The wisdom of Deo Volente

The last month has been marked by the inevitable round-robin letters and emails, and while I dearly love the people who send them, they would never win any awards for originality.

Each year, without fail, many of these letters start off with words like this: “We can hardly believe that another year has flown by”. Or “It only seems like yesterday that we were writing last year’s greetings”. People look back over another year, wondering where the time has gone. We seem to live in a culture that constantly feels pressurised by time – deadlines that have to be met, an awareness that the clock is always ticking. If we say that a person has “time on their hands”, we have come to equate that with laziness.

The founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, a man who has amassed billions in personal wealth was once asked what one thing he would wish for in life. He reportedly replied, “More time”. That’s one thing in life that not even the wealthiest person can change. It’s ironic that in a culture so committed to saving time, that is the one thing we feel increasingly deprived of. We talk euphemistically about “saving time”, but in actual fact time can only be spent, not saved.

One of the differences between the African view of time and the Western view is that in Africa people tend to see life as a series of events. When these have happened or been dealt with, then the remainder of the time is for “being”. By contrast, we in the West feel that time has to be constantly managed so that every moment is ‘productive’.

The deficiencies of such a mindset become more apparent to us at times such as the advent of a New Year when we habitually reflect whether the past twelve months have constituted a ‘good’ year, or a ’bad’ one. Even the Queen has been through at least one “annus horribilis”. Such annual reflection reminds us that many of the events of the preceding twelve months were happenings that were outside our ability to manage or anticipate. Royalty is no exception. Equally, we sense that whatever we have written in our diary for 2012 is provisional, as our control over life’s events is so limited.

For many, the way to come to terms with what cannot be anticipated or managed is to adopt the philosophy of “Que Sera Sera - whatever will be, will be”. If life’s events cannot always be controlled by choice, then chance is what determines your destiny.

But the Christian approach is different. The Bible comes out clearly with the truth that God sets the times and seasons. It is God who decides whether 2012 will be a good year or bad year for me. And how I respond to God’s calendar is the secret of whether my faith grows in the year ahead.

James 4:13 instructs those who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money” with the reminder, “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow…Instead you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’”. It’s not that the Bible condemns forward planning, but it’s simply that we should never leave God out of our future plans. In the old days people used to add the letters D.V. to all such intentions, an abbreviation for a short Latin phrase, Deo Volente, which means ‘God willing’.

The mere use of the phrase itself can become a pious cliché – perhaps that’s why it has largely disappeared – but the attitude of humble dependence on God as we face an uncertain future is the vital thing to retain.

Back in the Old Testament, King David wrote “My times are in your hand, Lord” (Psalm 31:15) In simple terms, whatever I put in my diary for 2012 will be of no significance compared to what God puts in my diary. When we recover the attitude of “Deo Volente”, then we will be able to echo the prayer attributed to Moses in Psalm 90 – “Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom”.

Tony Ward is a Bible teacher and evangelist who was ordained in Zimbabwe. He currently lives and ministers in Bristol