During one of my recent physical therapy sessions for my shoulder, a couple of the therapists were discussing what period of their lives they expected to be the best, whether those days were behind them or in the present or yet ahead of them. It seems each stage of our life— from grade school to high school, to college, to our first job, to marriage and starting a family, to having those first grandchildren, to retirement years— has both plusses and minuses. As we get into the latter stages of our lives, we often speak of the “good old days.” And for a number of reasons, they were, but they also held some challenges for us which most don’t face now.
I think of the Israelites. They faced some very harsh times as for 400-plus years they were slaves of the Pharaoh of Egypt who made them work extremely hard physically. God sent Moses to help lead them out and into the land He promised to them. After numerous miracles, escaping Egypt’s army by having the waters of the Red Sea part for them to cross, getting water by striking a rock, being provided with nutritious daily food called “manna” (which means, “What is it?”), they still complained to Moses saying: “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna” (Nu. 11:5,6). In other words, In spite of the amazing provision of protection, food and water, they were looking upon their time of slavery in Egypt as “the good old days.” “Those were our best days!” Wow, how distorted our perspective can become when we become whiners and complainers instead of grateful people.
In contrast to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, consider the Apostle Paul, who had spent his early days as “Saul of Tarsus,” persecuting the followers of Jesus. He was of the prestigious tribe of Benjamin, had been trained under the top Rabbis of Judaism and was advancing in his religion and was respected by his peers. Then, as he was on the way to Damascus to arrest believers, he had an encounter with the risen Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. and he was forever changed. He became the missionary to the Gentiles but also shared the Gospel with his fellow Jews. Now he became the one persecuted for his faith in Jesus, including spending a number of years in prison where he wrote many of the letters we have in our New Testament. As he looked back at his life, here is what he said, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:7-14).
Whereas the Israelites in the wilderness complained about their circumstances (just like they had done while slaves in Egypt…Ex. 3:7), Paul, writing his letter to the Philippian believers from prison in Rome, said, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you…I want you to know brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear” (Phil. 1:3,12-14). What an amazing attitude! And Paul continues, “According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (vv. 24). Paul was in a “Win-Win” situation. He was excited to live and continue his ministry to others, but he also knew if he were to be killed—which ended up happening later, beheaded at the hands of the Romans under Nero—that would even be better, for he would immediately be in God’s presence forever (II Cor. 5: 8).
As the therapists were discussing when are the best of our days, I shared with them that, as a Christian, the best is always yet to come, although we can enjoy the present as well if we are serving Christ—no matter the stage or circumstances of our life. For “to live is Christ, but to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Just before Paul was martyred, he wrote a final letter to Timothy in which we read: “…the time of my departure (death) has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Tim. 4:6-8).
If you know Christ as your Savior, you can enjoy the presence of Christ in your life right now and can bear fruit for Him, but the best is yet to come! That is the hope and assurance that we have in Christ, for we have “Christ in us the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). If you don’t know Christ, all you can do is make the most of your present days and you have no hope for the future. The worst is yet to come! I urge you to put your trust in Jesus Christ and His death, burial and resurrection. He loves you and made a way for you to have a very bright future. Commit your life to Him today, while there is time.