On Turning Forty

Later this week, on March 18, 2011, at 3:26 a.m., to be precise, I will turn forty years of age.

Reaching this milestone raises numerous questions inside my noggin. I have to laugh, because I suppose it would actually be abnormal not to think about what it might mean to turn forty, and, for anyone who has crossed this way before, I am sure you can relate. I know that worry and despair clearly are unhelpful, so I endeavor to consider what I have learned and how I can build on those lessons for the years ahead.

Jesus never even reached the age of 40. That thought can lead me to dry places. I mean, if Jesus finished saving the world by the age of 33 then why am I still here and why haven’t I accomplished more? Is there any more to life at this point? A part of me thinks that if Jesus didn’t even live to be 40, then all of life is behind me. I have to remember that God continues to breathe life into me here on Earth, so He must have a continued purpose for me.

Moses, when he turned 40, found himself running for his life to the desert because he had murdered a man. Perhaps he was entertaining dark thoughts that led him to a literal dry place as he turned forty. Again, I must remind myself that thoughts of hopelessness do not lead to faith, hope or love.

Many other heroes of the bible had amazing 40th years. Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah. Caleb was 40 years old when Moses sent him to spy out the land of Canaan. Caleb was one of two, with Joshua, who let his faith lead his decision about going into Canaan rather than his sight. Caleb also wholeheartedly followed after God all of his days and eventually entered the Promised Land a victor. The Bible tells us Caleb, as an 80-year old man, took possession of his land by force (and faith). Oh to be like Caleb as I head into my 41st year.

Here’s what God seems to be saying loudly and clearly to me as I seek His counsel: “I am who I am.” And, as I continue to ask for meaning from Him in this, I am seeing God and myself more clearly.

Frankly, turning forty helps me recognize the frailty of my life more now than I ever have. My skin (and hair) is thinner. My eyes have grown dimmer. If I fail to exercise, I gain weight no matter what I eat (perhaps that is the result of eating so much ice cream and fried food, but still, it didn’t use to hit me this way). I have arthritis in my left big toe, plantar fasciitis in my left foot, and more parts of my body ache than ever. I still play Ultimate, but now I really pay for it.

When I was younger I used to have a hard time understanding how a great man like Moses could have killed a man. Murder? That’s one of those “sins” on the “really bad” list that we all feel safe we would never do. But as my physical skin has gotten thinner, and my physical eyes have gotten dimmer, I find that my spiritual thin is thicker and my spiritual eyes see more clearly than ever before. Not only do I comprehend the frailty of my body, but I also know the frailty of my heart and the great selfishness that mars every thought. I know longer get smug comparing myself to other “sinners.” In fact, I often am saddened by the selfish acts committed because people believe the lies of the Enemy, because I see how easily I could be duped to do the same – no matter how “bad” the act may seem.

I “feel” Paul’s words from Romans 7 deeply:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do….

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

As I ponder my brokenness, I see how beautiful, holy and great God is. I see that although I’ve always tried to be God, “I AM” not. God alone is “I AM.” And, as Paul concludes in the passage above, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

As I internalize more the truth that I am the created and not the creator, recognizing my fallenness and great need for Him, what then can I do?

This scripture sums it up well for me:

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

I must live this broken life to glorify God and point others to Him. Anything else is selfish, hopeless, and vain. He alone is my hope, my love, my everything! Apart from Him I can do nothing. I have lived 40 years on earth, but I have eternity in my heart and in Christ I can become the righteousness of God!!

Wow, as I wrote this and came to my conclusion, trying not to use too many words, I remembered the words Solomon wrote so long ago. And, because they so poignantly say what I am trying to say, I include them all here and encourage you to read not only the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, but the entire book in one setting. Shalom.

Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—
before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;
when people are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Everything is meaningless!”

The Conclusion of the Matter

Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.
The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

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