For most of us, we live our natural lives, our physical lives, with the general knowledge that our “best years” are somewhere north of the middle of our existence. Perhaps you have seen it as the time after your children have left home and started their own life journeys, but you’re healthy enough and financially stable enough to do a number of things that you were unable to do in your “intense responsibility” stage. (To be clear, for some people this season may not occur until their 60’s because of unexpected challenges and the difficulties of life.)
It’s not my intent to discuss the natural or physical life, but rather what we would define as our “primary target” for our spiritual lives? I can’t ever recall having a conversation with an adult who believes they hit their spiritual peak in their late 40’s or early 50’s. Rather, many people with whom I’ve had this conversation say that they anticipate that their later years will be the most spiritually fruitful and rewarding. The reason they give for this conviction is that they feel they’ll have more time, energy and opportunity to invest in the things of the Kingdom of God rather than the simple sustenance of the natural life.
However, now that I’ve had the privilege of journeying through those highly anticipated later years, I would have to say that I don’t see a greater level of spiritual intensity or focus in that age range as I might have hoped. Life gets complicated, health issues seem to occur more frequently than we had hoped, and then there’s the issue of caring for parents who are going through very difficult and often prolonged health struggles that may be life and death related.
This has led me to reconsider with renewed openness Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians when he says:
“Since, then, you’ve been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2
There’s not too much about these couple of verses that is difficult to understand. Paul uses simple language to exhort the believers in the church of Colossae to set their hearts and minds on the things that are “above” … and “not on earthly things.” The implications of these straight-forward exhortations are significant. It’s fair to say that a reasonable interpretation is that the target of our best energies in life, no matter what our age might be, should always be on Christ and the things that are above! There’s absolutely no room in Paul’s theology to say that we would do well to focus on this life now and set our “spiritual target” for when we might have more free time in our 50’s and 60’s. Have you ever met anyone that believed that they had reached the pinnacle of their spiritual transformation when they were in their 30’s or 40’s? I doubt it. Instead, most people believe they’re more likely to hit that pinnacle a little later in life.
I’m still praying my way through this, but I see two clear applications of this that apply to all of us.
First, no matter where we are in the continuum of life, our hearts and minds should be set on Christ and the eternal agenda that He has established for us. The message paraphrase puts it this way:
“So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ – that’s where the action is. See things from His perspective.”
This may sound very unrealistic to someone who is starting a new business or is trying to manage a growing household of young children, etc., etc., but Paul doesn’t allow room for any of these things to displace the priority of keeping our eyes on Christ and the things that are above. (In point of fact, we could argue that when we do put those things first, all the other matters which we believe are so important seem to fall into place. See Matthew 6:33 – “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”)
Second, our spiritual formation target is no longer the prime of our lives or the empty nest years that we so eagerly anticipate. I would argue that the pinnacle of our spiritual formation should be right up to the very day before we cross the threshold from this life to the next.
I can’t find a single reason why our spiritual growth and formation should not continue to progress every single day until we depart from this earth. That is what I would call a wonderful plan for our lives and, if accomplished, a life well lived. Such a life, a good life, will inevitably lead to what Dallas Willard calls “a good death.” That is, the transition from this life to the next is not marked by fear, dread and uncertainty; but rather, by a holy anticipation of something for which your heart and mind have longed for over many years.
I invite you to join with me and recalculate your spiritual target.