You Are Not Past Your Prime

ReDiscovered Word

(Joshua 14-15)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you think you’re past your prime, you need to meet Caleb. Caleb knew what many do not, that your work isn’t finished until God says you’re done.

When he was young, Caleb had the guts to trust God. When he was old, he had the strength to put his faith into action.

There weren’t any gyms in the wilderness. Moses didn’t start the day leading Zumba classes for the people of Israel. But Caleb stayed strong, because God kept him strong. At the age of eighty-five, he could honestly say that he was as strong as he had been at age forty.

Only Caleb and Joshua were left from their generation of Israelites. The others were dead. Their terrible fear of death became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and one by one they dropped in the wilderness. None of them inherited the Promised Land, because they didn’t believe God could give it to them.

But forty-five years after he spied out the land, Caleb claimed his inheritance. He was just as strong and gutsy as the forty-year-old man he had once been, the man who was so idealistic about God’s power that he was willing to contradict the majority of his countrymen, insisting that God could defeat the giants of Canaan. And at age eighty-five, Caleb did just that, marching into Canaan and driving out the giants to take what God had promised.

Your work is not done until God says it’s done.

It’s easy to idealize youth, to believe that if you aren’t “successful” by age thirty — or certainly by forty — that it’s all over. You’re past your prime. Nothing left to do but sit on the porch and work a Sudoku puzzle. God can find somebody younger or stronger to do the important stuff.

But the Bible is filled with stories of men and women who had their greatest impact in their later years. Abraham. Moses. Caleb. John the Apostle.

They had the impact they did because they never stopped trusting in God’s faithfulness. In every case, they spent years waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. They spent their lives engaged in the ordinary tasks of obeying God, loving others and asking for the strength to reflect God’s character. When their moments of greatness arrived, they were prepared because of the years they spent cultivating their character. Most of those years they spent in obscurity and in trial and in uncertainty, but they kept trusting Him anyway.

You may not change the world, or conquer a kingdom, or write a beautiful book, but God isn’t finished with you. Not when you’re thirty-five. Not when you’re forty-five. Not when you’re eighty-five. As long as you breathe, there is always another day to trust Him, another day to obey Him, even when the results aren’t dramatic.

So wake up tomorrow and ask for the strength to simply trust Him. Ask for one more day to represent Jesus with what you say and do. Tell Him you’ll obey Him in small ways and in big ways, until the day your body gives out. And on that day, you can look ahead — much like Caleb — and remember God’s promise of resurrection. You can remember that you’re not past your prime, that your prime is still ahead of you and will in fact last forever.

Your work is not done until God says it’s done. And His promises never go away until the day they’re fulfilled. Caleb knew the truth, and his life exhorts us to remember it also.

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The Hero

In his mind’s eye, he sees a younger man, although the mirror presents a different image. The mirror makes clear the passage of time and offers no shelter from the reality of age.

He isn’t troubled by the graying hair or the deepening lines around his eyes, but sometimes he’s troubled that they tell a story divergent from the one he had planned. The younger man never considered the years beyond 30. It wasn’t that the timeline stopped at that age, but that it simply grew dark. 35, 40, 45, 50, and beyond…those were the ages of parents and grandparents. Those days held no clear place in the narrative he wrote for himself.

With 30 more than a few years behind him, he’s adjusting to a new story.

He was a hero in his old story, much like the heroes he admired. He knew in his bones that at 30, the world would be his. Or at least the small slice of it that he hoped to occupy. He saw others who seemed to have it made by then. They were angry, talented young men, men whose footsteps shook the earth and left a wide imprint. People listened to those men, and the younger man knew he would be one of them.

But he didn’t have their talent. Or perhaps he didn’t have their anger. Maybe his story just moved in a different direction, each chapter introducing new characters and new twists that interfered with the story he had constructed. His story is far earthier than the one he dreamed about as a younger man. His is the life of a mortal: learning to love God, to love a woman, to support his children, to work hard when nobody is paying attention, to love his neighbor as himself.

Noble, quiet, and hardly earth-shaking.

The lines on his face and the gray in his hair trace the appearance of unexpected joys and pains, and he realizes that the story shaped him more than he shaped the story. His footprints landed differently than he thought they would, and he knows that he’s a character in Somebody else’s story, rather than its Author.

Success and significance appear to him differently now, and he is learning that the widest footprints aren’t always the deepest. He knows that 30 was only a beginning, even for those angry young men he once admired. Some of their stories ended badly, others ended well, and many others are still being written. Never judge a story while it’s still a work in progress.

He sees now that the world can be changed by a million ordinary men who choose to follow the steps of the One Hero for whom the earth truly shakes. He no longer hopes to leave his own massive footprints, but instead to trace the steps of His Savior, one after another, until he sees Him face to face.  As his story closes one day, he may just turn around and find a few others following him as he follows His Hero. But he figures he has a few years to go before then. 30 was just a beginning.

This is a new story, smaller than the one he planned, but somehow richer and more beautiful. He smiles at the mirror and steps into a new day.

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