Well, today’s my birthday. I’m 36 years old and I want to talk about it, even though my colleague Richard Phillips—who must be wiser than I am, because he’s definitely older—tells me that 36th birthdays are hardly worth mentioning. But I think it deserves some comment, not because I’m trying to turn my birthday into a public event, or because turning 36 is especially significant, but because birthdays are a good time to think about what God is doing in our lives. And since this year my birthday happens to fall on a Sunday, it seemed like a perfect topic for Window on the World.
The last time my birthday fell on a Sunday was six years ago. Just in case you’re having trouble doing the math, that was when I was turning 30. At the time I was still feeling youthful and exuberant, but wondering when I might start feeling old. Sadly, it has started to happen.
Some of the signs of aging are physical. I have less hair than I used to, and an extra inch around my waistline. This summer I asked Lisa about a strange spot on my arm. “Those are age spots,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Age spots!” I said. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.” Then on Labor Day I pulled a muscle chasing a foul ball down the left field line on the first play of a softball game. The first play! I think it may have been divine retribution. Back at the church picnic in June I had advised Rick Phillips to stretch before taking the field. “I never stretch,” he said. “I’ll be fine.” And he was fine, until the first popup, after which he spent the rest of the game hobbling around on one leg. I guess I shouldn’t have laughed at him, because I got my comeuppance on Labor Day.
To some of you my infirmities will seem like minor complaints. “Just wait,” you’re saying. “It gets worse!” And I know that’s true. My point is that even at age 36 I get plenty of reminders of my mortality.
During the past six years I have also watched a lot of people die, and this too has given me a more sober view of life. Not morbid, you understand, but sober. Some of the best men and women I know have passed on to glory. And I have seen what dying does to a body. It’s always ugly, and often grotesque. Unless I die in a sudden accident, or Jesus comes first, it will happen to me too. I will grow old, tired, and weak. At the end I will be gasping for breath and praying for Jesus to come and get me. I think about this when I see the wrinkles around the corners of my eyes, or toss a handful of dust on a casket.
As I grow older, it seems like time is moving faster. The end of my life is approaching. Every day it takes a single step towards me. But somehow the pace seems to be quickening. It’s already seven years since I came to this church; it seems like only yesterday. My son Joshua is 9, going on 10. He’s halfway to college and I’m not anywhere close to halfway done training him. Kathryn is just four months old, but already she has passed through infancy, and for her those days will never come again.
All of this makes me realize that I don’t have much time—not as much as I want. If the Lord gives me strength, I still have several decades left to preach. But already I see that I will not have time to preach all the sermons I want to preach, write all the books I’d like to write, or nurture all the relationships I hope to nurture. The time seems short. And it is short! I have only one lifetime to give to my Lord. Maybe half of it is gone. There is still time for me to do something for Jesus, but not as much time as there used to be, and so sometimes I feel a sense of urgency.
It is good for us to feel urgent. “The time is near,” the Scripture says (Rev. 1:3; 22:10); “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11). The Day of Judgment is also nearer. When that day comes, we won’t have any more time to do God’s work, just time to give an account for what we have done and failed to do. Jesus said, “Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).
Yet for all our urgency, we should not feel any anxiety. The Lord has determined the number of our days and decreed the number of months we have to live (Job 14:5). Our times are in his hands (Ps. 31:15). As it said on one of the cards I received this week, “Growing Older Is Part of God’s Plan.” This means that I have exactly the amount of time that God wants me to have—not a minute more, or a minute less. If there isn’t time to do everything I want to do, then some of the things on my agenda must not be on God’s agenda. And in that case, it would be better for me to cross them off the list.
That’s easier for me to do than it used to be. It’s easier because I’m not just older; I’m wiser. I really am. I have better judgment about what to do in difficult situations. I am more patient with God’s timing. This is why I wouldn’t trade back any of my years for anything. Sometimes people say that they’d like to be 30 again, or maybe 20. Not me. By the grace of God I have made some real spiritual progress over the years, and I could never go back now. The age I am is exactly the age God has ordained for me to be. I want to be content to be as old as I am, and to glorify God with whatever time I have left.
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