The Powerful Second Half of Life

By on July 1, 2011

nancie and bill carmichael in front of Virtue of Ephesus

Nancie and Bill Carmichael in front of Virtue at Ephesus

By Nancie Carmichael –

My husband Bill and I decided to celebrate our Big Birthdays by going with friends on a “Footsteps of Paul” journey. You know, Paul the Apostle—the author of Romans, Ephesians, Philippians and other letters in the Bible that have instructed millions of people through time.

I was mesmerized by the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. The Greek islands with their white-washed buildings were a stunning contrast against the blue, blue water as we cruised along, stopping at various sites in Italy, Greece, and Turkey. I felt as though I was seeing 2,000 years collapse in front of me as I became aware that our early fathers and mothers of the faith were real people who lived in real places, and had real spiritual and physical battles. Paul’s message took on fresh meaning: “Finally…be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age…” (Eph. 6:10-12)

I was captivated by Ephesus, the city where Paul preached and taught the fledgling church. Ephesus was a beautiful and sophisticated city with running hot water, toilets even (some in public, where it was a place to socialize, as well!). We saw the ruins of enormous temples, exquisitely decorated with marble and mosaics. We saw the remains of a massive library, gymnasiums, stadiums and theatres, with spacious roadways that graced the city. So, imagine scrappy Paul, wiry and bold with his radical message about Jesus as he stepped into this Roman-Greco culture and rattled their cages. Paul preached about Jesus’ kingdom that is not of this world, a puzzling concept to many. And many people believed on Jesus, and in spite of great persecution and martyrdom, Christianity flourished.

Ephesus is all ruins now, even though the city is being carefully restored to its original, breathtaking majesty. We also saw Athens, where Paul told the Greeks about The Unknown God; Corinth, where he taught in the marketplace and made his tents. And then we visited Istanbul, which used to be Constantinople, named after Constantine, the ruler who in the 3d Century made Christianity the official religion. We tromped the streets of Istanbul, visiting ancient buildings, now most of them mosques. It is a city now with 3,000 mosques, and only 156 Christian churches, many of them marginalized, struggling to exist in a Muslim dominated world. The call to prayer from the minarets reverberated throughout the city five times daily. It was sobering. What happened, that this once Christian city should now be a Moslem city? Did Christianity slowly become institutionalized and cultural instead of a passionate fire that burned in the heart of the individual?

It made me wonder, Could it happen to America? Could our brand of Christianity become a footnote…a museum of what once was? And more personally, Could it happen to me, and I would be like the Ephesus church that lost its first love?

Paul had a radical confrontation with Christ on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus, trying valiantly to stomp out the people of The Way. But that confrontation changed Paul, and he began a whole new life. The first part of his life had been spent in education, in intellectual pursuits, in developing a trade; in doing what he thought was religiously right. And then he had the confrontation that knocked him senseless.

How true it is with us. We spend the first half of our lives gathering in; building. Getting the education, pursuing careers. Marrying, having children, trying to do what’s right. And then sooner or later, we are confronted by life. Sometimes we are knocked senseless by loss, and sometimes it’s just a growing awareness that something needs to change. This is a powerful time to listen, to grow.

What a wonderful drama life is. The amazing thing is that no matter who we are we have the opportunity to grow and learn, especially in the crucible when we scream, “Enough! I want my life back.” But the crucible is life, the good, the bad, the puzzling, and the painful. Jesus said to the church in Laodicea, “…I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire.”

What do we want in the second half of life? Gold! On the stock market, everybody wants gold, because that’s the commodity that’s holding and increasing in value. Well…We can be rich in the gold Jesus offers. And we can agree with Job, that when God refines us in the fire of life, we will—if we hang onto Him—come forth as pure gold. It is out of the refined gold where we can give most effectively and with a pure heart, because we begin to understand what lasts, what’s most important.

I came home from my trip with more questions than answers. But they are good ones, making me think. At this stage of our lives, many of our friends (and we are, too) face life-shaping losses. Perhaps this is not all bad. In fact, when I hear of another person who is going through a trial, something leaps inside of me and says, “Yes! Here is an opportunity to confront life, to listen to God. It’s a chance to live the paradox of God’s strength in our weakness.”

I do not say this flippantly or easily. At this place in my life, it feels as though the losses out-number the gains. I’m tempted to want to go back to the first half of my life that felt so full, so productive. Was that all an illusion? No, it was for a time. And it was good. But now is the time for humility, for repentance, for submitting to Jesus in a fresh way. Maybe the church in Constantine’s day began to believe they didn’t need the refining fire. They were successful. They became rich and comfortable and lost their passion and focus. We too have worked hard at being successful, at building good lives. But now is the time to allow Him to sift us, to cleanse us, to restore our first love. In the second half of life, here is the time to pray, “Forgive me, Lord, for measuring success by human standards. Lord, restore to me the first love. I repent of pride, of all the vain things that have charmed and distracted me. Show me how to submit to the refining fire; to be baptized anew in your love, and to love…truly love the world for your sake. Amen.”

Nancie Carmichael, author and speaker “Surviving One Bad Year: Seven Spiritual Strategies to Lead You to New Beginning” and “Selah—Time to Stop, Think, and Step into Your Future” as well as other books. For more information, email: [email protected] or see her website, http://www.nanciecarmichael.com/.

Nancie Carmichael

About Nancie Carmichael

Nancie Carmichael and her husband Bill have been involved with the writing and publishing field for many years as they published Virtue Magazine and Christian Parenting Magazine. They now own a book publishing company, Deep River Books. Nancie and Bill have written several books together including: Lord, Bless My Child; and Seven Habits of a Healthy Home. Nancie has written: Your life, God’s Home; Desperate for God: How He Meet Us When We Pray; The Comforting Presence of God; Selah: Time to Stop, Think, and Step into your Future; and her latest book, Surviving One Bad Year—Seven Spiritual Strategies to Lead You to a New Beginning. Bill and Nancie make their home in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and are parents to five married children and grandparents to ten. Nancie received her Master’s of Spiritual Formation from George Fox Evangelical Seminary in 2012, and in 2005, received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Western Baptist College. Website: nanciecarmichael.com

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The Powerful Second Half of Life