Step outside on one of these cold winter days, and watch your breath as you exhale. In all seriousness. Don’t just read this article. Go outside, literally, someday soon, and observe the vapor of your breath as it eases from your lips … and then disappears, so very quickly, from before your gaze! Why? Why go out into the cold to take in such a sight? Because this is a portrait, says James, of your life in this world! “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). And it will do you good to go outside, and to envision what James has written, and to consider the brevity of your life. And, as you consider that brevity; as you meditate on the fleeting nature of the vapor, I hope three demeanors of heart and mind will come over you:
First, humility. This is the demeanor that James is promoting when he likens our earthly lives to vapors: ‘“You do not what your life will be like tomorrow.” Your life is so fleeting! And therefore you ought not to go making boastful plans about where you are going to go, and what you are going to do. “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that’”’ (see James 4:13-16). The fragile, fleeting, vapor-like nature of our lives ought to humble us into a constant awareness that our plans, and even our awaking tomorrow morning, are always ‘Lord willing.’
And then also, the vapor-like brevity of our lives in this world ought also to promote a sense of urgency. If life is a vapor, shouldn’t I want to capture the few brief ticks of the clock that I have been given, and use them well for the One who gave them? Life is too short for spiritual dilly-dallying! It’s too short for just whiling away the months and years, not really doing anything that will make an impact for eternity! You only have a few years (if the Lord even wills for you to have that long) in which to serve the gospel in this world! Don’t dawdle that time away! And let me remind you, also, that since life is so short; and since we don’t know how short (since we don’t know if we will even wake up tomorrow), it is great folly to put off being ready for your own eternity! You don’t know if you will have tomorrow, or next week, or next year to repent of your sins and trust in Christ! So do it before your vapor disappears!
And then also, as you consider the vapor of your life, may such a consideration, if you are in Christ, bring you serenity. For, if this life is a vapor that will soon fade away, then those who are in Christ don’t have very much longer to endure their trials, do they? The non-Christian will perhaps take some of his difficulties with him, even into the next life (and will then face even greater difficulties, to boot). But for the believer, “the sufferings of this present time” will evaporate along with the vapor of earthly life in which they arose! And since vapors are but brief, relief is not too far in the future! It won’t be long and we will be with Jesus! And all will be well! And that should make us just a little more calm in the face of our trials! Someday soon we will suffer, and struggle, and sin no more!
So step out, in the days ahead, into the cold winter’s air, and learn the lessons of the vapor.