Part 2– Aging Graciously, By Rosie Moore.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16).
If Paul’s words are true, it’s a pity that Christians are often no better prepared for old age than unbelievers. Because of this, despondency, stubbornness, self-centredness and pride sometimes mark elderly believers, instead of being renewed inwardly by the humble and selfless attitudes of Christ.
In my last devotion, we looked at Caleb, a faithful sword-wielding octogenarian who continued to trust God in his last years. I commented that Caleb was reaping the harvest of a faithful life, as age is no obstacle to serving the Lord. Caleb’s faith and longing for the promised land only burned brighter in his old age.
However, it would be remiss and unbalanced to gloss over the very real challenges of aging, as if we can defy the effects of entropy on our bodies and minds. Eventually Caleb would have replaced his sword with a walking stick and taken up his spiritual inheritance in heaven, as every saint will do.
An unhealthy obsession.
But our culture seems obsessed with disguising and delaying the process of decay. It’s spawned a lucrative anti-aging industry, based on false promises of eternal youth. At best, the solutions are skin deep.
I was amazed to see the results of a quick Google search for the word ‘wrinkles:’ The first site offered toning devices, sculpting tools, masks, beauty rollers, microneedling, serum infusers, botox and even Madonna’s skin rejuvenator set, (as if we are all aspiring to grow old like her!) The world offers endless expensive solutions to the problem of ‘wasting away,’ but the sad thing is that none are ultimately effective against the problem of decay and death.
Even more amazing is how many nuggets of wisdom on aging I found when I scoured the Bible. These nuggets are far more profound and realistic than the internet’s solutions. Here are ten Biblical signposts to aging graciously that apply to every Christian:
- Accept aging as a process of loss.
Aging is a series of losses which we need to accept without losing heart. Humour is a good antidote against losing heart about these losses.
In Jay Adams’s book, Wrinkled but not Ruined, the author comments on 2 Cor 4:16:
“We usually think of decay as something that occurs after death, but Paul—ever the realist—spells it out for what it is…the outer person is already decaying! There is no disguising of the fact; the Bible puts it like it is.”
This inevitable process of loss is illustrated by King Solomon’s witty sketches of old age in Ecclesiastes:
Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—
2 before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
3 when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
4 when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;
5 when people are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.
6 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Eccl 12:1-7)
According to Solomon, despite our best attempts to keep the old man out, he will eventually kick the door down, along with his cavalcade of losses: Loss of stamina, work, senses, money, independence, mobility, friends, home, community, health and life itself. The reality is that our bodies are subject to the curse of Genesis 3.
Although Christians should steward our bodies responsibly, we must also resist the urge to obsess about our bodies as the world does. It only leads to restlessness and fear of dying, which are the enemies of peace and joy.
Instead, we can entrust our losses to God’s providence. We can be confident that our best years are yet to come on the day that “the spirit returns to God who gave it” and there’s no longer any curse (Eccl 12:7; Rev 22:1-5).
- Live as if old age is an honourable gift from the Lord.
Old age is not a time of disappointment or disgrace. Nor is it a useless waiting room to the afterlife. A man or woman who understands history; knows the good way to live, and passes on godly wisdom to the next generation, is a real blessing to society, even if their wisdom is learned from their mistakes. The Bible bestows honour on the elderly:
“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness (Prov 16:31).
The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old (Prov 20:29).
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it’ (Jer 6:16).
- Believe that God is faithful to sustain his elderly saints.
God’s Word is truer than your feelings or frailties. Do not doubt the Lord’s promises to sustain you as you grow older:
“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
4 Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you (Isa 46:3-4).
Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants” (Ps 116:15).
- Use your experience to witness about God’s goodness!
Young people will often be willing to listen to grandparents rather than their own parents or peers, as they respect the life experience of the elderly. As an older person, look out for unique opportunities to witness about God’s faithfulness to you, as the Bible instructs us.
“Even when I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your mighty acts to all who are to come” (Ps 71:17-18)
“One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts” (Ps 145:4).
- Make the most of today!
The Bible tells us that longing for the good old days and brooding on past mistakes is not wise or helpful. Live in the present and enjoy the gifts and opportunities that God has given you now.
“Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
For it is not wise to ask such questions” (Eccl 7:10).
- Plan ahead, don’t worry ahead!
As you plan for change, classify your concerns into three categories:
- Things you can do something about right now.
- Things you can do something about
- Things you can’t do anything about at all.
Commit all three categories to the Lord with thankful, joyful, trusting prayer.
Refuse to invent worst case scenarios for the future (Phil 4:4-8).
Keep in mind biblical principles for planning ahead:
“In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps (Prov 16:9)
The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
but victory rests with the Lord (Prov 21:31).
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight” (Prov 3:5-6).
- Do not excuse sin on account of age!
We’re never too old to repent! No matter how old we are, it is sinful to live and make decisions with no concern for how our actions affect others. An elderly saint should not be demanding, entitled, grumpy or difficult to help, because Jesus died for our selfish ambition and vain conceit.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Phil 2:3-4).
Do everything without grumbling or arguing” (Phil 2:14).
- Pilgrims travel light!
As we prepare for old age, we should shed undue attachment to worldly possessions and focus on our heavenly citizenship. Randy Alcorn asks this challenging question:
“Five minutes after I die, what will I wish I would have given away while I still had the chance? Why not give it away now?” (The Treasure Principle, p53, 81).
Those who know they are heaven-bound will forsake false expectations common to old age, such as:
“As I grow older my children and grandchildren will give me everything I need…I’ll always be able to serve in the way I have always served…I’ll always be strong and capable.” Even well-intentioned expectations can lead to bitterness, discontent and idolatry.
Jesus is enough for the journey! Only in Christ will we learn to be content in all and every circumstance, as Paul was (Phil 4:12-13).
- Don’t drift!
Discouragement, despair and depression are often triggered by ungodly introspection and boredom. The Apostles show us how to replace unhealthy introspection with selfless activity, attitudes and intercessory prayer.
For example, older women in the church are to teach younger women to be godly, to love their husbands and children, and be productive in their homes (Titus 2:3-5).
As elderly believers, Paul, Peter and John are our role models. They did not withdraw into themselves and become emotionally detached as they grew older. No, they continued to love, encourage, mentor, pray for and write letters to other believers, right up to their deaths.
In his sixties, this is what Paul wrote to encourage Timothy, a much younger disciple:
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service” (1Tim 1:12).
“…night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim 1:3-4).
Paul invested deeply and personally in the lives of others and the local church until his death.
10. Abide in Jesus!
“Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4-7).
These were some of Christ’s summative words to his disciples before he left his earthly body. Abiding in Christ means allowing his Word to fill our minds, direct our wills, and transform our affections” (Sinclair Ferguson).
Abiding in Christ is the secret of our life, sustenance, beauty and fruitfulness. Cut off from Christ, we will wither and die no matter what age we are.
Although ‘abiding’ is active and intentional, I’m grateful that it doesn’t require youthful stamina and busyness! As an older person, ‘abiding’ means that we preach the gospel to ourselves day-by-day. We soak up Scripture and respond to Christ’s words (John 15:7). We pray and live in community with other Christians.
And even if we lose our faculties and our minds, we depend on the Holy Spirit to bring us closer to Jesus (Rom 8:26).
JC Ryle equates abiding in Christ with constant communion:
“To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with him—to be always leaning on him, resting on him, pouring out our hearts to him, and using Him as our Fountain of life and strength, as our chief Companion and best friend.”
This world is not all there is! It will surely pass away along with our mortal bodies. But our Lord is faithful and sovereign to keep us to the end. He is working out his plan regardless of our age and frailties. For this reason, Christians enjoy a life-giving communion with the Lord that will never fade with age.
Actually, as our own strength and vigour fade, Christ’s presence and power shine brighter (2 Cor 12:9) as we become more dependent on Him for everything. Faith, hope and love should increase in us year-by-year, as we become more aware of God’s grace to us in Jesus. Is this your experience as you prepare to grow old in Christ? It’s the key to ageing graciously.
Sources and further reading:
- Jay Adams, Wrinkled But Not Ruined.
- Elyse Fitzpatrick, The Afternoon of Life.
- Jay Adams, Shepherding God’s Flock.
- JC Ryle, Ryle’s Expository Thoughts—John.