Why You Need to Know Life Is Brief

When a university student asked Billy Graham what had been the biggest surprise in his life, he answered, “My biggest surprise in life is its brevity.”

Photo by: Elke Burgin/unsplash

James would agree. He wrote to those bragging about their big plans for the future, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14 NIV).

His words reminded me of September 11, 2001 when terrorist attacks killed 2,996 people—people who’d started their day as usual. Many had plans for dinner that night or vacations that summer or grand projects that would never be realized. Job put it this way, “My days come and go swifter than the click of knitting needles, and then the yarn runs out—an unfinished life!” (Job 7:6 The Message).

These thoughts should wake us from our slumber. An adult mayfly has a lifespan of less than a day. In comparison with eternity, our lifespan is shorter than a mayfly’s. Grasping this will help us live in a way that won’t end in regret.

Our family traveled I-40 from California to North Carolina. If you look at I-40 as representing eternity, which it feels like when you’re glued to the seat of a car with two small children in the back, our lifespan covers less than 25 miles of I-40’s 2,559.25 miles. Eternity is longer than I-40.

Photo by: Jesse Collins

Remembering the brevity of life benefits us. It—

  1. Purifies our purpose.
    Instead of bragging about my plans I learn to submit to God’s plan. I say, “Lord willing, I will do this or that.” My purpose switches from pursuing my will to being in sync with His perfect will. He knows the future; I don’t.  Aligning myself under His Lordship creates satisfaction here and rewards for eternity.>
  2. Changes our values.
    James rebuked the wealthy who stored up riches by cheating their workers out of salaries they depended on to eat and feed their families. “You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment” (from James 5:1-3 The Message).
    Living in light of eternity changes our definition of getting the best deal. If saving some cash cheats a worker out of the fair compensation he needs to feed and shelter his family, it is not a good deal..Photo by: Heather Zabriskie
    Jesus said to store up treasures in heaven where we will spend eternity instead of on earth where they will be corroded and have the power to corrupt us (Matthew 6:19-21). The wealth of those James rebuked would be a source of shame when they stood before Jesus. The wealth of those who heed Jesus’ teaching will be a source of eternal pleasure.
  3. Changes our legacy.
    A cartoon showed a picture of a man standing before a storage unit with his son. The raised door revealed a space packed from floor to ceiling with stuff. “This will all be yours one day,” the father beamed as his son grimaced.
    Life is brief. What are you leaving behind? And what are you sending ahead? Share on X

Living in sync with the Lord leaves a legacy that blesses instead of burdens its recipients and enriches us throughout eternity. Now that’s a win, win situation.

Question: How does considering the brevity of life change how you live?

Click here to comment.



I highly recommend The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn. “When Jesus told His followers to ‘lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,’ He intended that they discover an astounding secret: how joyful giving brings God maximum glory and His children maximum pleasure. Discover a joy more precious than gold!”

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  1. Ann

    What an excellent reminder to keep our priorities straight. It especially spoke to me about God’s timing and trust – I won’t go into detail but it was a beautiful confirmation to me.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Ann. I’m rethinking how I spend my time. We forget it will run out.

      • Ann

        Isn’t that the truth!!

  2. Michele Morin

    This is wonderful! And thought-provoking. Thanks, Debbie.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Michele!

  3. Dawn Wilson

    Great, thought-provoking post. I’ve been “numbering my days” as the scriptures encourage us to do, and it is changing my perspective. Thanks for clarifying how important this is.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Dawn, that is a great habit. You should do a post on who you do that!

  4. Judy Radcliffe

    As we are going yet thru another chapter of this life, we are continually reminded this is not our permanent home.We are striving to live for the line not the dot.Thank you for this reminder especially right now.
    We have always loved your wisdom and God’s way of using you to challenge and communicate Truth!
    Thank you and sending much love your way. Bruce and Judy

    • Debbie Wilson

      Bruce and Judy, thank you so much. May the Lord bless you richly.

  5. Beth

    I studied James not too long ago, Debbie, and really loved how much of a straight-shooter he was. And as far as the brevity of life, his words were harsh and sharp because it is so very true. I never want to forget it because it brings both a sober reality about my days as well as the sweet hope of eternity just around the corner. 😉

    • Debbie Wilson

      Beth, he really is a straight-shooter. I wondered if anyone would show up one week for Bible study, LOL. But truth sets us free.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Andrew, I can only imagine the clarity that your situation brings. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and share your wisdom.

  6. Leslie

    Debbie, Thank you for this. We’ve experienced the brevity of life this very week with the unexpected death within our extended family. It does change your perspective as it should. Thank you for the wisdom you share here.

  7. Debbie Wilson

    Leslie, I’m so sorry for your loss. May your family experience the Lord’s comfort in a special way.

  8. Ginger Harrington

    Your right, being mindful of the brevity of life does clarify and purify our purpose! Blessings today!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Ginger, and to you!

  9. Rachel Britton

    It’s good to be reminded of the brevity of life because he helps me get my attitude right to everyone around me.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Rachel, that’s a great application!

  10. Shannon

    The Lord has been driving home the message of Psalm 90:12 to me all year. This post echos so much of that! When I face difficult days, it really helps me stay calm and focused when I remember that our days are short.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Yes, Shannon. To remember the brevity of life puts things in perspective.

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