serving a foreign oppressor, but that was the time and circumstance in which Daniel found himself. Daniel may have wished it was different, but that didn't stop him from faithfully serving God.
It had to have been difficult for Timothy to read the warnings of Paul that departures from the faith were inevitable (I Timothy 4:1-3), perilous times were coming (II Timothy 3:1-5), and the time was nearing when many would lose interest in sound preaching (II Timothy 4:3-4). We cannot know how Timothy felt about the times he would face, but we do know what Paul urged him to do and that was serve God and preach His word in the time that was given him.
The saints at Smyrna lived in a time of poverty and tribulation and had to live with the threats of imprisonment and death, but the words of Jesus were not, "Lament that you live in such a time." Instead, the Lord exhorted and promised, "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).
No doubt there are certain times that are more difficult economically, culturally, politically, morally, and religiously, but we need to accept the fact that the time in which we find ourselves is the time in which we must live and serve our God.
If we live in the days of an Ahab, then let's resolve to be an Elijah. We don't have to agree with every government policy to be an influential Daniel. It is easy to get discouraged about America's general lack of interest in spiritual things, but when faced with a similar challenge Paul exhorted Timothy to "preach the word" (II Timothy 4:1-5). That people do not realize their need for the gospel does not change the fact that they need it. As with the saints of Smyrna, we may see hard times economically and we may face oppression from the forces of evil, but the Lord holds out the same promise to us as He did to them. If we are faithful in this time in which we live, the crown of life will be ours.
Rather than say with Frodo, "I wish it need not have happened in my time," why not say with Mordecai, "Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).