Passing time pleasantly. I love to pass time pleasantly. I would guess that all of us do. It seems to be our default mode of existence. To work; to be with family; to enjoy hobbies; to relax in our favorite chair in front of the T.V. All good, pleasant things--but in themselves they cannot satisfy a heart made for God, nor do they bring delight to the heart of our God.
Consider the life of Brownlow North, an Englishman born in January of 1810, who was a son of privilege, raised in a family of status and wealth. Though he was known as an enjoyable companion and “good-natured,” he spent the first four decades of his life on this earth in what he would later call “empty living.”
North’s life was empty because it was consumed by his comfort. He loved to fish, hunt and travel; he married and had children, but rarely, if ever, did he consider God.
All of this changed in 1854 when after having a pleasant dinner, North sat down in his billiard room to enjoy a cigar and a game of cards. All at once he was struck by severe abdominal pains—so severe that he was sure that he was about to die. North later recounted, “My first thought then was, Now what will my forty-four years of following the devices of my own heart profit me? In a few minutes I shall be in hell.” In later years he was to say, “I believe it was a turning point with me. I believe that if I had at that time resisted the Holy Spirit it would have been once too often.” The next day he told his friends that he had given his life to Christ. The whole direction of his life changed dramatically.
The last twenty years of North’s life were not wasted as the first forty were. In his last two decades, North humbly sought to serve God and any who had need. Whether he was with a noble or a “nobody,” he would share with them the Good News of a Savior who could forgive their sins and give them new life. North was mightily used by God in a revival that swept through Northern Ireland and other parts of Great Britain in 1859, so that many today consider him to be the greatest evangelist of 19th century Scotland.
So what does Brownlow North have to teach us as the New Year begins? Let me mention two lessons. First, Jesus can change and use anyone—even you and me. The love of Jesus is an amazing thing. It really does bring about newness and usefulness in any life. Who does not long for real change, and who of us does not yearn to be a blessing to others? Jesus did this in the life of Brownlow North; He can do it in yours. Turn to Him. Trust Him. He really is a mighty Savior.
Second, always be aware of the danger of just passing time pleasantly. “For forty-four years of my life," North tells us, "my object was to pass time pleasantly; so long as the day was spent agreeably I was satisfied.” Yet North came to see there was greater and lasting pleasure to be found in knowing and serving his Savior. In his last two decades, he often preached and wrote about these truths using Jesus’ parable of “the Rich Man and Lazurus” (Luke 16:19-31) as his text.
It is so easy to waste our lives and days passing time pleasantly. But we live in a fallen world. Hell is real. People are lost and hurting. The needs are great. God calls His people to love and serve and give in the strength He supplies. Will we just pass time pleasantly this new year? God has made us for greater things, for grander pursuits, for eternal pleasures.