(This column originally ran in LNP | LancasterOnline on Feb. 6, 2022. Happy birthday, Dr. Teague!)
Prior to the release of his latest film, “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Denzel Washington sat down with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. During that interview he said, “What I do, what I make, what I made — all of that — is that going to help me on the last day of my life? It’s about, who have you lifted up? Who have we made better? … If you don’t have a spiritual anchor you’ll be easily blown by the wind and you’ll be led to depression.”
I read that interview just as I turned the January calendar to my three-score-and-10 birthday and thought, “Wow! Did I live my life well? Did I lift someone up? Who have I made better?” There is nothing like a milestone birthday to make us pause and examine our life, correct our weaknesses, reorder priorities and make changes for improvement.
Moses wrote in Psalm 90:10: “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” A few verses later we read, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” In other words, life is short, and we ought to make the most of our remaining days.
For the Apostle Paul, making the most of his days meant being faithful to the Gospel to the very end. In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, he wrote, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
He later wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul finished well.
The late professor Howard Hendricks would tell his Dallas Seminary students that only one out of 12 seminary graduates finish well. According to Hendricks, there are 2,930 people recorded in the Bible and we have data on 100 of them to show only one-third of the 100 finished well. The two-thirds who failed did so in the last half of their life.
Solomon, King David’s son and successor to the throne of Israel, renowned for his wealth and wisdom, noted in Ecclesiastes 7:8 that the end of a matter is better, or in some translations more important than its beginning.
When I ponder that statistic, two words come to mind: overtime and availability. Now that I have reached my three score and 10, I am living in overtime. And when in overtime, as my coach friend Josh has often reminded me, the coach instructs his players to take risks, go for the goal, give it all you’ve got, and never give up. That’s sound advice for this stage of life as well.
In the decade ahead should I live, I want to take the risks, go for the goal, and be available to God and others until my final breath. I want my thirst for God to increase, to be governed more and more by his word, to be more sensitive to his presence. I want to have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others, be more loving, be quick to forgive. I want to grieve over sin and yearn more and more to be with Jesus in heaven forever.
Some may think I am too focused on God to really be “with it” in this world. I don’t doubt that, but when I fix my eyes on God and the things that last forever, this world has nothing I can’t do without. I have realized, like Solomon who had the wisdom and wealth (estimated at $2.2 trillion in today’s measure) to achieve anything he wanted, nothing brings lasting satisfaction except God.
On this milestone birthday, I have been reminded of the countless ways in which God has shown his goodness to me. David, the Old Testament poet king, wrote in Psalm 65:11: “You crown the year with your goodness, and Your paths drip with abundance.” These words illustrate God’s steadfast love — lavishly poured out in the perfect life and sacrificial death of our victorious savior Jesus Christ, who came that we “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He is my spiritual anchor in all circumstances; in the words of the hymn, “an anchor safe and sure, that can evermore endure … and it holds.”
As my 101-year-old friend Eric closes every conversation — with his resounding signature inflection — “It is all by God’s grace.” Truer words were never spoken to sum up my life thus far.