As the year ends and a New Year begins, we often take time to reflect on our life: Am I the person I want to be, or do I need to make some changes? What about my journey with Jesus? Am I connected with him like I say I want to be, or are some adjustments needed so that I am intentional about my spiritual life and service on his behalf?
Elisha Mitchell was a professor of math, natural philosophy, and geology at the University of North Carolina from 1818-1857. He also served at various times as the university’s accountant and president when needed. Because he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, he also led chapel services there. The halted hands of Mitchell’s pocket watch are on display in the library archives at the University of North Carolina, and they tell a tragic tale. They mark the exact moment (8:19 and 56 seconds) the watch’s owner slipped and fell to his death at a waterfall in the Appalachian Mountains on the morning of June 27, 1857.
Mitchell completed a geographical survey of North Carolina in 1828 and observed a peak in the Black Mountains he believed to be higher than North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain, at that time thought to be the highest in the region. In 1835, he first measured the height of Black Dome, and through subsequent measurements in 1838 and 1844, Mitchell proved it was higher than New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, establishing the peak as the highest above sea level in the Eastern US. Mitchell returned to the mountain to verify his earlier measurements when he had been challenged by state senator Thomas Clingman, a former student of Mitchell's, who thought that a different mountain was taller than Black Dome. Clingman’s contender for tallest mountain, however, was 41 feet shorter than Mitchell’s Black Dome. Tragically, Mitchell fell to his death as he was verifying his claim about the mountain which now bears his name, Mount Mitchell. It is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. His grave is located at the mountain’s summit, not far from where he fell.
As I think about Mitchell’s story and my own mortality, I must face the fact that each of us has only a limited amount of time, and that time passes by so quickly. In Matthew 24:42-44 Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. At the time, Jesus was speaking to his disciples on the Mount of Olives. In Matthew 24:36-44, Jesus is encouraging and warning them to live with intentionality, because it is easy to slip into a lifestyle that merely lives day to day with no thought for where one’s life is headed. We think we have all kinds of time to get things done, and then we realize that half our life is over, and we haven’t become or done what we had intended. Or we thought that we would have so much time to get closer to God than we really are, only to find ourselves physically older but spiritually immature. Nobody knows the moment when Jesus will return to this world to usher in eternity and establish his kingdom forever. And, so, Jesus tells us to keep watch.
Tick-tock, tick-tock. Life marches on, but for how long? Are you intentional about your journey and relationship with the Lord, or do other distractions continually push him off to the side? Is your family—your children and loved ones—growing to love the Lord and his church with increasing allegiance and commitment? Or are they learning that God and the church are entities you can take or leave depending on what else is going on at the time? You can only ignore God for so long before the reality of his power and might, love and mercy, show up in your life or pass you by.
Happy New Year!