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Four minutes

To explore the question: What would you do if you knew you only had four minutes left to live?

by Helen Redfern

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore the question: What would you do if you knew you only had four minutes left to live?

Preparation and materials

  • Download ‘Four minute warning’ by Mark Owen.
  • The Bible story is from Luke 12.16–21.


  1. What do you think of when I say, ‘four minutes’

    –  the time it will take for this assembly to be over
    –  the song by Madonna and Justin Timberlake
    –  the length of time you spent in the shower this morning
    –  Roger Bannister running the first four-minute mile?

    If you were to ask a teacher, parent or grandparent, they might give you a very different answer.
  2. Between 1953 and 1989, a state of tension, known as the Cold War, existed between the West and the Soviet Union (a former republic in northern Asia and Eastern Europe, consisting of 15 smaller republics, of which the capital city was Moscow).

    Throughout this period, Britain felt there was a real threat of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. To notify the population that such an attack had started, the Government set up a public alert system. It was believed that Soviet nuclear missiles once launched would take four minutes to reach their target. So this warning system was given the name ‘the four-minute warning’. During that time, it was important to take cover and follow specific safety procedures.

    When the public were told of this warning system, many people thought about how they would spend their final four minutes. Telling friends and family how much they loved them? Playing their guitar for the last time? Listening to a favourite track? Cuddling their beloved pet?
  3. It’s an interesting question to ask. How would you spend the last four minutes of your life? (Pause for a moment of reflection.)

    It has occupied the minds of several generations and has been the subject of numerous songs and books, including Mark Owen’s song ‘Four Minute Warning’ released in 2003.
  4. With the end of the Cold War, the threat of imminent death disappeared from the forefront of people’s minds. They began to believe they would live forever. They began to take life for granted.

    Jesus told the story of a man who had not given death a single thought. He was rich and successful because his land had produced abundant crops. He had to build bigger and bigger barns to store the crops. When he had done this, he said to himself, ‘Relax, eat, drink, be merry.’

    But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.’
  5. None of us knows the year, the day, the hour when our lives will be over. It could be because of an accident, an illness, a terrorist attack, a heroic act . . . but one thing is sure, we will all die.

    Some people try to live each day as if it were their last, never going to bed without making sure that relationships that have gone wrong during the day are put right. Is this something you could attempt?

    Life is not just about living for now; life is not lived just to relax, eat, drink and be merry. It is good to take the time to reflect on how to live in the knowledge that one day we will die.

Time for reflection

Let us reflect again on the four-minute warning. How would you spend your final four minutes?


Your answer reveals the things and the people that you really care about. Sometimes our possessions and ambitions can get in the way of what matters most in our lives.

As you listen to this song (Mark Owen’s ‘Four Minute Warning’ or some other suitable reflective music)

–  be thankful for your life and the people you care about
–  be reminded of what is really important to you
–  be determined never to take for granted what matters most.

Publication date: February 2012   (Vol.14 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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