While celebrating a birthday recently I began to wonder, “What is a birthday?” “What purpose does it serve in my life?” Beyond all the obvious reasons for celebrating, such as affirming our love for the birthday person, giving friends and family a reason to get together to celebrate, and (of course) the cake and ice cream, why should we stop and take the time to observe the passing of another year in our lives?
We do it to maintain perspective – and we do that by looking in three directions.
A birthday is a time to look back. It is a time to pause and remember how far we have come. It is a time to remember our parents, our childhood, and our upbringing. If you are like me, it is also time to remember bringing up your own family, your children’s childhood, the wonderful woman who was your wife, the loving mother of your children, and who is now gone. It is a time to remember the privilege of giving of yourself to your work and the great people with whom you worked. And, in it all, it is a time to see God’s hand – His blessing – in both the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the easy and the hard, the therapeutic and the traumatic – and thanking Him for every minute of it.
A birthday is a time to look forward. The race that is still ahead – where will it take me? What do I need to do to run it? Am I doing what I need to do to run it? The fight I still need to fight – where is it? How do I fight it? How do I get and stay in shape to fight it? Unfortunately (but, in truth, it really is fortunate) our vision in this direction is much more limited than our look to the past. Instead of the decades of experience, all we may see ahead are days of uncertainty, even fear. They do not need to be so. Bolstered by our look to the past, all we need to see looking forward is the next step. God has seen us through thus far and He will continue to do so. We just need to stick close to His side.
A birthday is a time to look up. There have been many who have gone before us and have left a testimony of God’s faithfulness. There are so many of them, the writer of Hebrews calls them a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12 :1-6). A cloud is made up of millions of droplets of water – so a “great cloud” of witnesses represents a HUGE number of real, flesh and blood people who have walked this walk of faith through this fallen world before us. Hebrews also tells us (in chapter 11) that they all left us a testimony of God’s faithfulness before leaving this world – but without receiving the promise, sometimes after horrible suffering. Why is this? It is because their faith looked beyond time to eternity. Their faith could see what those without faith could not see – God’s eternal purposes. Eternity is what gave their life meaning and caused them to make a difference in the world. And that was all that really mattered.
That is why Hebrews tells us we can run whatever is left of our race with endurance by looking up – to the One who began our faith, and the One who will finish it – Jesus. He was able to endure the agony of the cross and regarded the shame of the cross as a small price to pay for the joy of providing redemption to “whosoever will.” Our lives can also have a redemptive effect on those we know (and the joy that goes with it) as we keep our eyes on all He did for us and what He wants us to do for others.
If, on your birthdays, you look back with deep regret, or look forward with dread, take some time today to look up to the One who gave Himself for you. Trust Him to save you from your sin. Stay close to Him and let Him lead you on the path He has planned.
Trust me, there is nothing better.