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Words: Avis Marguerite Burgeson Christiansen (b. Oct. 11, 1895; d. Jan. 14, 1985)
Music: Merrill Everett Dunlop (b. May 9, 1905; d. June 15, 2002)
Note: Encouraged by her grandmother, Avis began writing poetry at ten years of age. In 1916 she started writing the texts for hymns, something she did in collaboration with many gospel composers, for decades afterward. This gospel song was published in 1937.
A cat has nine lives, so the old saying goes–though I’m not sure who first said that. It may have come down to us all the way from ancient Egypt, where the cat was especially revered. But why nine lives, in particular? Some have speculated that nine is a trinity of trinities (three times three) and thus is supposed to be a lucky number.
Or perhaps the idea may have originated simply from the cat’s great balance, agility, and reflexes, which enable it to survive falls and other dangers. But we all know the saying’s not literally true. Cats do get injured sometimes. And though they may live a surprisingly long time, they have only one life to live, and they all eventually die.
It’s the same for human beings. Some religious groups teach the possibility of reincarnation–a word derived from Latin and meaning, literally, “entering the flesh again.” The idea is that the soul or spirit, after death, begins life in a new body. It may be a human body, or an animal’s, depending, so it’s supposed, on whether the previous life was well lived or not.
But as sincerely as this notion may be clung to by some, it’s simply not true. Almighty God has given each of us but one life to live. After that, we have an appointment with our Maker. The Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). “For we will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again” (II Sam. 14:14).
“[Man’s] days are determined, the number of his months is with You [God]; You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5). “The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:7). Then, each of us must give an account to the Lord.“For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecc. 12:14).
One life, not two or twenty. If my mathematics are correct, a life of 70 years will contain 25,568 days, or 613,632 hours, or 36,817,920 minutes. When we’re young, that may seem to stretch out before us almost forever. But as the years mount up, the limitations of time begin to seem more serious. Another day gone, in a flash. Was it well spent?
C. T. Studd (1860-1931), a missionary to China, famously wrote:
“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past;
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
There are so many things in which we might get involved, during the time allotted to us, so many goals that might be set. Some are worthy. Some are not. But it’s well for us to maintain an eternal perspective when we establish our values and priorities. What will truly “last.”
Studd’s telling Christian axiom seems to have become the inspiration for a gospel song, written around 1936, by Chicago resident Avis Christiansen. The song, entitled Only One Life, ponders the significance of the days and hours God has allotted each of us, and the importance of being good stewards of them.
When we trust Christ as Saviour, we become part of His forever family. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). It is then, in a loving response to what He has done for us, that we determine to serve Him. As the song says:
Only one life to offer–Jesus, my Lord and King;
Only one tongue to praise Thee and of Thy mercies sing;
Only one heart’s devotion–Saviour, O may it be
Consecrated alone to Thy matchless glory,
Yielded fully to Thee.”
Part of living that life will involve reflecting the character of Christ, as the Spirit of God develops the fruit of the Spirit within us (Gal. 5:22-23).
It will also involve a life of witness and service, telling others the good news of forgiveness and eternal life found in Christ. Like Paul, can we say: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16)?
On that theme, the song continues:
Only this hour is mine, Lord–may it be used for Thee;
May ev’ry passing moment count for eternity;
Souls all about are dying, dying in sin and shame;
Help me bring them the message of Calv’ry’s redemption
In Thy glorious name.”
1) What is the most important decision you have made, or action you have taken, today?
2) What things do you plan to be involved in this week that have the prospect of bearing eternal fruit?