It's Never Too Late
It's Never Too Late
I like to think of myself as young. Recently, I heard that middle age runs from thirty-five to fifty-eight years of age. On that basis, not only am I not young, I am not even middle-aged!
People often speak of being middle-aged as a time of ‘midlife crisis’. A midlife crisis can be caused by ageing itself, or ageing in combination with changes, problems, or regrets over work, career, relationships, children and physical changes associated with ageing.
Individuals experiencing a midlife crisis are often searching for an undefined dream or goal. We may have a deep sense of remorse for goals not yet accomplished. We may fear humiliation among more successful colleagues. We often desire to achieve a feeling of youthfulness.
At the root of all these things is a sense of something being missing. There is often a tragic wisdom in mid-life crises, as individuals realise the emptiness of much of what they used to strive for (even if what they replace it with is not always particularly wise).
I have often wondered whether Zacchaeus, whom we read about in today’s New Testament passage, was going through a midlife crisis. Whether he was or not, he found the answer that so many people are searching for in his encounter with Jesus.
No matter how long you have travelled in the wrong direction, you can always turn around. With Jesus it’s never too late to make a new start and ensure that your life is set in the right direction.
Apply ‘the rocking chair test’Proverbs 10:1-10
A successful businessman, who is well known to be a man of extraordinary integrity, told me that he applies the ‘rocking chair test’ to all his decisions. He pictures himself one day, in his retirement, sitting in his rocking chair and looking back on the decisions that he has made. What will he decide was a good decision and what will he decide was a bad decision? He wants to ensure that the decisions he makes now he will not regret later.
This passage shows us the things we need to avoid, such as malice (v.10), foolish gossip (vv.8,10) and laziness (v.4).
Honesty and integrity are key to a life lived without regret. ‘Ill-gotten gain gets you nowhere; an honest life is immortal’ (v.2, MSG). ‘A good and honest life is a blessed memorial; a wicked life leaves a rotten stench’ (v.7, MSG).
If you live honestly and with integrity you can be ‘confident and carefree’ (v.9a, MSG). But the dishonest will be caught: ‘Shifty is sure to be exposed’ (v.9b, MSG).
Lord, help me today to be wise and righteous (vv.3,7), to avoid malice (v.10) and foolish gossip (vv.8,10), to live a life of diligence (v.4), honesty and integrity (v.9).
Set your life in the right directionLuke 18:31-19:10
Jesus came to make it possible for our lives to be redeemed and transformed.
He takes the Twelve aside (18:31) and explains that the purpose for which he has come will involve being mocked, insulted, spat on, flogged and killed (v.32). But, ‘on the third day he will rise again’ (v.33). It is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that provides hope for every human being.
The blind man is an example of someone whose life is totally transformed by an encounter with Jesus. A man, whose life had ended up with him sitting by the roadside begging, is transformed when he cries out for mercy. Jesus says to him: ‘“Go ahead – see again! Your faith has saved and healed you!” The healing was instant: He looked up, seeing – and then followed Jesus, glorifying God’ (vv.42–43a, MSG).
Next, Zacchaeus encounters Jesus. Zacchaeus was probably not young. As ‘a chief tax collector’, he had reached the top of his profession (19:2). He was still able to run and climb a tree at least (v.4) – but he wasn’t getting any younger. He had become wealthy (v.2) and his work was probably his priority. As a chief tax collector Zacchaeus would have had people working under him.
He would have been promoted many times, and could look back with satisfaction upon his achievements. Yet, as a tax collector the personal cost of this work was ostracism and unpopularity. People in Zacchaeus’ situation often resent their job and feel trapped in their chosen life.
He would most likely have had a family, and we read of his ‘house’ (v.9). Perhaps he worked very hard for them. A midlife crisis can be devastating to family life. A person in midlife crisis can become angry, depressed and resentful to those closest to them – feeling that no matter how hard they work, their family require more than they can earn.
Zacchaeus was almost certainly from a religious home. His parents called him Zacchaeus: ‘the righteous one’. But now religious people regarded him as a ‘sinner’ (v.7) because he was collecting taxes from his own people to give to the Romans and taking a lot of it for himself.
Still, ‘He wanted to see who Jesus was’ (v.3). He must have realised he had a need. For all his money, success, family life and ‘religion’, there was still something missing. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus without Jesus seeing him (v.4).
Many people feel that because of their sin and imperfections, God will turn away from them. But God loves imperfect people and, instead of turning away from you, he turns towards you.
Zacchaeus did not realise that you cannot hide from God. Jesus knew him and he even knew his name. Zacchaeus did not realise that Jesus loved him and wanted to know him (v.5). Whatever you have done in your life and whatever your imperfection, Jesus loves you and wants to be in a relationship with you. But he requires a response. In a dramatic moment of encounter, Jesus said, ‘Come down immediately’ (v.5).
Zacchaeus humbled himself and obeyed Jesus. He did not put it off. He came down ‘at once and welcomed him gladly’ (v.6). Jesus was not put off by the negative response of the crowd (v.7).
The result was a total transformation in Zacchaeus’ life (v.8 onwards). He decided to ‘give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount’ (v.8). His attitude to possessions changed completely. The question for us should not be, ‘How much can I get?’ but, ‘How much can I give?’ (v.8).
His whole family was transformed. Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house’ (v.9). Salvation came to his household in the arrival of Jesus. Salvation means freedom. It means a relationship with Jesus that goes on for ever. This puts even a midlife crisis in perspective.
Finally, you, like Zacchaeus, can be part of God’s transformation of society. The transformation in Zacchaeus and his household brought benefits for the poor and justice for those who had been cheated. His crucial decision to follow Jesus certainly passes the rocking chair test.
Lord, thank you that you love me and that you often use a crisis to transform my life for the better. Help me to encounter you afresh today.
Live a wholehearted lifeDeuteronomy 29:1-30:10
Recently, I sat next to an eighty-six-year-old woman at lunch. She was in a wheelchair. I soon realised that although her body was failing, her mind was not. She raised some very difficult theological issues. When I asked her what she thought the answer was to these questions, she replied with a verse from this passage: ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever’ (29:29).
She said she had come to realise that some things we did know the answer to, but others (such as the kind of questions she had been raising!) we would probably not know the answer to in this life. They were part of the ‘secret things’ that ‘belong to the Lord’.
There are some things, however, that do belong to us. God has revealed to us how to ‘live well and wisely’ (v.9, MSG). We need to avoid getting ‘sidetracked from God’ (v.18), thinking ‘I’ll live just the way I please, thank you’ and end up ‘ruining life for everybody’ (v.19, MSG)
The way to know you will be at peace in your rocking chair is to listen to and obey God wholeheartedly (30:2–10): ‘Obey him with your whole heart and soul... He’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces... And you will make a new start, listening obediently to God... Nothing half-hearted here; you must return to God, your God, totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back’ (vv.2–10, MSG).
It’s never too late to start living a wholehearted life.
Lord, help me from now on to live a life of wholehearted obedience to you. May today be a new start. Help me to obey you wholeheartedly.
I once went to The Passion of Christ play at Trafalgar Square on Good Friday. There were so many people that it was a challenge to see. Being rather short I felt just like Zacchaeus trying to get near to Jesus. If there had been a tree I would have climbed it!
I tried standing on benches, bins and walls, desperate to see. I was moved on twice by security! It was very frustrating. I wanted to see Jesus (even if it wasn’t the real one!). It must have been both exciting and nerve-wracking for Zacchaeus to be singled out by Jesus above everyone else in the crowd. Jesus sees us and seeks us out even if we feel insignificant.
Verse of the Day
‘The LORD will again delight in you…’ (Deuteronomy 30:9).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.