What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14 NIV)

Life on earth is surprisingly brief. We hardly realize how brief it is in the early days, when we long to grow stronger, taller, and, thereby, older, but in the later years of our lives are amazed at how quickly it has all passed. If life were a clock, in our youth the hands encircle the face in slow motion, creeping like snails past its numbers. But in our later years they gain speed until they seem to spin like the blades of an electric fan.

An act of God: God has left this mark upon our race – temporariness – and it is just part of our overall limitedness. Our natural life is marked with boundaries – limitations in knowledge, perspective, imaginations, talent, ability, power, influence, resources, and time. Adam and Eve were originally created with physical bodies, and though sin has shortened the original life spans of people, it is clear that from the beginning human life left to its own resources would die. They would live only as they ate of the tree of life in the Garden (Genesis 2:9,16, 3:22).

Man tended the tree of life, as he did other plants, but he had not created it. He was utterly dependent upon God for any hope of eternal life. Once he was cast out of the Garden he could not recreate this mystical tree. It appears again in scripture at the end of the book in the New Jerusalem, the eternal home of believers, and there it is described not as a single tree, but as a unique species of tree, “yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2).

There is a commonly held thought that our immortality is expressed through the memories of our loved ones, but all are eventually forgotten, most very quickly. Though some are remembered longer, no one has been so well remembered that they lived forever that way. This idea offers no real hope of eternal life, for being remembered is not the same as being alive. Memories are left to the whims of the living to re-interpret, and sometimes to mangle and destroy with no ability of the deceased to defend themselves.

We are completely dependent on God for eternal life, and the only sure promise is through Jesus Christ, that He died for our sins and rose from the grave victorious over death. He offers eternal life to those who repent of their sins and trust in Him. Outside of Him there is no real offer.

James wrote that we are like a mist that only appears for a little while. This is a great illustration, for though a mist, or a fog is a real thing, it is only temporary and when it vanishes we may even wonder if it ever really existed. It goes slowly, vanishing a little at a time, and this the way many of us die. How often have we heard of someone and then say, “I didn’t know they were still living.” They had already begun to vanish and were barely there at all.

The rejuvenating power of God: Yet we also see that God can give surprising strength to us in our old age. Joel wrote that God will pour out His Spirit upon the world, and “Your old men will dream dreams” (Joel 2:28). This is a mark of the Spirit, that he renews us in our old age. If there are limitations in our years, this reality is counter balanced by the surprising power of God. Life is surprisingly brief and God is surprisingly powerful.

Samson was such a man who had wasted his youth, his talents, and his opportunities. Yet in his final years, blinded and chained as he was, God renewed his gifts and strength. He who had been a paradigm of spiritual failure became a paradigm of spiritual renewal.

It is God’s plan that we counter our limitedness through spiritual renewal in Him. Paul wrote: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

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