“For some, life’s years are seventy; perhaps the strong may eighty see” Moses wrote in Psalm 90. We should daily remember the brevity of life in order to “count our days and set our hearts on wisdom’s ways.”
How do we count our days that usually amount to seventy or eighty years? One of many ways is to count by twenty year increments. These time blocks give us a general roadmap and help to order our expectations and sense of responsibility in life as we walk before the Lord and ask him to establish the work of our hands here on earth. Of course, we must remember that our value is not ultimately found in what we do but in what Christ has already done for us; we are called to abide in him all of our days. In real life, the division of life’s stages are not this clean; each person’s experience will be different. Take these for what they are – broad generalities. I stand at year forty - halfway; no doubt, others could write more helpfully on the last forty years of life. The basic outline I took from a sermon (I have forgotten the source) some years ago has been helpful to me:
- Years of Preparation (Birth-20). These are years of training, in the home, in school, in the church, in the workplace, and in the community. Young people need to develop physically, spiritually, in character, socially, relationally, academically, and in exploring the wide range of career possibilities. Some have said that a person should seek the highest level of education possible as early as possible. Whatever the particulars, these are the years in which young people learn how to learn and establish patterns of life as they remember their Creator in the days of their youth. Young people should expect to contribute meaningfully, but much of that contribution will come in the process of preparation as they submit to parents and teachers who will train them up in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). Make the most of these years of opportunity and freedom.
- Years of Production (20-40). These are the years when people complete their formal education and begin their life calling – or at least begin to clarify it by experience. People often move from job to job as they grow in skill and capacity. Perspectives on the world and one’s place in it begin to coalesce. These are often years of getting married, having and raising young children, establishing patterns of family worship, owning a first home, growing in service in the community, beginning to practice hospitality, and giving time and energy to the church; peak physical strength helps to enable these and other productive endeavors. People at this age helpfully challenge the status quo of life and produce new alternatives that pressing the world forward. Entrepreneurs most often start businesses in these years, inventors like Edison often crank out their greatest discoveries, authors like Calvin craft their greatest works, leaders like Alexander the Great complete ambitious conquests, and even Christ finished his work on the cross and produced a new creation before the earthly age of forty. Young people change the world; old people stabilize it. These are days to prove oneself trustworthy. It was in these years that Paul told Timothy “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
- Years of Provision (41-60). These are the years when physical strength wanes, but responsibility increases – and Lord willing, wisdom with it. God’s people at this stage are called to provide financially and materially for loved ones. Such saints walk their teenagers through the emotional of figuring out life and simultaneously navigate their own aging parents through the process of accepting the limitations of old age. Usually, their calling in life has been clarified to a significant degree, and they have settled into their homes and communities. They are the ties that bind as they gather and host family and community at holidays and other events through the year. God has given them enough perspective through the arc of life to see the danger of acting impetuously, but they still anticipate enough days on earth that they are thinking to the future with creativity knowing that they will likely live to see the results of many plans laid. They are called on to provide leadership and mentoring in the home, in business, in education, in the community, in politics, and in the church. These are the people everyone counts on to have answers and resources. This person, in Christ, is the man of Psalm 112.
- Years of Protection (60-80). These are years when physical strength begins to give out, as described in Ecclesiastes 12. And yet, as the outer man wastes away, the inner man is renewed day by day. After decades of preparing, producing, and providing, a special calling of those for whom the almond tree has blossomed in is that of protection. Their calling is to provide protection through extended times in prayer with their Lord whom they have come to know so well through many hours of communion with in prayer over many decades. They relate stories of God’s faithfulness in the past and so strengthen the faith of their disciples. They know where many of the potholes and barriers are on the road of life and so can counsel and speak words of wisdom that save others from great expense. They know the pain of life and its attending scars; they have also seen the faithfulness of God and by example teach others to endure. They help to settle the anxiety of younger souls as they listen to reports of battles developing on the field, and join in the battle vicariously. Their maturity brings a deepened love for God and people that simply has not yet had time to develop in others. The words of Psalm 92 ring true in these saints “When old they’ll still bear fruit and flourish fresh and green.”
The categories are not meant to limit what people can do; exceptions will always exist because God’s gifting and calling varies. Nor should anyone presume to live eighty years; God is clear “man does not know his time” (Ecclesiastes 9:12). But, however we approach life, we all ought to consciously make the most of every opportunity given to us.