by John Milton
Fly, envious Time, till thou run out thy race, Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,
Whose speed is but the heavy plummet’s pace; And glut thyself with what thy womb devours, Which is no more than what is false and vain, And merely mortal dross;
So little is our loss,
So little is thy gain.
For when as each thing bad thou hast intombed,
And last of all thy greedy self consumed,
Then long Eternity shall greet our bliss
With an individual kiss,
And Joy shall overtake us as a flood;
When every thing that is sincerely good
And perfectly divine,
With truth, and peace, and love, shall ever shine
About the supreme throne
Of Him, t’ whose happy-making sight alone
When once our heav’nly-guided soul shall climb,
Then, all this earthly grossness quit,
Attired with stars, we shall for ever sit,
Triumphing over Death, and Chance, and thee, O Time.
John Milton (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667).
On Time and Prayer
by Kelly Davidson
Each of us conceives of time in a way that is unique to us: Farmers measure time by seasons, teachers by semesters, sprinters by a stopwatch. We use time to frame those activities that consume our immediate attention: jobs, family, church, housework, child care, self care (the latter often last). Rarely do we have enough time, and since we are not God and are thus powerless over time, we use language to give us the illusion of control: We stretch, borrow, steal, even race against time, forgetting that any time we have is a gift from God that is to be turned back to Him.
The best way to turn time back to God is to turn to Him in prayer. Far too often, though, rather than praying or meditating on God’s character, I find myself plotting and planning my way through portions of time that I have not yet been given. I am trying to spend something I do not even have. In these misguided, misspent moments, I remind myself to not be held captive to what Charles E Hummel calls the “tyranny of the urgent,” for as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I am already in eternity, and God has all the time in the world for me.
The English poet John Milton understood the ephemeral nature of time and the boundless nature of God and eternity. In his poem “On Time,” Milton personifies Time —note his capital—and makes it mortal: “Fly envious Time, till thou run out thy race.” Here rapacious Time consumes that which “is false and vain” for Time is finite, earthly and greedy. In contrast, to those who trust in God, the One to whom “our heav’nly- guided soul shall climb,” Eternity is a “Joy [that] shall overtake us as a flood.”
Since our mortal selves will one day be cloaked in immortality, our joyful mission then, is to live fully in the here and now with a Christ-centred urgency, to love without getting tired, to take the gift of time and spend it wisely on those things of eternal value. If God cares about time, and I am not sure that He does for He exists outside of time, He cares that we spend time in intimate communion with Him. Indeed, as The Westminster Shorter Catechism instructs, we are called to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Forever. There is a lot of life in that word. More life than I can imagine. More eternity than I can conceive. This is where prayer comes in to relieve me of my worldly notions of time. In prayer, we can lay time and all its short term possessions at the feet of the One who is Timeless. Through prayer God invites us into life-giving relationship with Him. When we are “sitting in God’s embrace,” to borrow from Brother Lawrence, we discover that the time-centric uncertainty of this world, and the obligations we find so pressing, are merely “mortal dross.”
In our current sinful state, God and Time exist in tension but as Christians, we know that someday time will cease to exist, for God, as Milton reminds us, has triumphed over “Death, and Chance, and thee, O Time.” We are fully liberated.
In this spirit of freedom, let me encourage you in your prayer life: Find time each day— as if Time were hidden—to push aside all your urgencies and immediacies. In prayer, the eternal certainty of Jesus Christ is kept in constant focus. In prayer, you will find a space as wide as the Heavens, as timeless as the stars. For prayer, by its very nature, reaches out from God, up to God and back again from here to eternity. You have time for a rich and full prayer life because you are a child of our Eternal God.
May this prayer, may all prayers, flow freely through the landscape of your life:
Gracious Father, May we ever seek to follow You all the days of our life till we reach that land where You are the light, and night never comes. You are the author and finisher of our faith and we will trust You till the end.
In Jesus name. Amen.
Kelly Davidson is a teacher, lover of literature, disciple of Jesus Christ, life-long learner, and long time friend.