In the last few weeks, I have been surprised to find that there are actually quite a few people out there who are as crazy as we are. I’m growing quite accustomed to puzzled looks when I tell people that we’re missionaries and plan to move to the jungles of Papua New Guinea. I’m getting used to people describing our ministry as a “mission trip,” as if we will only be gone for a couple weeks, and I usually just laugh it off when someone incredulously replies, “You’re going to be gone how long?!?!“
But in the past few weeks, there have been a couple of responses that have surprised me. After speaking briefly with one lady, I was shocked to hear her reply: “I know you’re not supposed to envy, but I can’t help but wish I could go back to my 20’s and do what you’re doing!“ Another man I spoke with lamented how he’d always wanted to go into missions, but was unable to do so because his wife had left him and remarried, and the mission agency he was interested in wouldn’t accept divorcees.
Not long ago, a group of people were getting a tour of the Wycliffe JAARS center for aviation in Waxhaw, North Carolina. The host showed a film and told how the Bible translators were entering a new language group every nine days and publishing a New Testament every 17 days. She told stories of how the translated Word of God had power to transform lives, and in many places was transforming whole communities.
At the end of her presentation she asked if there were any questions. An old gentleman stood up in the back of the room. His eyes were brimming with tears. It took him a moment to compose himself so he could speak.
“Yes, I have a question,” he said, “What do you do when you are 85 years old and for the first time learn about something worth giving your life to?”
As a young Wycliffe member, I’ve had to ponder my response to situations like these. My heart breaks for the old man who finds himself nearing the end of his life only to realize his life has been wasted in vain pursuits. And for the lady who regretfully wishes she had followed a different path in life. And for the man who finds himself thrust into a position where he is disqualified for the ministry he longs for. What can you say?
After the Israelites had conquered most of the promised land under Joshua’s lead, Joshua began portioning out the land to the 12 tribes. In Joshua chapter 14, Caleb comes to Joshua with a special request. Caleb recounts the story of how, when he was forty years old, he had spied out the land under Moses’ lead and brought back a favorable report. While the other spies bemoaned the impossibility of the task, Caleb confidently asserted, “God will be with us! We can do this!” Nevertheless, the Israelites fearfully and disobediently refused to obey God, and God cursed them to wander in the wilderness for forty years until the entire generation, except Caleb and Joshua, died off. Because of his obedience and faith, Moses promised a section of hill country to Caleb as his inheritance. Now an old man, Caleb cashes in the promise:
“Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”
Whether or not Caleb could actually still bench press what he could when he was 40, his faith was every bit as strong. He knew that God was the source of victory, not his own might, and that God could use an 85 year old man just as well as he could a 40 year old man. Instead of looking back on the 45 years wasted wandering around in the desert, Caleb looked up at the fortified hill and said, “See that hill up there? Let’s go take it for God.”
If you’re reading this, then you’re life is not over. You may have regrets and you may wish you had spent your life differently. But if you’re still breathing, then God has a purpose for your life. Perhaps God will enable you to give more generously than you ever thought possible. Perhaps he will lead you to be a prayer warrior like Joshua, whose prayer for the sun to stand still in Joshua 10 was granted! Or, perhaps God will lead you to pack up your bags at the ripe old age of 85 and move overseas! Regardless, when God reveals something worth giving your life for, then give your life for it. Charge the hill for Jesus.