How We Spend Our Days
Recently, in a novel I was reading, I found this quote: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” The author didn’t identify the source. I have no idea who said it first. I only know it makes sense. We use the phrase “living one day at a time,” and, of course, that is how we must live. Our lives are an accumulation of days. Each day adds to previous days to become, eventually, the sum total of our lives. We may not have much control of our lives, but we certainly have some control over each day.
Luke sets the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry in a specific time and place. He wants us to know the political and religious leaders, the year, and the region where John started preaching. We can check the historical and geographical records and pinpoint where John stood—not, perhaps, as well as a GPS might, but close enough for Luke’s purposes, and for ours. We know where and how and with whom John was spending his days.
John begins his “sermon” by quoting Isaiah 40:3-5. He wanted to make a connection with Judea’s history, both political and religious. He also wanted to set the stage for the Messiah, as Isaiah had set the stage for the exiles returning from Babylon. John knew this message would resonate with the people. They were waiting for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, and these familiar words struck a responsive chord within them.
His message had the desired effect. People flocked to hear him and stayed to be baptized. He wasn’t the gentlest of preachers. Few of us who stand in the pulpit today would dare to call our congregations a “brood of vipers” and take them to task for citing their religious heritage as their surety of salvation. Yet the people responded. They knew they were hearing the words they needed. Here was someone who spoke truth—unwelcome truth to power, and welcome truth to those who had no power.
John didn’t just call them to repentance and baptism. When they asked how they should live, he said, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” Don’t just claim to be religious, do something to prove it. “You want specifics?” he might have said. “Share what you have—your clothing, your food—with those who have none. Give your extra coats to those coat drives. Clean out your closets. Take those garments you no longer wear or need to Goodwill or The Salvation Army. Go through the kitchen and give that extra food to the food pantries—not the pickled mushrooms and candied yams sitting at the back of the shelves, but real, edible food—the kind you’d serve your own families. Furthermore, don’t cheat anyone. Be fair in your business dealings. Be as honest to others as you want them to be with you.”
John didn’t waste words, did he? He sounds like a man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly—someone who isn’t afraid to say what he means. Perhaps he realized, as we should, that he stood in graver danger if he didn’t speak the word he’d been given than if he kept silent, or sugar-coated his message. We know he paid for his directness. If we read further in this chapter we see that Herod soon had him arrested. Later, Herod had him put to death.
John’s days, short as they were, added up to quite a life. Through his preaching he did indeed prepare the way for the Messiah to come. Jesus was able to build on the foundation John laid. John spent his days—his life—in service to his Lord.
How are we spending our days?