The Seasons of Life

By Allan Weatherall

Every day is filled with opportunities. We have opportunities to engage in the pursuit of personal goals and ambitions, opportunities for pleasure and recreation, for work or business pursuits, to touch the lives of others and bring them inspiration and hope through the gospel, opportunities for learning and discovery... the list could go on and on.  But amidst the busyness of life, it’s aIways a good thing to take time and periodically pause and be a little introspective about your life. From time to time I ask some fundamental questions about what I am doing on this earth. When I was young I had many goals... to find a wife, to establish and succeed in my career, to build a house, to engage in ministry, to acquire some possessions, etc. In my youth, a lot of my motivation sprang from these desires, as well as the general youthful drive to make my mark upon the world. I remember feeling frustrated at times that whilst I had plenty of enthusiasm and creative energy, I often lacked the resources to attain my goals. 20 years later with a little more wisdom and experience I find myself with more resources. But like so many men in mid-life, I find myself sometimes wondering what it is all about.

In my 30s I could see a mid-life crisis looming up ahead and it was a fearful thing. Now, in my 40s the worst has passed and it doesn't seem like such a crisis… but I still have the questions. I feel very much like I am in Solomon's shoes. Solomon was very blessed of God to the point where he was able to set some very worthwhile and creative goals - and to attain them all. He did plenty of building, plenty of learning, plenty of writing and living and loving, but at the end of it all said, "Vanity of vanity, all is vanity - a striving after the wind.” Unlike Solomon, however, I can't just spend the remainder of my life in self-indulgent pleasure. For one, God wasn't very pleased when Solomon did that, so I don't expect that He would be if I did. Besides, my circumstances just don't permit it. Unlike Solomon, who had the job of King for life, many people face vocational dilemmas.

It seems to be one of the inescapable aspects of life since the industrial revolution that there are very few jobs and vocations that last for a lifetime. Technology makes people obsolete. It empowers some whilst at the same time disempowers others. The labor market remains in a constant state of ebb and flow as new skills become in high demand whilst others fade slowly into extinction. Time moves on and waits for no man. Consequently people need to change with the times, learn to grow and adapt to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise.

Waiting for the Wave
Surfing is a wonderful metaphor for life.  It is one regret of my life that I am not a strong swimmer, otherwise I would have loved to surf. Firstly, surfing requires some skill - you have to learn how to do it. Secondly, it requires a commitment - you have to be there when the waves are up. Thirdly, you have to position yourself to take advantage of the opportunity (the wave). And fourthly, once you have done all of the above, there is so much that is just out of your control. For example, if you want to surf you take your board, paddle out, sit there on your board waiting for the waves, and then maybe the waves don't come. Sure, you can go to where the waves are to some extent, but at the end of the day, it's God who makes the waves - you can't control them. On the other hand, if it all does come together and you do catch a wave, and you're skillful enough to stay on it, you get swept along on a power that is bigger than yourself. It's a truly exhilarating and sweet experience (all this coming from someone who's never done it - thankfully I have been blessed with a good imagination!).

So here I am in my 40s, surfboard under my arm (metaphorically speaking), standing on the shore of new opportunities. I'm ready for a new challenge - to step out into something new and pursue a dream. There's new horizons and a whole world out there waiting for me. So what am I thinking? Now some would say, "Go for it!" "Just do it" "Jump in" Hmmm… but I have one big problem: My life is actually not my own! Now I don't want to blame God for any lack of motivation or reticence on my part - maybe I am a little too cautious and maybe and do lack the youthful enthusiasm that once propelled me along in reckless abandon. But, in my defense, I do have to stop and pause for a moment. The gospel tells me that my life is actually not my own, and that I have been "bought for a price - by the precious blood of Jesus". If I call Jesus "Lord" then I do need to realize that I just can't go jumping into every opportunity that comes my way - even opportunities that look like good ones. In fact, if I am serious about following Jesus and being His disciple, then there's probably going to be some good opportunities that I'm going to have to say "no" to.

The Values-Driven Life
I was commenting to a friend recently that life is like trying to cross a fast-flowing stream (to introduce another metaphor). We set our goals and formulate our ideals in our youth, and then wade out into life. But as time goes on and the currents have pressed against us, we lose our footing once or twice and by the time we get to the other side we are much further down the river than we intended to be. Even if we manage to keep our head above water and not drown, it is likely that we miss our original target on the other side of the river. Sometimes this is the providence of God, but other times it can also be that we have simply been swept along in the prevalent values of the culture in which we live. How many of us would like to be debt free and serve the Lord, only to find that we are working 9-5 to service a hefty mortgage on a house or car? Or how many of us would like to spend more time with our families, only to find that we are just too busy? Sure, we have good intentions, but the currents of this world wash us off course.

One of the greatest compliments that I've ever received was from a friend who said that I am the only person he knows who has actually been able to live out my ideals. I am not sure if I have, but wow... what a compliment! And if I am one of only a few, then wow... how sad! Are there really so few who are committed to their ideals? The fact that so many people end up "going with the flow" is testament to the fact that the values of our culture are both all-pervasive and extremely seductive. Unless we have some very clear guiding principles in life, and the courage and determination to follow them, then the currents will surely take us away. Make no mistake, in this culture, in this ocean of hedonistic and materialistic self-serving consumerism, we are either swimming against the current or being swept along with it! If you don't believe me, then just take a look and see how much you owe the bank!

When it comes to values and ideals, someone wise once said, "Our ideals are like the stars of the heavens. We may never reach them, but like the mariners of the sea, we chart our course by them." Ideals are imperative. Having the commitment and a strategy to implement them transforms mere ideals into foundational life values that can guide and give us direction in life and help us to stand against the undercurrents that would cause us to lose our footing in life. Am I prescribing some kind of alternative lifestyle here? Advocating some kind of counter-culture revolution? Actually I think I'm proposing what should be the normal Christian life. Jesus taught more than a few things that turn the world's values on its head. Let's take a look at a few:

"Consider the birds of the air, they not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? ...Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' "For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly father knows that you need all these things. "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow..."

It was this verse that encouraged me in 1983 to take the bold step of leaving my job and start my own business. I desperately wanted a change and I figured that if that verse wasn't true then I actually had a much bigger problem than not being able to pay my bills. It would have meant that none of Jesus' words could be trusted and that the Christian faith was not a substantial belief system at all.

By today's standards, Jesus words seem open to the accusation of being naive. Let's bring that quote above in the 21st century:
"Consider the birds of the air, they do not work regular office hours, neither do they work overtime, nor do they plan their investment or retirement funds, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? ...Do not be anxious then..."

None of this, of course, is to say that we should not work. Sowing and reaping is part of the normal agricultural process, and food production is as noble a profession as any. So what is Jesus saying? I believe that Jesus is telling us that God is committed to our welfare. That He is committed to meeting our needs, and promises to provide for us if our priorities and motivations are right. If I presume to call Jesus "Lord", then I am not free to just do as I please. I am not free to be self-serving in my goals and ambitions; I am not free to commit myself to anything that will take my time and strength and resources from any prior call that God has upon my life. My primary consideration in all that I do should be seeking the advancement of Kingdom of God. I am not free to pursue anything that will compromise a righteous walk.

Walking with God
If we are intent upon living God’s way, we soon realize that there is one commodity that we need if we are to continue on this path: Faith. The Bible tells us that the righteous "will live by faith". We are also told "without faith it is impossible to please God". So what is this thing called 'faith'? Isn't it just child-like naivete? What could ever make us actually believe that God is prepared to take care of all of our practical needs? Afterall, the promises being made here are no small thing. God is promising to cover our expenses and "pick up the tab" for all our bills if we are actually prepared to put His Kingdom first. So what is faith?

Firstly we need to understand what faith is not. Faith is not an emotion. Emotions come and go depending on what you ate for breakfast and a variety of other factors. Secondly, faith is not self-motivation or self-determination. It's not hype. It isn't deciding what you want to do and then finding a whole lot of verses from the Bible that you think justifies that and then trying to convince yourself that you are walking "in faith". That can be self-deception.

True faith is a conviction. A conviction is when you believe something despite the fact that everything and everyone else tells you the opposite. Faith, the Bible tells us, "is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen". A conviction is something that is much stronger than an opinion. Many times when we speak of something we believe we are really talking about our opinions. True belief, however, is more than opinion. An opinion is something that you can discard if it becomes inconvenient - a conviction is not.

A conviction resides at the very core of your being and is something that you cannot deny, even if it is inconvenient. If you have a conviction you will stick to it through all kinds of difficulty and hardship. Such faith and conviction is born when God speaks to your heart, and it continues to be strengthened by God's word. "Faith comes by hearing the word..." Is the kind of conviction that Noah had to build the Ark, even though there was no sign of rain. It was the kind of conviction that Abraham had when he left home and went out not knowing where he was going. A conviction born of God doesn't have to have all the answers or all the details, nor does it require the approval of peers.

Sometimes the greatest enemy to God's best is a good idea. As I have been contemplating changes in my life I have had lots of suggestions from friends - most of which seem to be very good ideas. There have been times when I have wondered if some people have thought me foolish for taking such a long time to make up my mind about what I would do. Afterall, there is an ocean of possibilities and good ideas out there! But I am left with the undeniable conviction that it is ultimately not entirely my place to choose. I have to at least give God the opportunity to speak, and if I truly want God's best for me then I must actually seek Him diligently about it.

It is this aspect of "walking with God" that can appear as foolishness to men. God calls people to do apparently foolish things, and then He reveals His power and glory through their weaknesses. For me, the periods of uncertainty in my life have been occasions when I have been confronted with my own weakness and inadequacy. The good Lord, in His mercy, has allowed me to experience a little humiliation. That has done me no harm and in fact I believe that has done quite a bit of good. I have been reminded afresh of my own dependence upon God, and as the scriptures say, "God's strength comes to perfection where there is weakness". Having said that, I don't relish being thought of as a fool.

So to all of the mid-lifers who might be reading this, or to those who have had some other kind of change forced upon them, I offer my sympathy - it is an unsettling time. But I also offer you a word of encouragement. Seasonal change is not a time for desperate measures or contrived strategies. It's a time to pause and reflect, to strengthen one's faith, to seek God and to revisit those foundational values and convictions that constitute the best part of who you are. For each chapter that closes in our lives God has a new one. Unexpected change is not the end... but a new beginning. New waves of opportunity are coming, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear them and are ready to take steps of faith to co-operate with God’s plan and purpose for our lives.


 

Thursday, July 26, 2007   login to post comments | printer friendly version | 10202 reads