I've always been puzzled by the OT story of King Hezekiah who, when told he would soon die, turned his face to the wall and pleaded with God to be allowed to live. Not only was his wish granted, but, as a sign, time went backwards, or, to be more accurate, the sun moved back 'ten steps' (Isaiah 38: 1 - 8). As many years have passed since I learned this story as a child, the puzzlement has given way more to annoynace - lots of people are told they are going die, lots of people kow they will die, many people pray not to die, and they still die. Why is Hezekiah granted a fifteen year extension (though still knowing he will die, and I guess as the years draw on a knowledge that his time is running out) and other people are not? Already this year I've been connected, to some degree, with five families where a loved one has died, to say nothing of those living with terminal diagnoses or life-limiting conditions. Many of these are incredibly devout people of faith; most would have loved, or would love, the offer of an extra fifteen years... but the sun does not even stop, let alone move backwards in the sky.
For eight and a half years now, I have winced when I hear someone utter the phrase 'time to kill,' all too aware that there are countless people who would give anything for that hour, that half day. Last Friday in New Zealand, fifty people who went to pray had their reasonably expected time stolen from them, it was literally killed.
All time - and here I agree with the book's author - is a gift. If there is a gap between meetings, an unexpected delay on a journey, it is a gift, time to be savoured, enjoyed, experienced. It is no less a gift than the unexpected free time when a long-planned meeting is cancelled as unnecessary, or than the chosen holiday or retreat where we turn off computers, phones and simply be.
Clocks are useful, they help us order our lives, but we need to be wary lest we allow them to tyranise us.
Time is precious, it cannot be bought or sold, but it can be squandered or denied.
God beyond time, the story of Hezekiah troubles me. It seems so unfair that his wish was granted when countless others are not. It seems bizarre that he was granted a sign when most of us have to rely on faith alone. I don't understand this story, but I do understand how precious time is, the time you permit me to enjoy, and that you gift to others. Help me to value that gift wisely and well, and to emply my time so that, longer or shorter, it brings glory to you. Amen.