In the opening chapter of John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life, he talks about his father who was an evangelist. He says that he recalls times traveling with him and hearing him preach, and how his father’s message, in his own words, “struck me as absolutely blood-earnest.” He then goes on to tell of a man who came to Christ at one of these times:
For me as a boy, one of the most gripping illustrations my fiery father used was the story of a man converted in old age. The church had prayed for this man for decades. He was hard and resistant. But this time, for some reason, he showed up when my father was preaching. At the end of the service, during a hymn, to everyone’s amazement he came and took my father’s hand. They sat down together on the front pew of the church as the people were dismissed. God opened his heart to the Gospel of Christ, and he was saved from his sins and given eternal life. But that did not stop him from sobbing and saying, as the tears ran down his wrinkled face — and what an impact it made on me to hear my father say this through his own tears — “I’ve wasted it! I’ve wasted it!”
The remainder of the book talks about the wasted life, what it looks like, and how to avoid it. I haven’t finished it yet (I’m close!), but it’s had a definite impact on me already.
I’ve laid in bed several nights thinking about that man lamenting over the fact that he had wasted his entire life. He had spent all those years living for the glory of himself, which amounted to absolutely nothing. Of all the tragedies that afflict humankind, few are as awful as the thought of your entire life amounting to nothing. This man’s tears were completely understandable, at least to me.
But then, as I was doing my morning Bible study today, I had a revelation that perhaps puts a twist on this whole idea. My study right now is in Galatians, and I’m still working through the first couple of chapters. In Galatians 1, Paul spends a significant amount of time building his own credentials, probably to defend against that which had been said about him by false teachers who were ravaging the Galatian churches. As a part of those credentials, Paul gives his testimony in Galatians 1:13-16:
For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But…God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles… (emphasis added)
My devotional bought up an excellent point that I had never considered. Paul was most likely around when Jesus was active in His ministry. He undoubtedly could have been called as an apostle by Jesus before His crucifixion. So why wasn’t he? Why did God choose to wait to call Paul until later, and until after he had done some of what he considers his worst sins (persecuting the church)?
The answer is that God did it when He “was pleased” to do it. It all falls back to God’s plan and His own timing. My devotional put it this way:
Have you wept over your past and been, in a sense, tormented in your thoughts because you didn’t come to know Jesus earlier? Rest, beloved child of God, for God saved you when it pleased Him. His promise is there to comfort and assure you that the Sovereign God — the God of all flesh — is able to cause all things, even your “before Christ” days, to work together for good. He will use them to make you like Jesus.
So while in that moment when one comes to Christ it is right to express grief over the fact that we were wretched before we did so, as it points to the repentance in our hearts, it is not necessary to continue in that sorrow. As we grow into a fuller understanding of the nature of our God, and how even Paul’s life was foreordained by Him who knows all, past, present, and future, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God was pleased for it to happen just as it did.