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If We Stop Living, We Start Dying

Let me ask you a personal question: How do you feel about getting older? Age has been on my mind recently, because I hit the big “5-0” not long ago, and I’m not far from being an empty nester. I remember when my dad was fifty, and that seemed . . . old.

Poet Wendell Berry writes in his brief poem, Seventy Years, “Well, anyhow, I am not going to die young.”

My granddad, who preached for many years, once told me the story of an older woman approaching him after his sermon on heaven, and she said, “My only fear is that all of my friends who are there will think I didn’t make it!”

Growing old isn’t for sissies. The biggest challenge I find is to shift into a higher gear where I can keep accelerating and not begin to coast. Rest stops along the way help replenish our souls, but they are not intended for permanent residency. Inertia leads to entropy. If we stop living, we start dying.

The world around us continues to change, and at times we find it difficult to change with it. Luke Timothy Johnson writes, “The longer I live, the more my world is populated by strangers. My parents, my teachers, my colleagues, have disappeared all around me, and with their departure, my sense of sharing the same coherent universe also vanishes” (The Revelatory Body, 212).

Do you ever find yourself looking back more than looking ahead? I do. Although it’s helpful to remember the past, we shouldn’t long for it while we simply wait for mortality to achieve its goal.

Wake up each morning with anticipation of what God is going to do this day, and commit to join Him. In God’s way and time, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). We “number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12), and we choose to live out those days with gumption, not “grump-tion.”

A former professor of mine, Bob Hull, once wrote, “Every life is only a ‘first draft,’ which awaits its final form in God’s future.” Let’s make the first draft one that’s worth reading, and then we will await its final form. Let’s not waste our time waiting now, for much is yet to be written.

Philip Yancey tells the story of a woman whose grandmother lies buried beneath a 150-year-old oak tree in a cemetery outside a church in rural Louisiana. “In accordance with the grandmother’s instructions, only one word is carved on the tombstone: WAITING” (The Jesus I Never Knew, 275).

Let’s save our waiting for the final form in God’s future. Let’s write the first draft of our lives in the here and now, for these days will be gone soon enough, and then “we will fly away” (Psalm 90:10).

Life, Interrupted

I started getting a sore throat Saturday night. Great. I feel fine all week, and the night before I have to preach, I get a sore throat. I don’t have time for a sore throat. Sore throats are inconvenient, pesky annoyances that don’t keep you from work, but they make the experience far less enjoyable.

And so it is with many of life’s interruptions. A child gets sick. A printer gets jammed. A computer won’t reboot. A van needs new struts. Your iPhone stops receiving emails. Do you get the impression these are more than hypothetical illustrations?

Your life is probably much like that. Life just happens, and a lot of it falls outside the margins of your calendar plan. I like having a plan. The Bible affirms the value of plans (Proverbs 15:22; 16:3). God has plans (Jeremiah 29:11). But our plans are not implemented in a vacuum. There are other forces at play.

When I was young, I played basketball, and our coach could draw up a great offensive plan. It looked good on paper, and we would implement it flawlessly . . . in practice . . . as long as there was no defense.

Our offensive plans are met with defensive aggravations that tend to arrive at the least convenient times.

How do we counter those inconveniences, or worse, those catastrophes?

First, make the unexpected part of your plan. That’s right—expect the unexpected. Don’t be an Eeyore who lives with gloomy disposition. Just acknowledge that God is perfect, but our lives are not. Live in trustful expectation that God will one day wipe away ever tear, and today might not be that day. And that’s O.K., because that one day will soon come.

Second, establish restful rhythm in your life. Your daily plan doesn’t have to be a busy plan. When you create margin in your life, you allow yourself breathing room to rest and respond to the unexpected. In his book, Sabbath, Wayne Muller wrote, “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath—our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us” (quoted in Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms, 131).

Your cancer, or my heart attack, was not for the purpose of Sabbath, but affliction can result in sacred space where we welcome the presence of God into the rhythm of what is expected and unexpected. In that space, we have time to meet with God, understand and appreciate life, and live it to the full, even when we get a sore throat.

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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