Wednesday, May 28, 2008

God Still Has Work for You

Mid-life crises are not a "privilege" reserved for the 45-60 crowd. I had two before I turned thirty: the first just after college, and the second while working on my master's degree seven years later. Any completion of a stage in life without a clear idea as to the next step, any life-changing tragedy or illness, any sudden realization that one has made little progress toward early dreams, can trigger deep depression or extreme "acting out."

Regardless of chronological age or outward manifestations, the root cause is the same: a fear that one has "missed one's chance," wasted the most (perhaps the only) valuable part of life. "My life is as good as over" is not a pleasant feeling; and knowing that your official life expectancy calls for several more decades can, if anything, intensify the sense of hopelessness.

Such problems are associated with the "middle-aged" perhaps largely because Western culture has long glorified the innovation and energy associated with youth, at the expense of long life's experience and wisdom. Although there's some evidence that this view is changing as retirees become an increasingly large part of the population and vigorous octogenerians move away from the exception and toward the rule, we still have a long way to go before discarding the idea that "old people are worn out and not much good for anything," or that "gray hair and wrinkles are ugly and should be concealed." Even though the Bible says that "gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life" (Prov. 16:31, NIV).

Nineteenth-century Scottish pastor William Arnot has some helpful advice for those tempted to midlife crises (in Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth): "The very fact of a Christian being here [on earth] and not in heaven, is a proof that some work awaits him." It is never God's will for any Christian to sit around feeling sorry for himself, or to live for "pleasure." If we feel useless and worn out, it's probably because we've forgotten to ask God what we should be doing right now.

Even being bedridden is no excuse. The famous missionary William Carey received hours of daily prayer support from his sister, who was almost completely paralyzed physically.

But far from paralyzed in effectiveness for the Lord.

You who are feeble and feel worn out--
You who are sick and frail--
You who are lonely for human ties--
You whose best hopes did fail--
Do not deceive yourself and say
All of your use is through:
As long as you're here and not in heaven,
God still has work for you!

There may be prayer you can offer up;
There may be some small art;
You might have smiles for despairing souls,
To cheer some hurting heart--
Do not demean your work as small;
Do what you find to do:
As long as you're here and not in heaven,
God still has work for you!

He Who received the poor widow's coins,
He Who calls small things great,
Will not despise what you do for Him,
However weak your state;
Do what you can to serve His cause,
Till earthly life is through:
Then know, when He calls you home to heaven,
He will have praise for you!

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