Intentional Faithfulness: Meditations on What It Means to Be Human
It takes a conscious effort for me to bless an elderly person whose slow, feeble steps are impeding my progress. The default position in my mind is to examine possibilities for hastening the moment when I can get them out of my way. Much though I am reluctant to admit it, that default position amounts to a curse aimed at removing an obstacle to my own selfish definition of happiness. That is why I am cultivating the habit of blessing the gray head. I have lived enough years to know that each of those gray hairs was purchased at great cost, both in joy and in sorrow. Who am I to ridicule those transactions in time and sweat and blood and tears, seeing that I, too, engage in those same transactions every moment of every day?
This is the way of all flesh, and it scares us. We do not like to consider the fact that we all are destined to grow old – provided something does not take us out before our time. That reality first dawned on me as a teenager, watching my once-vigorous grandfather lie helpless in a hospital bed, swollen with the fluids that would eventually crush his heart. Then there was my mother, whose loud and lively voice was silenced in the last weeks of her life by the feeding tube the doctors inserted in a desperate attempt to help her recover. And my father? The pain there was watching his brilliant mind lose its ability to remember, until at last he could recall nothing more than the blissful sleep of eternity.
Surely growing old is not for the faint of heart. Solomon understanding of this led him to a very wise conclusion:
Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”:
While the sun and the light, the moon and the stars, are not darkened, and the clouds do not return after the rain;
In the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow down;
When the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look through the windows grow dim;
When the doors are shut in the streets, and the sound of grinding is low;
When one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of music are brought low.
Also they are afraid of height, and of terrors in the way;
When the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper is a burden, and desire fails.
For man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets.
(Ecclesiastes 12:1-6 NKJV)
Careful reading of Solomon’s poetry reveals his references to weak and aching muscles, brittle bones, dim eyes, deaf ears, rotting teeth, jaded spirit, and broken heart. It is enough to drive one to desperation – which is why Solomon begins this passage with an exhortation to remember the Creator while we can. Without the Creator and the hope He imparts, we face a terrifying descent into debility before we cease breathing.
Which explains why each generation since Adam has wished so intently for the resurrection.
Let us be brutally honest. For the last 1900 years, Christians have longed for the return of Jesus. For centuries longer than that, Jews have longed for the coming of Messiah. Of course we all look eagerly for the redemption that will accompany this great event, but is that really our motivation? Are we really looking for the glory of God to cover all the earth, or are we actually hoping that we might be the generation who can escape the reality of bedpans and wheelchairs?
If we listen carefully, we can find that same reasoning behind the last question the disciples asked Yeshua:
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 NKJV)
In other words, “Lord, we have seen Your miracles and Your resurrection. Are You going to bring back all the Lost Tribes and restore Israel’s sovereignty as the prophets have said? Oh, and by the way, will You be handing out resurrection bodies to all of us as well? After all, we’ve been faithful, and it would be ever so convenient to skip that bit about sleeping in the dust, if you don’t mind.”
Yeshua’s answer in instructive on many levels. It applies to us just as directly as it applied to our spiritual forebears eagerly awaiting Messiah’s answer on the Mount of Olives 2,000 years ago:
And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8 NKJV)
In other words, “Why are you looking for a short cut to this process? You know it will happen, and you know you have work to do to make it happen. Instead of trying to weasel your way out of the work, focus on the task at hand so you can make use of the miraculous resources the Father is giving you to accomplish it.”
This is the uncomfortable truth we seek to avoid. In our wishful thinking about God’s sudden and miraculous fixing of all the world’s problems in our lifetime, we forget that our ultimate destiny is to rule the universe with Him. That means we have to be qualified for the job, and that requires an intense training program that cannot be cut short. So far the program has lasted about 6,000 years, linking every single generation in time and space and hope. What our fathers and mothers have learned – both good and ill – they have passed on to us. The more we learn from them, the better the legacy we pass on to our children.
Which, by the way, is why Satan does his best work in convincing us that history is irrelevant. If he can cut us off from our past, he stands a fair chance at getting us to make the same mistakes as our ancestors and continue going around the mountain until he can figure out some other way of thwarting God’s ultimate plan.
You know what else Satan does by depriving us of our history? He denies us our future. A people with no past is easy to deceive into thinking they have no impact on their eternal destiny. If they are unaware of the labors of their grandparents extending back through the ages, then they will be less inclined to engage in the labors required of their generation, but more inclined to leave everything up to God to fix in one massive End Times thunderclap.
And miss out on the thrill of partnering with God in the miraculous.
Why does Messiah delay? I believe it is the grace of God. He is still looking for people to do the impossible work of bringing His eternal Kingdom to earth. Each generation of laborers brings that Kingdom a bit more into focus, but only those who do the work can discern it.
This should not be a surprise. Hard work is the price in any field of human endeavor. It is just as true for a seamstress as for a statesman; for the ditch digger as for the duchess; for the concert pianist as for the nursemaid. Do we want to do well? Then we work to master the tasks at hand, following the gifts and inclinations the Creator has put into us. In time these efforts in our various fields will produce something even more precious as knowledge brings experience and experience produces wisdom.
Which brings us back to those beautiful gray heads hobbling slowly down the path in front of me. Eternity is staring them in the face, and they are looking back at it with expectation born of 70, 80, or 90 years of hard labor. If they have a true Kingdom perspective, then every laborious step comes with a prayer that perhaps they may see Messiah come and enter eternity directly. Yet that same perspective comes with the understanding that they still have the responsibility to keep on picking one foot up and putting the next foot down until Messiah says otherwise. That kind of Kingdom perspective leads to the same conclusion that kind old Simeon reached when he saw the infant Yeshua:
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32 NKJV)
Simeon was long dead when Yeshua defeated the grave 30 years later, yet he was content to bless God for preserving him long enough to see the beginning of redemption. Whether that redemption is completed in our lifetimes, or in the lifetimes of our great-grandchildren, we still have the responsibility to walk it out in the same hope and the same standard of righteousness that motivated old Simeon, expecting no further reward than to depart this life in peace when our part is finished.
The glory of young men is their strength, and the splendor of old men is their gray head. (Proverbs 29:29 NKJV)
You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:32 NKJV)