Ash Wednesday is a suitable time for God’s people to think hard thoughts about our past, future, and present.
Our human past goes way back to when the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 3:14).
After Adam and Eve sinned God told them they would die, saying “to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19).
These things apply to us. And, knowing them, with an added glimpse of eternity helps clarify our present.
A professor of mine at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Haddon Robinson, tells a story of William Gladstone. Here is my recollection.
William Gladstone was one of the five or six great prime ministers that England has ever had. He was also a devoted Christian. One day a young man came to Mr. Gladstone to discuss his future. He was a son of a friend.
Gladstone asked the boy what he planned to do. The youngster said he planned to go off to one of the universities of Oxford or Cambridge to get a good education.
And Gladstone said, “I think that’s a good idea. You need a good education. Well, what do you plan to do when you graduate?”
The young man said, “Well, sir, I think what I will have to do is get a job in one of the law firms in London because I know you need that kind of practical experience as well as the academic training.”
And Gladstone said, “Well, that’s good. What will you do after you’ve been at the law firm?”
And the young man said, “The reason I came to talk to you, sir, is because I thought if I did well in law that maybe one day I could stand for a seat in the parliament and have some hand on the future of England.”
Gladstone said, “I appreciate that. We need people in political life who are here by choice and goals. That’s good. So, you get elected to the parliament, what then?”
“Ha, well?” the boy said. “Well, sir, I thought if I did well, it would be possible that one day my party might choose me to sit where you sit and I could be a prime minister of Great Britain and thus have a way of touching the entire world.”
“Ha, ha,” Gladstone said. “Well, somebody will be here. And it might well be you. But suppose you get here, what would you do then?”
And he said, “Well, sir, I’m keeping a series of journals, and I thought that maybe in years to come I could write my memoirs and help young people like myself to learn what I have learned along the way.”
And Gladstone said, “I think that’s a good idea. Keeping a journal is a way to sort of keep track of your life. And so you write your memoirs, what then?”
The boy said, “Hm? I suppose, I suppose it will come time for me to, uh, to die.”
And Gladstone said, “Yes, whatever else you plan in life, I can pretty well assure you that will happen. What then?”
“Oh,” the boy said, “well, I don’t know sir. I’ve been so busy, you know, putting my life together, and my life plan that I really haven’t had much time for religious things.”
William Gladstone got up and said, “You know, young man, I just have one piece of advice for you. You need to go home and really shut yourself into your room, and take out your bible and stay there until you’ve thought life through, to its very end.”
This Lent remember that only the woman or man who’s done that, only the person who has had a glimpse of eternity, only the man or woman who has taken a truly long range view of life is able to have the right perspective of time.
Should the Lord Jesus tarry, the day is fast approaching when you will become dust. Will you, then, do you suppose, be able to redo a single thing, revisit any plan, choose a new direction, make one more decision? When you lie there as a pile of dust will you be able to get right with God? Get right with anyone? When all your elements rest in that pile will you be able to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps? Will you be able to resurrect yourself?
Most assuredly you will lie in desperate need of a Savior named Jesus. Only he can pick up your dust and breathe into it new life.
God invites you to think on these things. God invites us to observe a Holy Lent.