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The Surprise of Perplexity

January 29th, 2020

When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! (Psalm 142:3 ESV)

It comes upon you quickly, this thing called aging. It is not that one day you are young and the next you are old, but it almost feels that way. Everything about us ages slowly except our minds — I do not mean our brains which is the organic instrument of thought, but our minds made up of our thoughts, values, memories, personality, and designs.

Age surprises us because we are creatures of habit and we base our today on what we did yesterday. We do not live backwards, so even when youth has long vanished from us physically, we still identify with who we were then, much more than who we will be in five or ten years time.

There is that premature panic that strikes us somewhere in our middle years, when we have a twinge of arthritis, a moment of forgetfulness, a touch of stomach upset, a brief and gentle touch of age, and most of us think we are dying. Of course, we usually still have far to go and much more to endure, so much so that we say to people who bemoan turning 50, “I’ve got socks that old.”

But there is also a perplexity that comes later in life, and we are a bit surprised that we are not further along in maturity than we thought we would be at this stage. The final years of life are sometimes described as though in life we had been swimming across a treacherous body of water, fighting the waves and the currents, along with more than a few dangerous sea creatures, but in our final years we reach the shore and comfortably rest from the journey. But what we find is that as we near the end, we are still swimming in the treacherous waters, and whatever we dealt with in our former years is still here to be dealt with in our later years.

There are still dangers without — stuff on the outside of us, the dangerous creatures and realities that can swallow us whole, or just gnaw at us slowly. And there are still dangers within — our own hearts are not as settled as we wish they would be. We still have our fears, our worries, our doubts, our ambitions, our preferences, and even our bad attitudes.  We still must contend with being misunderstood, being forgotten, being ignored, random accusations, and getting along with difficult people. No, we do not reach the shore in our final years. The shore of God’s peace and tranquility still lies beyond, and all that we know of it in our personal experience must still be claimed by faith.

But there is a positive way to look at this, that these final years are the times to grow more spiritually than we have ever grown before. “When my spirit faints,” the psalmist proclaimed, “You, God, know my way.” The idea is of a spirit that is muffled that cannot speak its own mind, not even to itself. It describes the moment of intense confusion, when thoughts and feelings, fears and hopes, facts and suspicions all rise together, and we are not sure what step to take.

We had been there before, and we shall be there again, but as before our hope is still in the Lord our God who knows our way. He knows where we are and where He wishes to take us. He knows our hearts tendencies and our spirit’s needs. He is our hope and our joy. The victory is not to have our problems all obliterated but to know that in Christ are all things working together for good. He will bring it all in His wisdom and power into a glorious completion to those who are in Christ, and He will do so for His glory, and not ours.

In fact, in such moments of complexity, the soul must think not of its own comfort but of the glory of God. This is, in fact, what our hearts truly long for, that our lives would count for eternity.

It was said of Alexander the Great on his death bed wanted three things: that doctors should carry his coffin, that his wealth would be scattered in the street along the procession, and that his empty hands should hang outside the casket for all to see. These spoke of three realities: the finest doctors cannot always heal, the wealth we accumulate we leave here, and that we enter into eternity empty-handed.

As thoughtful as this was, the simplest believer has an infinitely greater hope, that in Christ is our security and our glory and our hope. Even if we do not always feel that our legs are underneath us, it must be okay, if we have enough simple faith to believe in Christ. Life today, in every stage of life, can be placed in His hand. We are still following His will and His plan for us, until we reach heaven’s shore.

The Last Surprises of Life

The Brevity of Life

June 15th, 2018

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14 NIV)

Life on earth is surprisingly brief. We hardly realize how brief it is in the early days, when we long to grow stronger, taller, and, thereby, older, but in the later years of our lives are amazed at how quickly it has all passed. If life were a clock, in our youth the hands encircle the face in slow motion, creeping like snails past its numbers. But in our later years they gain speed until they seem to spin like the blades of an electric fan.

An act of God: God has left this mark upon our race – temporariness – and it is just part of our overall limitedness. Our natural life is marked with boundaries – limitations in knowledge, perspective, imaginations, talent, ability, power, influence, resources, and time. Adam and Eve were originally created with physical bodies, and though sin has shortened the original life spans of people, it is clear that from the beginning human life left to its own resources would die. They would live only as they ate of the tree of life in the Garden (Genesis 2:9,16, 3:22).

Man tended the tree of life, as he did other plants, but he had not created it. He was utterly dependent upon God for any hope of eternal life. Once he was cast out of the Garden he could not recreate this mystical tree. It appears again in scripture at the end of the book in the New Jerusalem, the eternal home of believers, and there it is described not as a single tree, but as a unique species of tree, “yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2).

There is a commonly held thought that our immortality is expressed through the memories of our loved ones, but all are eventually forgotten, most very quickly. Though some are remembered longer, no one has been so well remembered that they lived forever that way. This idea offers no real hope of eternal life, for being remembered is not the same as being alive. Memories are left to the whims of the living to re-interpret, and sometimes to mangle and destroy with no ability of the deceased to defend themselves.

We are completely dependent on God for eternal life, and the only sure promise is through Jesus Christ, that He died for our sins and rose from the grave victorious over death. He offers eternal life to those who repent of their sins and trust in Him. Outside of Him there is no real offer.

James wrote that we are like a mist that only appears for a little while. This is a great illustration, for though a mist, or a fog is a real thing, it is only temporary and when it vanishes we may even wonder if it ever really existed. It goes slowly, vanishing a little at a time, and this the way many of us die. How often have we heard of someone and then say, “I didn’t know they were still living.” They had already begun to vanish and were barely there at all.

The rejuvenating power of God: Yet we also see that God can give surprising strength to us in our old age. Joel wrote that God will pour out His Spirit upon the world, and “Your old men will dream dreams” (Joel 2:28). This is a mark of the Spirit, that he renews us in our old age. If there are limitations in our years, this reality is counter balanced by the surprising power of God. Life is surprisingly brief and God is surprisingly powerful.

Samson was such a man who had wasted his youth, his talents, and his opportunities. Yet in his final years, blinded and chained as he was, God renewed his gifts and strength. He who had been a paradigm of spiritual failure became a paradigm of spiritual renewal.

It is God’s plan that we counter our limitedness through spiritual renewal in Him. Paul wrote: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

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