A month ago, SEND U conducted a mid-career retreat for those missionaries who had served at least 15 years with our organization. This week, as I was reading about Solomon in 1 Kings, I was struck by how much this leader accomplished by the time he hit “mid-career.”
When Solomon had finished building the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had achieved all he had desired to do, the LORD appeared to him a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. (1 Kings 9:1–2)
Twice in 1 Kings 9, the Scriptures tell us that Solomon accomplished all that he desired to do or build (1 Kings 9:1, 19). Solomon could have been no more than 40 at this point. I read this, and my first reaction was envy. I wish that I could say that I achieved everything that I had desired to do by age 40 or even by age 60 for that matter. It must have been great to have such immense resources at your disposal. Imagine a yearly income of 25 tons of gold! Manpower was no problem. He had conscripted no less than 150,000 labourers to work on his building projects! Then on top of that Solomon possessed such great intelligence and wisdom that he had no difficulty or frustrations with putting any those resources to accomplish what he intended. Clearly Solomon is a far more effective leader than I ever will be.
But after Solomon accomplishes everything that he had hoped to achieve, God reminds him that he still must finish well (1 Kings 9:4-9). If he does not finish well, if he does not remain faithful to God, this newly built temple will become a pile of rubble.
But despite the warning, Solomon does not finish well. He seems to lose any motivation to press on in his wholehearted commitment to follow the God of his father.
Ecclesiastes says he found no lasting satisfaction in what he has built.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:10–11)
So what do you when you accomplish everything you want to achieve by the time you are 40 and you find it meaningless? You start looking for new things to distract you. In his old age, Solomon’s many foreign wives steal his heart. He begins building places of worship again, but this time they are for other gods (see 1 Kings 11:7-8).
How does such a wise man go down such a foolish road? Romans 5:3-4 talks about the importance of difficulty and suffering in instilling perseverance, character and hope in our lives.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3–4)
But what did Solomon know about suffering? His achievements had met with very little resistance up to this point. Because of his immense resources and wisdom, he had lived a life of instant gratification of whatever he desired. So he had not had the “opportunity” to develop perseverance or character. Dependence on God was not a deeply embedded value in his life. Hope was also missing. What did he still have to hope for, since he had already accomplished everything, and could buy whatever he wanted? No, Solomon is not at all in an enviable position, despite all of his early “success” and achievements.
Sometimes I wish I did not have to deal with the continual lack of sufficient resources and manpower in missions: the ongoing need for raising support (or partner development as we now call it), inadequate staff for the teams we seek to field, overloaded leaders or too few leaders, etc.
But I look at Solomon and I am thankful for the obstacles and even the scarcity of resources we so often face. By God’s grace, they are designed to develop perseverance, character and hope in me so that I don’t end up like Solomon. It is truly unfortunate if a person gets to the middle of their life and they have already accomplished everything that they desired to do. How does such a person stay focused on finishing well?
I am so thankful that even at age 55, I still hope to see God produce more fruit in the coming years. By God’s grace, I am still growing and becoming the person God has designed me to be, being molded by the obstacles and shortages that I struggle with. I am not yet at the finish line, and God has more work for me to do. So he continues to work on my character, and remind me of my dependence on his resources.