Discipleship Through the Seasons of Life

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1).

When we answer the call to follow Jesus and get swept up into the new life of the Kingdom, we should surrender all to God. Jesus wants all of us, not just a small, convenient corner of our life. Eugene Peterson’s translation urges us to “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering” (Rom. 12:2).

But let’s be honest: each season of our life is different and more conducive for certain dimensions of discipleship than others. I want to briefly walk through the seasons of a typical life, and suggest a paradigm for Kingdom investment and formation tailored for each of these seasons.

Please note that each aspects of spiritual formation and/or Kingdom investment discussed below should be evident and active in all seasons of life; but they are perhaps more fitting for certain seasons. For simplicity sake, I’ve chosen to limit myself to five stages or seasons of life, and the suggested ages are all very fluid and flexible and may vary widely from person to person and overlap at times.

  1. Childhood years (0-12) – Key focus: IMAGINATION

Children love stories and have wonderful imaginations. Christian parents, teachers and pastors should place a heavy focus on “baptizing their imagination”, to steal a phrase from C. S. Lewis, with the story of the Bible. They have no problem imagining a God who is unseen, a world populated by angels and under the influence of the powers of darkness (e.g., “always winter but never Christmas” as in Narnia), and a human calling to join with the forces of Good to overcome the Evil One. These are years to encourage questions and not be afraid to not have the answer. Where is Heaven? Why did God create Satan? Are angels real? The greatest thing we can give to our children is an understanding of a narrative-shaped existence, a sense of being part of a bigger Story where they have a key role to play, and a God who is active in the central plot. Let our Sunday school curriculum have as its major goal the nurturing of a Christ-shaped, Biblically-informed imagination.

2. Adolescent years (13-18) – Key Focus: IDENTITY 

Who I am? Do I matter? Is my life worthwhile? Am I loved? Who can I really count on? Where do I turn for affirmation and sense of belonging? These are some of the major questions asked in the critically important adolescent years. Christian discipleship in this season is centered on nurturing a healthy, Christ-centered identity. The world around us is urging young people to anchor their identity in all the wrong places. You are what you produce (performance). You are who you know. You are who your family of origin has made you. You are what you present to the world (whether its true or not). You are the sum of your experiences (and God help the person whose experiences have been devastating). You are the sum of your sexual drives and experiences. Into this loud cacophony of voices, young people need to know they are who God says they are: infinitely valuable children of God, created in His image to reflect his glory and purchased by Christ at a great cost, and redeemed for a life of great significance, now and forever!

3. Early adult years (19-29) – Key Focus: FIRST LOVE/RELATIONAL CENTER

The Tumultuous Twenties bring a swirl of new developments and challenges. Life gets incredibly busy during this season, and our faith commitment can get crowded out by all the activity. A central preoccupation for many during these years is finding “the one”, falling in love and getting married. The key task of the Christian disciple in this season is to keep Jesus as our “first love”, relational center and foundation for all other relationships. Through all the ups and downs of dating — the insecurities, heartbreak, and agonizing loneliness at times — we need to keep Christ as our first love and never-wavering companion. This is true for singles and marrieds alike. This is the season of spiritual formation where we need to teach people about the power of the three-cord strand that is not easily broken (Eccl. 4:12).

4. Family & career years (30-60) – Key Focus: TALENTS & TREASURES

The so-called “prime” of our adult lives is filled with the dizzying pace of raising children and building careers. God-given gifts and talents reach maturity and, if we’re fortunate, we’ll find fulfillment as we employ our unique skills and personality toward worthy ends. We become teachers and doctors, skilled craftsmen and office assistants, Little League coaches and full-time stay-at-home parents. In this season where we’re stretched thin and pulled in many directions, its a huge mistake to try to squeeze discipleship in alongside the rest of our lives. Our life of faith must be be the spoke at the center, around which all the other aspects of our lives rotate. This is a season where we will be challenged to be wise and faithful “stewards” of our talents and treasures. How can we leverage our career talents for Kingdom purposes? Doctors, teachers and skilled workers may, for example, take their talents into the mission field for a short term project. Gifted leaders in their field may offer their gifts serving on their church’s leadership team for a term. As our careers flourish and reap financial blessings, we’re also called to give a generous portion (at least 10%) back to God for his purposes. While our talents and treasures reach their peak in this season of life, the trade off is we often find we have the least amount of time available for serving the church and its Kingdom work. That’s why the next season is so vital in balancing this reality out.

5. Empty nest/retirement years (61+) – Key Focus: TIME & WISDOM

There comes a day, for most, when the kids are finally out of the house and our careers are winding down. The “R-word” dances alluringly on the horizon. We find ourselves in the empty nest and finally retirement years. This is the season where followers of Jesus can make their biggest contribution to God’s Kingdom work, as they finally have what has alluded them for the past 40 years — time! This is also the moment when one’s true worldview and priorities is most clearly revealed. Will we offer the precious time of our retirement years in service to God’s Kingdom and church family? Or will we spend our final years playing out the plot of a completely unChristian story — self-indulging in personal hobbies, recreational pursuits, endless travels, obsessing over our deteriorating health and seeking every possible way to prolong our life? In seeking to “stay alive” many stop living for a purpose beyond their own pleasures and comforts during these years.

“I have called you to bear much fruit,” Jesus tells every 60+ old retiree. This is the season where time is your greatest asset, and you can invest it into God’s Kingdom and your own spiritual development. Its the season to mentor youth, take on additional roles at your church, or go on mission trips to broaden your horizons. Ideally, this is also your wisdom-dispensing years where you can share your life’s experience and faith lessons with younger people, inspiring and encouraging them to carry on in tough times and to learn from your mistakes. Let me be clear: this doesn’t eliminate the blessings of a slower, more relaxing pace. The joys of traveling and new hobbies in retirement are all gifts from God to be received and enjoyed without guilt. But we must be vigilant that we don’t squander what could be our most fruitful years of kingdom service in a self-indulgent lifestyle of retirement pleasures and leisurely pastimes.

Conclusion

As I stated above, each of the five aspects of discipleship and spiritual formation above are part of every season of our life. So, the 90 year old is still to be pursuing a Christ-shaped imagination, and the 45 year old career woman should make sure her identity is always rooted in Christ and not her performance. Adolescents also have unique talents and limited treasures they are to be learning to offer to God. Disciples of all ages must be sure to keep nurturing our love-relationship with our Savior.

Still, I offer this as a helpful guide to make sure we’re offering to God what is most precious and vital in each season of our lives.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What season are you currently in? (Remember ages are all relative and overlapping seasons is typical.)

  2. Looking back over your life so far, can you recall pursuing and/or growing in these various areas of discipleship? (Imagination, identity, Christ as relational center, talent and treasures, time and wisdom)

  3. Which area might God want to teach you more in this season of your life?

  4. Which of these areas are you strongest? Weakest? Why?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s