I had a fascinating conversation over a church lunch with a retired British missionary who had worked in Indonesia for 45 years. He had a boyish smile, and sparkling eyes.
At an age at which most people have two or three major subjects of conversation—their health; their children and grandchildren; or the general decay of the country, and universe–he was sprightly, talking of Skype conversations with people he is mentoring; of reading the Bible in three languages; of hosting Indonesians, and cooking them Indonesian food.
I enjoyed talking to him, and realised that loving Jesus is the best retirement plan. That to arrive at old age with a heart full of love for God, for Jesus, for the Spirit, for Scripture, and for people is the best investment.
I also realised to my shame that I had been single-handed instead of single-hearted in following Jesus. Part of me sought Jesus, and part of my heart was distracted with writing, something in which I have not been particularly successful—yet. The Chinese have a proverb, “He who chases two rabbits catches neither.” Sometimes, when you chase Jesus with one hand, and chase success with the other, God does not bless the latter to help you pursue what is important with both hands, and an undivided heart.
While work you love is certainly an excellent asset for old age, it is not as heart and soul-filling as friendship with Jesus. It does not surpass a relationship with the Father who “takes great delight in you, who quiets you with his love, who rejoices over you with singing.” (Zeph 3:17)
Talking to my new friend, I resolved again to try to be an apprentice of Jesus, to follow Him with my whole heart, to go through the narrow door into the vast starry world beyond with Jesus, and who knows, I may very well find there the other things my distracted heart had wanted.
An apprentice of Jesus, that’s what Dallas Willard calls a Christian, and that apprenticeship is both a life of excitement, and a unique path for each apprentice.
And I realised again that our greatest contribution may well be who we are, not what we do. A wise person, a good person, a person who knows God, a person with a heart full of love and kindness, whom you feel better, and course-corrected after a short conversation with—being such a person is a greater contribution to the world that anything we might do!
“The great paradox of our lives is that while we are often concerned about what we do or still can do, we are most likely to be remembered for who we were. If it was the Spirit who guided our lives, that will not die. Our doing brings success, but our being bears fruit.” Henri Nouwen