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The Arc of Life

The Arc of Life

- Living life at any age -

As I turn 40 today, I can’t help but get a bit philosophical about life and its natural course.

As a pastor I work with people of all ages and from all places of life. On any given day, I’ll counsel teens, young adults, middle aged people and senior citizens. I’ve prayed with prostitutes and politicians, dined with drug dealers and doctors; and while I still have much to learn about life, I have a unique perspective that seems worthy of mentioning.

Because I have spent so much time with people of such an array of stations in life, I’ve observed something I’m calling the “Arc of Life.” What I mean by this term is that there is a natural rhythm of life that keeps pace with us, and even limits us, to what we can or should be doing at any given time. I began seeing this arc of life as I have had the chance to develop such close relationships with people of so many different ages and accomplishments. What I’ve seen is that there is a natural arc to life, an arc of productivity, an arc of family, an arc for things of God.

The book of Ecclesiastes has a passage (made famous in the 60’s by Bob Dylan and The Byrds) that speaks to this arc:

Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—2 A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. 3 A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. 4 A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. 5 A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. 6 A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away. 7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak. 8 A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.

Now you’ll see in this passage that God has ordained certain times for certain activities. There may be a degree of flexibility from person to person, but by and large, life in alignment with the Lord follows this arc: preparation> production> concentration> transition. I have found that our modern society that seeks to throw off all restrictions—people no longer think in terms of proper times and proper seasons. But whether or not we understanding it, our lives follow this arc. The less we live in harmony with it, the less peace and joy we’ll find.

In a nutshell, the arc begins with childhood—this is where children learn about life, about values, about work and play, etc. The lessons they learn here propel them into early adulthood.

Then, in early adulthood people decide upon their course for life. They refine their skills and step away from the edge of the pool and start swimming. Along the way they pick up a spouse, have children, and settle down. They are moving up the arc.

In their middle-aged years (from about 30-50) they are living in a renaissance of personal productivity. They are producers—making something, having an impact, seeing results. They are full of activity—if it can be done, they will do it. Should it be done? Maybe/maybe not, but they’ll give it a try. The folks have time, resources, vision and passion. They are nearly at the top of the arc.

But I have seen—when a person is following God’s natural arc—somewhere between 50 and 60 years old, rather than the typical notion of “slowing down” that the world pounds into our thinking, instead when a person has properly followed this arc, during this time they will enter into a realm of purified productivity—they are ultra productive, but not existing in a realm of hectic activity. They will be wise and seasoned. They will know what matters. They will still have resources of energy and vision to accomplish great things; but they will have the added blessing of seeing life from an eternal perspective. They start marking days and years and realizing that they can leave a legacy if they focus on the right things. They have the discernment to leave behind things that waste time, and they focus on what will count for eternity. Now they are at the top of the arc.

Where they go from here depends on how they have gotten here. If they have followed God’s arc to this point, they are rich with perspective and wisdom. They have much to offer others and seek to pass the baton on to the next generation of leaders. Their joy is found in giving away the riches God has given to them. They have much to offer and people come to them to receive. They continue to lead, but they lead into the twilight, lighting the way for those who follow, and because so few today have followed God’s arc to this point, many people gaze at these saints with love, joy, respect and gratitude.

This is the arc. It is an arc filled with hope, optimism and peace. It’s an arc most could follow, but few choose.

The more I interact with people, the more I see how living out of balance with this arc causes great misery. It seems as though society has increasingly derailed good people from this perspective. Society, with its sophomoric wisdom, tells itself that it can ignore this arc, that there are more immediate ways to happiness, that we shouldn’t be bound by such naïve notions. Yet people wonder why our misery continues to rise, our contentment continues to lower, and we increasingly descend into despair—especially as we age. Life is painful and without knowing their place on the arc, they forsake hope and give up.

And that’s why I thought I’d take a moment to write this post—for many people reading it—there is still time to redirect efforts and recognize our place on the arc.

First and foremost, the Lord needs to be at the center of our lives. Back in High School, I thought I was pretty cool by saying that God was my Co-Pilot. What I didn’t realize then is that a statement like this is simply foolishness. God IS the Lord and master of ALL life—even if we ignore Him or deny this truth. I can say I don’t believe in gravity, but it still dominates everything I do. God is not our co-pilot, He is THE pilot! He has determined the course of our days and the times and places we live. He is moving us along this arc whether or not we admit it. Unless we are surrendered to Him, we’re going to find that each stage of the arc is frustratingly toilsome. We’ll be out of sync with God’s natural rhythms of life.

We’re like a blind person, sitting in a canoe, being carried down a stream. We don’t know where the stream is going and we can’t see where we are, but we’re paddling with all our might into the darkness. The solution is to recognize what God is doing and let Him lead. This kind of trust and knowledge of God requires that we are reconciled to Him. It’s not enough to be fatalistic and just “go with the flow”. It’s more than that—we need to surrender and do God’s will. This means we need to be in a right relationship with Him.

How do we do this? Well, here’s the basics: God is holy and pure and dwells in absolute purity and perfection. Therefore, He can’t have any sin in His presence—otherwise, it wouldn’t be perfect any more. But sadly, each of us sin, each of us do things that are not like God. This means two things: we are out of fellowship with God here and now, and when we die, we will be out of fellowship with God forever (e.g. we go away from God because we can’t enter into His presence). If we are not in fellowship with God here, we are off His path for our lives.

But God wants us in fellowship with Him, God wants us near. So He sent His son, Jesus, to earth to be our atonement. Jesus was perfect—like God—never sinning. His death on the cross was to shed His life for us; to cover us with His perfection. This is His gift to us: eternal life. We don’t earn this, like any gift, we receive it when we reach out for it by faith. We confess to God we have sinned. We ask Him to be the Lord of our lives and turn us from the things that break our fellowship with Him. Once we recognize and submit to Him as the Lord of our lives, His presence and grace infuses everything we do and He enables us to live out His plan for us. Thus we walk the arc, fulfilling His will, experiencing His peace, knowing our lives are pleasing to Him.

Let’s get back to the arc of life…so, how do we teach it to our children? First, we need to connect our kids to the Lord at a young age. From this root stems a successful life (that is, one that is successful in the eyes of God). When God is at the center of our lives, we fulfill each stage of the arc with His hand guiding us and His strength working within us. We have peace knowing that each season is operating unto God and He will not fail to accomplish His will for us.

As we enter into young adulthood, we get equipped for a life of usefulness and productivity. During these years, we need to hold Christ at the center of our lives to keep from getting off His arc. The world is full of wild lures, seeking to draw us from God’s arc for our lives. Countless people burn through these equipping years without gaining the tools they need to really live. The result is the rest of their lives, they feel like they are playing catch-up, never quite in step with the pace of life.

Likewise, we need Christ at the center of our lives as we steam through the middle-aged years. These are the years when we can accomplish so much for eternity. These are the years when we make an impact. These are the years when we accomplish what we’ll be remembered for. Yet how many people rage through these years and just as they leave this era, they look back suddenly realizing the moment has past and the days were squandered? The old rock band, Rush, wrote a song called “Anthem”—I remember singing its key lyrics: “Live for yourself, there’s no one else more worthy living for”. But if this is our anthem, regret will eventually come like the plague.

But if Christ is the center of our lives during these years, we’ll have tremendous productivity—not just in our workplace, but in our homes and in our churches. We’ll go on Short Term Missions trips. We’ll sacrifice to fund overseas church planting. We’ll volunteer for a crisis ministry. We’ll do things that matter.

As we get older, if Christ is at the center of the arc, when we enter those Golden Years—we’ll find they truly are golden. Not because they are without pain or worry (likely, our pain and discomfort will increase) but rather we’ll have a life-time of godly wisdom that we can pour into our children and others in our family and in our church. We’ll have wisdom validated by a life well-lived and people will be blessed in our hearing.

And lastly, when we enter those twilight years—if Christ has been at the center of our lives, we’ll have known that we have spent them for eternity. We’ll see and know that time is short. We’ll have peace and contentment knowing that life has not been wasteful toil, but rather joyful Christ-filled service. We will have been connected to Christ, the Vine (Jesus taught about this in John chapter 15), for our entire lives and will rejoice in the hundred-fold harvest of fruitfulness as Christ has lived our His life through us.

From here, for God’s people, there will be no “end” that awaits us, but rather a beginning—a beginning of the next phase of life (REAL life) where we walk with Christ face-to-face, in glory, without the weight of sin; where we can fellowship with Him and His people with purity and joy. We will step into eternity in harmony with the arc of life, knowing that indeed God has always been faithful.

So beloved, like it or not, you are on this arc. How are you doing? Is Christ guiding you on the path? Is He the Lord of your life in all His entirety? If you are young, are you gathering the resources to live life well? If you are middle-aged, are you maximizing the productivity of these days? If you’re in your golden years, are you using your wisdom and remaining reserves for eternity? Are you in the twilight years? Are you looking forward to forever with the Lord letting these last days be spent in fellowship with Him and His people? I prayerfully hope so.

The arc of life…to follow it in righteousness is to know peace and joy and productivity. To fight against it is to know toil, frustration and ultimately despair. If you have not aligned with God’s arc for your life, now is the day for repentance. Now is the day to let Him be the Lord and surrender to His will.

Again, if you’re not sure, here’s how:

Begin by praying to God and recognizing that He is holy and right about what is good and righteous. Recognize that you have not lived with absolute purity before Him. Recognize that when you measure yourself against His purity, He has every right to cast you from Him into Hell. But also recognize that He has provided His Son Jesus in your place. Jesus lived a perfect life and when He died, He died as a substitute for God’s people—that way, God’s holiness and justice are preserved, and we can be forgiven. Call out to God for forgiveness. Repent and turn your life to follow His ways. That means knowing what the Bible says by reading it. That means doing what the Bible says. That means joining with a church and getting involved. That means talking with Him in prayer and listening to His Spirit.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably not too late to align yourselves with God’s arc of life. If you do that, while I won’t guarantee that life will go perfectly, I can guarantee that God will be with you and strengthen you to accomplish and persevere through all that He brings your way.

Thanks and God Bless.

Those are my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours.

Last modified on Sunday, 01 April 2012 07:44
Russ Brewer

Russ Brewer

Rescued from the domain of darkness, transferred to the kingdom of the Son. Undershepherd of Grace. Husband of Corinne. Father of three. Chew-toy to Zeke...