Seize the Day, Part 3

The entire craze for purpose today raises important questions: What does it say of how we see the meaning of life, and how are we to make the most of it? Os Guinness addresses these questions in his new book, Carpe Diem Redeemed. Read part 3 of 3 below.

Taken from Carpe Diem Redeemed by Os Guinness. ©2019 by Os Guinness. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL, 60515-1426. Image: ©2019 [Jens Bonnke] c/o

This article is part 3 of 3. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

God’s Purpose in Our Generation

The third major requirement for seizing the day and following God’s call in time and history is to seek to serve God’s purpose in our generation. King David’s men were not simply skilled in reading the signs of the times. They “understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). They were not simply pundits, and their knowledge was never for its own sake. What they had come to know through their discernment was to be lived out, and the wiser and more accurate the discernment the more faithful the actions and the lives that flowed from it.

For followers of Jesus, the same thrust is at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10). God’s call is always deeply personal, but it is also always a call to the higher and wider purpose of advancing God’s rule on earth. One glorious expression of this aspect of calling in time is the little, almost throwaway description of King David himself, when the apostle Paul remarked, “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep” (Acts 13:36). There is a surprising tribute there—David served. “Servant leadership” has been reduced to a cliché today, and the contrast with ancient rulers lost. The pyramids and the ziggurats, for instance, were statements in stone, and the top stone stood for the king with the whole weight of the society there to support him. The gods ruled the heavens, the sun ruled the sky, the lions ruled the animal kingdom, and the king ruled his people. But from Moses on, the rulers of Israel were called to be leaders who served. They served both God and their people, and in serving their people, they served God’s purpose in their time.

That brief sentence of tribute to David is packed with meaning and lessons. It refers to a significant task, a specific time, and simple terminus. David, described by God in the same chapter as “a man after my own heart,” served God’s purpose in his own generation and then left the earth, his task done. But together it adds up to a Jewish and Christian description of carpe diem, seizing the day, redeeming the time, and making the most of our lives—people of faith discerning the times and serving as partners with God to fulfill his will for their times and help to restore the world to what it was intended to be.

Many other points from the Bible’s view of time might be considered. For a start, life is a gift, so time is always a matter of stewardship. Especially considering the shortness and fragility of life, both time and money must be spent well. Or again, the Old Testament, for instance, clearly distinguishes between the role of the prophet from the role of the priest in terms of their attitudes to time—prophets being generally concerned with the present or “the future in the present, the end already implicit in the be-ginning,” and priests with the eternal, prophets with the relevant and the spontaneous, priests with the regular and the structured and the ordered.14 Seizing the day is therefore prophetic at heart. Or again, Jesus put an important emphasis on “dailiness.” (“Give us this day our daily bread” [Mt 6:11]; “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” [Mt 6:34 KJV]). Seizing the day is therefore born of a sense of the responsibility of this day’s immediacy and the necessity of the hour and our neighbor’s need.

Or yet again, St. Paul reminds us that we must have no illusions of perfection in either our thinking or our behavior. Try as we should to read the signs of the times well, we still “see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor 13:12 KJV). We are not omnipotent or omniscient, so neither our understanding nor our actions will ever be perfect in this life. “Imperfect” will always be written over our understanding and “Incomplete” over our actions and our lives. Our best reading of the signs of the times is bound to be flawed. Equally, our best actions will be incomplete, so our true legacy will never be clear until we see God face to face and hear the Master’s “Well done” that only he can pronounce.

Until that great day, all our enterprises must be rooted and anchored in humility, remembering that our best judgments and our best efforts will one day be under judgment themselves. But while our days on the earth may be short, our best understanding faulty, and our noblest endeavors often incomplete, we are still to “choose life,” seize the day, redeem the time, and seek to serve God’s purpose in our time. Then the way we die will be the natural expression of the way we have lived, and both living and dying will demonstrate the faith that has inspired us. Then too, whatever the period of history we are called to live in, arduous or easy, we may join in the ancient Jewish prayer from the time of the Maccabees: “Privileged, O Lord, are we to live in this generation.”

Os Guinness (DPhil, Oxford) is a social critic and member of the RZIM speaking team. This article appears in Just Thinking Magazine issue 27.4.

Read part here and part 2 here. Want a copy of Carpe Diem Redeemed? Purchase it here.

14Jonathan Sacks, Ceremony & Celebration (New Milford, CT: Maggid Books, 2017), 215.

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