A famous poet of the Harlem Renaissance (1920’s-1930’s) named Langston Hughes wrote about the hardships living as an African American under the Jim Crow laws. While African Americans had been free from slavery for decades, segregation stood in the way of equality. Hughes was often heralded as a spokesperson for the culture through his inspiring works of literature. In his writings, he encouraged his fellow men that their status was only temporary; through perseverance, one day soon, equality would be a reality. For instance, in the poem “Life is Fine,” Hughes encourages his readers to persist in the face of trials because life is worth living. Throughout the poem, the narrator pines over a broken relationship that drives him to the brink of suicide but, near the end, has a revelation about the worth of his life:
“So since I’m still here livin’,
I guess I will live on.
I could’ve died for love—
But for livin’ I was born…Life is Fine! Fine as Wine! Life is Fine!”
(Hughes, “Life is Fine,” stanzas 5, 6)
The underlying message is that we are not to play the victim of circumstance. God is the Author of Life and the Architect of Death. Regardless of your status or the oppression you face, you have been given a purpose, and your life is of worth. Look beyond your circumstances and hold onto hope. There is a bigger world that cannot always be seen, if we only focus on the obstacles in front of us.
When It Is Out Of Our Control
How many of us are like the man in the poem trying to control the things we cannot possibly control? How many of us focus on trying to build a life from a fantasy – If I am not living in that house (or driving that car, or have that job, or dress in those clothes) then I must be doing something wrong? If we think this is the goal, our minds are consumed with the wrong things. But, even when I think my mind is on the Lord, I can still get discouraged as though I am not doing enough for Him. And sometimes, it feels like there is so much to do for the Lord, I can’t even comprehend where to begin! When I feel like this, I am reminded of one of my favorite people in the Bible – King David. David was real with the Lord. He did not hide his emotions or pretend life was ok when it wasn’t. He was quite often a basket case in the Psalms. However, his display of raw emotions is somewhat refreshing. It reminds us that we aren’t alone in our battle with the flesh. And though King David was a man of great influence and power, even he questioned his life’s purpose. In Psalm 39:4-5, he prays, “Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” Here, David is reflecting on the brevity of life. This psalm could have been written when he was hiding from King Saul and wondering whether he would live to see another day, or it could have been written near the end of his life; either of which we do not know. What we get from the message is that life is short compared to eternity. Thus, our contributions in this life should point us to eternity.
Joseph Benson, a British minister and apologist in the late 1700’s, writes in his commentary on Psalm 39:4-5:
“Psalms 39:4: Give me wisdom and grace to consider my end, and how short the measure of my days will be, and to improve what I know concerning it. The living know they shall die, but few so reflect on this as to make a right use of this knowledge. And Psalms 39:5: …Verily every man — Even when young, and strong, and healthful; when in wealth and honour, and the height of prosperity… though he be never so firmly settled, as he supposes, in his power and greatness…it is certain he is mere emptiness and vanity…He is as vain as you can imagine. Everything about him is vanity… “
Flesh And Spirit
The battle between the flesh and the spirit is just as alive today as it was in David’s time and in Benson’s time. The lies we buy into satisfy the desires of the flesh but quench the power of the Spirit. When we put our focus on the things of the flesh (our circumstances), it drains the spirit within us and robs us of our joy. But there are days when we don’t have the strength to fight the battle, so we continue to give in to the flesh. What then? First, we ask Jesus for help. Second, we ask others for help – those who have been in the thick of the battle and have overcome and those who are strong in the Spirit and can help us overcome. Jesus wasn’t about selfies or status updates. He was preoccupied with the status of others. And if you look to believers for help, they will follow the same example.
For me, the vicious cycle starts with comparing myself to others. I often criticize myself for having a quiet life, but most of Jesus’ years were quiet too. (Think: there are more than 20 years of Jesus’ life that we know nothing about!) Every waking moment does not have to be larger than life. The quieter moments prepare us for the epic ones. My flesh wishes for more, but my Spirit knows to wait. If I always gave in to the desires of the flesh – even the ones that seem godly – it would be selfish, and I would have to sacrifice time with those I love. I guarantee those who seem to “have it all” have made sacrifices they regret. Life is delicate, so we must choose wisely. Jesus chose to serve others. His servant-leadership won the hearts and souls of many. It would be wise for us to follow suit.
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:15-17, NIV). As followers of Christ, it is imperative to walk closely in the footsteps of Jesus. If we focus on that, there is little room for regret.
When the flesh seems to be winning, and things don’t work out the way you thought they would, hold onto the promises of the Lord. Do not focus on the obstacles in front of you; they are just blocking your view. God has a purpose and a plan for your life, and it is good. He never gives up on you, so don’t give up on you either. “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:11, NIV). Hence, life is fine, both yours and mine!