From the depths of a Roman prison while awaiting execution as a prisoner of Nero’s in Rome, Paul wrote to Timothy, his beloved friend and brother in Christ: “Do your best to come before winter.” (2 Timothy 4:21). Paul knew that in the winter, the Mediterranean Sea trade all but ceased. Ships would anchor in a safe harbor so as to avoid the violent storms that plagued the Mediterranean during the winter months. If Timothy was going to make the voyage from Ephesus to Rome, it would have to be before the ships stopped sailing.
Now if Timothy waits until winter, he will have to wait until spring; and Paul himself knew that his death sentence was imminent, “the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6). Paul knows that he is living his last winter. Timothy needed to drop everything and get to Rome as fast as possible. We like to think that Timothy did not wait a single day after that letter from Paul reached him and indeed he was able to fulfill Paul’s request.
Before winter or never! There are some things which will never be done unless they are done “before winter.” Winter’s arrival is a sober reminder of fading opportunities. Winter should bring home to us all the sense of the preciousness of life’s opportunities, but also its brevity.
You can’t wait forever to respond to things that are important. Yet how many times have we had good intentions but somehow we never got around to doing it. We truly meant well, we meant for things to be different. All too often we end up with the “ifs and buts” of life. Some things need to be said now, done now. The opportunity is today, not tomorrow. We must not wait or delay or put things off.
What is it that God is calling you to do? What good deed? What act of forgiveness? What step of faith? What prayer should you pray? What sin should you confess? What bad habit must be broken? What service could you render for the Lord and His church? What class could you teach? What call must you make? What email must you write? What relationship must you repair? Who in your life needs to know Jesus and you’ve been putting off telling them? Whatever it is, do it “before winter.”
I recently ran across this very beautiful poem that captures some of my thoughts from above.
Come Before Winter
"Come before winter." are words old and wise
Let us set sail now for the harbor
Of the things we truly prize!
For life's voyage is brief, uncertain,
Soon winter's snows may fall.
How sad to see ships meant for sailing
Which have not sailed far at all.
Ships meant to explore life's oceans,
To know waters deep and wide.
Yet still we lie at anchor
Resisting the outgoing tide.
Life's saddest sight is not the scene
Of souls storm tossed at sea.
For without the storm, the struggle and faith,
How else comes the victory?
No, life's saddest sight is of souls
Who have never yet set sail.
Those who refuse to live much or dare,
These are the ones who fail!
Still move the seasons swiftly,
The Spring, the Summer, the Fall.
"O come" says the Spirit, "come before winter,
Miss not the joy God intends for us all"!
-- James Clark Brown