On Father’s Day, I celebrated my 29th birthday. Now I know that a person’s 29th birthday isn’t a milestone age, but it has caused me to reflect on my life and development over the past year. In my reflections, I think that there are three things that have really echoed in my mind
Serving God in Your Youth
Over the past couple of years, I’ve listened to many sermons and have received strong exhortations from older men to serve God while I’m still young. In my early twenties, I probably did not take those warnings very seriously, but now, I realize that I should have taken this more to heart. I have quite vivid memories of turning 21 while in college and now I realize that I will be 30 in a year. I haven’t wasted my twenties at all, but in some ways, there are some regrets over how I spent my time. I have spent far too much time neglecting eternal realities. In my estimation, I should have spent my time, preparing for eternity. I’m reminded of the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:1-7
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut–when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low– they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets– before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
It’s a sobering reminder that our lives are fleeting and that eternity is closer to us than we think. However, we tend not to think of our lives in this way. For many of us, we live with an expectation that we will have a rather long life. For many of us, it is considered unusual and tragic if a young man or woman dies in their youth. However, this has not been the perspective of humanity throughout history. Most of humanity lived in a time where infant mortality was high and the average lifespan of a person was around 50. This means that the frailty of life is felt much less poignantly for us than for many in the world. However, this passage in Ecclesiastes is still true. We should dedicate ourselves to serving God while we are young because we do not know what the future holds. Also, for practical reasons, we should serve God while we are young because we have much more physical energy and vitality to serve Him now. The reality of our humanity is that our bodies age over time and our physical health does limit us in what service we can do for Him.
Quality vs. Quantity
During my time of reflection, I asked myself a very simple question: is it better to live a fully committed life to God and die at a young age or to live a half-hearted life to God and die as an old man? In other words, is a short and godly life better than a long and half-hearted life? This is the basic question of quality vs. quantity. This question came up in my reflection because of things that I’ve observed over time. In my personal life, it has been rare to meet an older man or woman who is godly and passionate for Christ. My common experience is that older men and women tend to lose their passion for God as they have aged and in some cases, many have become downright angry and embittered. In contrast, many of the Christian biographies that I’ve read highlight the lives of zealous Christian men and women who died at a young age. This question of quality vs. quantity came up when I recalled the biography of Jim Eliot who died before the age of 30 in service to God. When I first read his biography, my first thought was to consider the tragedy of his death and to wonder how much more he could have done if he lived a longer life. However, as I immediately asked that question, I now realize that I should have asked that question about myself. Am I waiting for some time in the future (perhaps because I think I will live a long life) to live a quality life for Christ?
Paul’s letters to Timothy serve as a great example of how a young man should serve God. There are many practical exhortations give those letters, but there are some that stand out.
Let no despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 1 Timothy 4:12-15
For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:10-13
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2:21-22
Each of these exhortations is useful for Christians at any age, but they are especially useful to young believers. These exhortations deal primarily with our manner of behavior and our devotion. We are called to govern ourselves so as to be respected in spite of our youth. This implies that we should develop godly behavior (by producing fruits of the Spirit) starting when we are young so that the harvest of these disciplines are evident to all. The godly behavior that we develop now will serve as an example to all believers, regardless of our age. When we invest in the quality of our Christian walk now by immerse ourselves in these disciplines, our progress is evident to all. Conversely, if we neglect these disciplines at a young age, then we stunt our growth as we get older. Again, the emphasis is on the quality of our devotion.
Gifts and Talents
My last reflection dealt with the subject of spiritual gifts, which has always been a source of confusion for me primarily because of my background. My Christian walk started in a traditional Pentecostal church that emphasized spiritual gifts, but the emphasis of the gifts was for our personal edification, not the edification of the Church. As I grew older, I began to hear ministers connect the use of the spiritual gifts to the edification of the Church (cf. Ephesians 4; 1 Corinthians 12). However, my views concerning the miraculous, signed spiritual gifts began to change as I affirmed sola scriptura and as I read on modern cessationism (while listening to some of the debates). So you can say that my views on these matters are still relatively unclear.
I reflected on this issue in particular because fellow believers believe that I am gifted as a teacher and musician (since I play the saxophone) and they have mentioned this numerous times over the past several years. In thinking about the matter, I realized that I have spent much time cultivating my gift of teaching, while I have completely neglected my development as a musician for theological and personal reasons. First, I’m not sure if musical gifts are actual spiritual gifts or simply natural talents. Even though 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 are not an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts, I don’t see a biblical reason why playing a saxophone should be considered a spiritual gift. Second, I have no idea how my ability to play the saxophone fits into the regulative principle of worship. In general, if instrumental music is allowed in worship, then the instrumental music serve as an accompaniment (and not a distraction) to congregation singing. Since the saxophone tends to be depicted as a soloist instrument (and since I was trained as a jazz musician), it’s hard for me to envision a saxophone as purely accompaniment. Third, I grew up in a background where congregational worship was distracted by the musicians. In my background, people came to church because the music was good and so they came simply to hear the music. In essence, the musicians of the church made corporate worship a spectator sport. Moreover, playing my saxophone in churches usually brought unnecessary attention to myself, which concerned me since the goal of any Christian musician is to aid the worshiper in drawing near to God. So for these reasons, I stopped playing my saxophone almost all together and basically neglected the talent.
I’ve thought much more about this over the past week and I realized that I shouldn’t totally disregard musicianship. I’m still quite unclear about its use in worship, but I’ve realized that God gives both talents and gifts and we are called to be good stewards over these gifts. On my 29th birthday, I realized that I’ve had my saxophone for about 17 years and I’ve wondered how much better I would have been if I would have remained diligent in practice. More importantly, would God hold me accountable for neglecting a gift/talent? These are questions that I’ve pondered and it has led me to think about what other talents have I simply ignored because I didn’t know their use.
So in my reflections, even though I have some regrets, I’m quite excited about getting older. Each year further testifies of God’s graciousness to me to live a little longer and to glorify God. As each year unfolds, I’m reminded of the catechism question
Q: What is the chief and highest end of man?
A: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God fully and to enjoy Him forever.
After each year, I ask these basic questions: Am I glorifying God more fully? Am I enjoying Him and satisfied in Him fully? I’m grateful that I’ve been able to glorify God over the past year and that He has given me this life so that I may be satisfied in Him.