“Time and Tide Wait for no Man” – and the Story of King Canute

On a recent trip to my native Northern Ireland I noticed a beautiful clock with a swinging pendulum in the window of a charity shop. I love clocks and although this one needed a bit of work, I couldn’t resist its ‘Big Ben’ chime and so I purchased it for a very small price. Others in the family have become irritated with this chime ‘on the hour – and every hour’ with good reason I suppose! However, it has awakened me to a couple of very important trains of thought, especially after a comment by my youngest daughter the other day… “You know Mum, even if you live until you’re eighty, you really haven’t got that much time left.” She was joking of course, but as I listened to the steady tick of the clock, I started to do some serious thinking about my life – and about the use of my time. Within the Christian’s life, time is a precious commodity which should never be wasted or misused. I remember well one particular verse from the old hymn “Our God, our help in ages past,” sung at a funeral once…

“Time like an ever-rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away;

They fly forgotten as a dream

Dies at the opening day.”

Every tick of the clock and every chime on the hour is a constant reminder to me of my own mortality in this fleeting scene of time. And yet I am just that: a mortal being who becomes weary on occasions, needing rest – and the Lord knows this! Yesterday I climbed a mountain with my daughter on her birthday but today I feel really exhausted with a sore throat. What good am I to anyone today? Yet I know that in the Lord’s strength I can touch lives – and most importantly, I can pray, for His strength is “made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor. 12v9) Perhaps today in my weakness, I am of more use to the Lord…

If the story of King Canute is true, then he certainly had no illusions about his power or role as just another man making his way through life. King Canute (or Cnut) lived around c985-1035 and was King of Denmark, England, Norway and parts of Sweden. Although I have no idea as to King Canute’s spiritual standing, he was certainly right about one thing, as this story illustrates…

His subjects were always praising the King, telling him how wonderful and powerful he was. Then one day, tired of this constant flattery, the King demanded to be brought to the seaside where he asked to be seated by the rolling waves of the sea. With such foolish words as: “Your highness, there is nothing you cannot do and all things will obey you,” echoing in his ears, the King commanded the tide to turn back. But of course the rolling tide never ceased on its course. Turning to his subjects, the King enquired whether they had learned a lesson from this little episode, showing that there is only one King who is all powerful and who holds the oceans and the course of nature in His hands.

For my own part, I have learned two lessons from my relentlessly chiming clock this week… Firstly, that I must be focussed and not waste the precious and limited time that the Lord has given me to serve Him while I live here and now. Secondly, there is absolutely nothing that mankind can do to halt the process of time and tide. Yet, today the Lord has taught me that my health and very existence are totally within His hands too. Moses may have stretched out his hand over the sea – but it was God who made that path through the rolling waves, so that the Children of Israel could pass through safely.

There is only one King who can command the winds and sea (Matthew 8v27) and who has determined “that there should be time no longer.” (Rev. 10v6) Today I look to Him as the Master planner and controller of my life’s timetable; He who will roll back the angry waves, making a path for me to cross over. Praise God…

“I do not have to cross Jordan alone,

For Jesus died for my sins to atone…”

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