I turned 60 this year–actually a few months ago now. I think the dust of it all has settled and I’m in a better condition to talk about it. Hitting this mark shook me up more than I anticipated.
So, I have been doing some thinking. I know, that is dangerous, but hang with me. The question I have asked is legitimate, I think. “What do I know now that I didn’t know or maybe was afraid to think about when I was younger?” I think that is a legitimate question for someone my age to ask.
So, I began a list. In no certain order…
Life is rarely as it seems. This comes as a big surprise to a young person. When we are all young, we all have in our minds how life should work out. We may never say or even know how to express it, but we have expectations. However, life is rarely like what we think. In God’s providence for us, He moves in us and through us for His own purposes and it is often so very different. We wouldn’t chose those ways, but looking back, they were perfect for us. We may not have liked it at the time, but God was shaping our hearts in such profound ways. Early in our marriage and ministry, God put us in some of the most confusing and even ungodly places to minister. I say now that through those times, I learned more of what not to do in ministry than what ministry really was. There were some very difficult days, but now, I am so thankful God put us through it all. I now am constantly aware that most likely, what I am seeing now in life and ministry is not what it seems, and I can trust that God can and will put it all together for me for my good and His glory. Age has allowed me to see this and be ok with it and even expect it now.
Genuine friends are few. I guess I had a weird view of what a friend should be and do. Looking back now, my idea of a friend wasn’t very accurate. Over time, I have learned that really, there are concentric circles of acquaintances with really only a very, very few real friends. I’m slow, I guess, but I see it now so I can adjust. I began to understand this when we lived in Germany and the Saudi War broke out. Someone asked me, “If we do get invaded (in Germany) who would you call first?” Immediately, I knew of one name of a friend that I knew if I called him, he was resourceful and concerned enough and between the both of us, we could make an escape. That guy is still someone I could go to and we can pick right up where we left off and enjoy each others company. This is just one example, but there are people that God gives you for long lasting relationships but they are very few and far between. This is not a complaint, just a reality from my perspective. I continue to be thankful for their friendship.
Family is a sweet gift from God – treat it with care. There truly is nothing like family. No matter how dysfunctional your family may seem, it is the core institution that all of us were created to be a part. I now have a clearer sense of how important not just parents are but also how important in-laws can be in a family. I am now an in-law. I have learned much from my mother and father-in-law how to love, care for, and treat family. I have learned how to be a grand-father (or “Pops” as I am now called). But most of all, when it comes right down to it, it is the family that is where I am most at home, where I find some of my greatest joys and where I can count on to get the most honest feedback for my life. My children (all three of them with their spouses) are my greatest friends. I am now exploring the world of grand parenting and finding moments of great and unspeakable joy in learning how God has made them and how God is working His glory out in their lives. I travel this road with great care and find it so rewarding. Family is a sweet gift from God!
Pain hurts. We all know physical pain hurts–boy, does it ever! But I continue to learn that there is other pain in life and it hurts as well. Sin causes pain. The way people respond to other people and circumstances in life can cause excruciating pain. There’s unbearable pain when parents don’t parent with love. There’s inner pain when people walk away from Christ’s church. There’s unspeakable pain when some of life’s expectations don’t live up to what was advertised. Sin causes pain…and it hurts. Sometimes terribly. I don’t think anyone ever told me this in my twenties–or, at least, maybe I wasn’t listening. Probably more of the latter.
I am far more depraved than I could ever imagine. The word “depraved” for some sparks all kinds of theological debates. I’m not going there in this piece. But, I will say this, it is true. I am far more depraved than I could ever imagine. My heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and quite frankly, from time to time, it scares me how much God’s grace and mercy keeps me from my own depravity. I have learned to love the hymn, “He Will Hold Me Fast” mainly because I know in my soul that if Jesus doesn’t hold me fast, I am a goner! But the sweetness to seeing this is the fact that Jesus has set His love on me even though He knows my wickedness. Just amazing, isn’t it?
Jesus is so much more than a ticket to heaven. I was raised to understand that “being saved” meant I would go to heaven. We sang, “I Got A Mansion” and it thus implied heaven and a huge house was the focal point, the apex of salvation. So, Jesus was my ticket there. Who wouldn’t want to go there? Now, that sentiment is not wrong, it just isn’t entirely right. My redemption in Christ is far, far more than this. It is my privilege into the presence of the Father Himself. Christ’s righteousness imputed to me means I have been given life–eternal life. Access to the Father is the sweetest because it is that all important relationship that was forfeited by my sin and willfulness against Him. This is all of grace and all of His magnificent love seen in the perfect work of Christ alone! Once again, it is just amazing, isn’t it?
Grace is the 3-in-one oil for the cogs of life. Grace is God’s favor extended to me that has finds no merit in me. It is God’s divine enablement given to me to live out His perfections in a very imperfect world. Grace makes the cogs in life work more effectively. As we have been given this favor from God even though we don’t deserve it, we are given a whole other platform now on which we can serve others. The law pushes us to a merit system for living that honestly, no one can measure up. God’s grace is available to those who humbly need it and is given freely. Grace then becomes like the 3-in-One oil that my father used to use to free up rusty screws or bolts. That particular brand has been replaced by W-D 40 but it still does the same thing–it loosens things and causes them to work and function properly. I praise God for His grace that enables me to function properly in life.
There are no magic wands! Finally, there are no magic wands in life is there? There are no quick fixes. There are no 3-steps to happiness or 5 Easy Lessons for a Happy Marriage – all of that is hype. All there is really is a life that is daily. Every day, all the time and in every way, our only source of contentment, satisfaction, success, joy or happiness or anything else you would give yourself to better your life can only be found in Christ…alone. This is not just a pitch for reformational thinking, it is just how life really is. I’ve watched it now for 60 years and have been in ministry for 37+ years of that 60 and have only begun to learn Christ, love Christ and live Him. Everyday, by grace and through faith, I get to live His perfections as I depend on Him alone. The more I seek anything outside of His grace and glory, the more difficult life gets for me and those around me. Nothing magic here! Just ordinary living filled with repentance and faith in Christ and by His great grace. That is enough! Really.