Turning Forty

Series: Window on the World

by Rick Phillips September 3, 2000

This week I reach a milestone I really was not looking forward to. This coming Saturday, I will be forty years old. Dr. Ryken asked me to speak tonight on this topic for two reasons. The first is that aging is something that impacts us all and many of our generation in the church are facing this particular milestone. The other reason he asked me is that if we waited until he was qualified to speak on the topic many of you will have either succumbed to the crisis of turning forty or have long since gotten over it.

In reflecting on this significant milestone my main point of comparison is my 30th birthday, which I remember very well. When I turned thirty I had a tangible feeling that my life needed to move forward, to focus my energies if I wanted to be a success in life. I felt somewhat, I think, like Julius Caesar is reported to have felt when around his thirtieth birthday he saw a statue of Alexander the Great. Caesar, who had lived a very profligate and pointless life up to that time, supposedly wept bitterly when we realized that by his age Alexander had already conquered the known world. At least a little like that, at thirty I felt that I had to put things into a higher gear and get moving with my life.

You might have guessed already that I was not a Christian when I turned thirty. Nonetheless, I look back glad that I started thinking more soberly and purposefully about my life. Within a few short months of that milestone I was converted to Jesus Christ, right here in this sanctuary, and those aspirations for maturity began to be sanctified by the Lord. Instead of just making it big I wanted to serve Him well. Instead of positioning myself for high office I wanted to find Christ's particular call on my life.

Now at my fortieth birthday, I look back with profound gratitude to the Lord for all that has happened. To be honest, I am not really suffering any great mid-life crisis, and I think there are two reasons for it. The first is that I did gain a very particular sense of my calling, and secondly I am doing what I believe I am called to do, professionally and personally. I realize more and more how precious a commodity that is, well worth pursuing before a fortieth birthday and very helpful when it comes. There are few things more valuable, despite many challenges, shortcomings, trials and difficulties, than the belief that you are following the Lord where He is leading you. I am profoundly grateful that at forty I can say that.

My point is not to commend myself in any way, but rather to use this milestone in my life to commend the benefits of trusting the Lord. I honestly believe that were I entering my fifth decade seriously questioning whether I have submitted to God's will, such as I have found light to know it, this birthday would be an unhappy event for me indeed. Let me therefore exhort those of you who are young, that if you know what God would have you to do, you need to do it, and when you are as old as I now am you will be glad that you did. Indeed, from my own experience I earnestly exhort all of you, whatever your age, to seek the Lord and to follow His will right away.

That sense of clarity and purpose is very much on my mind at forty, and mainly I wish to be faithful and fruitful in the place where God has placed me. But there are two other matters that are on my mind and that I think would be useful to share. The first is that turning forty impresses me with a particular biblical principle I am now able to grasp more clearly than ever before. The principle is this: "What you sow you will reap."

The reason for that is that I am now reaping, both good and bad, what I sowed or began sowing in younger years. Negatively, I am receiving compound interest on some of the abuse I gave my body during my younger and more aggressive years. When you are saved God gives you a new heart, but He does not promise to give you new knees. He provides abundant spiritual riches, but you usually have to pay off your own financial debts. That far off tomorrow does come, and tomorrow has come for me. At forty, therefore, I eagerly repent of 1 Corinthians 15:32, "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die," in favor of Ephesians 5:16, "Redeem the time, for the days are evil."

Finally, what most impresses me as I look back and forward from forty is the difference it makes just to walk with Jesus over time. If you are discouraged about your lack of power against sin, about your lack of wisdom, your lack of faith, do not despair but simply walk with Jesus. That is the great principle of Christianity, and I see ever more clearly how powerful it is over time.

I don't often give a personal testimony from this pulpit, but I can tell you that it is an indisputable fact that I am a radically different person at forty than I was at thirty. Why? Because for these ten years I have, by His grace, walked with Jesus. As we do that, all of us are "being transformed into his likeness" by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

As I said, I was not really looking forward to forty, but as I think about it, perhaps I should look forward to my next report in this series, entitled, Lord willing, "Turning Fifty." I should by them be more godly, more useful, happier and holier, all because of Christ. To that end I have just this resolution: I want to walk with Jesus longer, to know Him better and be more like Him. For all that I need I trust Him emphatically, and on this my fortieth birthday I want to give Him all the glory and my heartfelt thanks for abundant, undeserved blessings.

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