When I was a kid, I saw the mini-series Lonesome Dove, which sparked a cowboy phase in my early imagination. In one scene, the herd of cattle is being driven across a river just after a storm. One young cowboy manages to get thrown off his horse into a tangled mess of water moccasins. With dozens of bites, he succumbs to the effects of the poison quickly and dies.
Gus, one of the heroes of the storyline, says just a few words as they lay his body to rest in the ground, and his words have been stuck in my head for a couple of decades:
Life is short. Shorter for some than others.
And that brief funeral sermon says a mouthful. It echoes what Peter talked about in his second letter:
Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life?
~ 2 Peter 3:11 MSG
Because life is short for all of us – shorter for some of us than others – it’s vital that we focus on what matters most. And what matters most is growing into alignment with the purposes of God for your life. It’s holiness.
Some of us grew up with the impression that holiness is about performance. That it’s about obedience to rules, some clearly stated in scripture and others invented by our particular religious tradition. But that’s not the essence of holiness at all.
To be holy is to be set apart for God. There is a sense in which every believer is already holy, by position. We are, upon our rebirth, consecrated and set apart for the purposes of God. But there is also a practical side to holiness in which we live up into the position for which we were reborn.
Living a holy life is a matter of asking the question, every day, How can I be closer to God, more like Jesus, and more filled with the Holy Spirit today?
Achieving success, wealth, power, position, and prestige are all pursuits that fade in value as life and history wind down toward an inevitable close. But holiness is a submission to God’s greater work in preparing us for an eternity of knowing and enjoying him.
Life is short for all of us. It’s shorter for some of us than others, and the length of our lives isn’t ours to determine. What we do get to determine every single day is what will matter most to us.
And what matters more than anything is coming into alignment with the will and purposes and likeness of our good, loving, holy God.