The Aging Family:
Prequel To Eternity
The Domain Of Aging – Part 2
“All our days pass away under Your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. The length of days is 70 years – or 80 if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” — Psalm 90:9-10 NIV
The playwright Thornton Wilder once quipped: “The body is born young and grows old, that’s the tragedy of life; whereas, the spirit is born old and grows young, that’s the comedy of life.” Whether you agree with the premise of tragedy and comedy or not, the fact is that the body does grow old and dies while the spirit emboldened by the Holy Spirit does endure for eternity. So how can we make the most of our time spent in the aging process?
Attitude toward living is crucial to the aging experience. Approaching each day as a gift from God and embracing the perspective that “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24) is a good start. Attitude sets the stage for healthy thinking which results in planning (seeking the Lord’s will) leading to action (doing His work) which then fills the day with meaningful activities that give each spouse a sense of accomplishment and worth.
Making the most of our time in serving the Lord and doing God’s work is an activity that pays great dividends in the present and future. Scripture is filled with examples of those who served the Lord in their elder years. While the nature of activity is subject to ability, gift, energy and physical and mental capability, there is always much to do. Here are a few examples.
Abraham and Sarah
Consider this couple, childless for most of their marriage, who were told they would have a child. Sarah’s derisive laughter and poignant words tell the story: “‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ … The Lord did for Sarah what He had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age” (Gen. 18:12; 21:1-2). With extended life expectancy, more is expected of older saints including initiating great projects. God may well be giving you long life for a reason that is part of His plan. After all, Jesus said it well in His parable of the ten minas: “To him who has, more will be given” with the expectation that it must be put to good use (Lk. 19:26). Paul further asserts that “those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). So the blessing of long life may come with a mission attached to it.
Isaac And Jacob
Let’s consider the plight of Isaac and Jacob in old age. Both were blind or nearly so, possibly a genetic defect, but not unlike one of the common ailments of old age (Gen. 27:1; 48:10). Yet each in his declining condition carried out a key task that perpetuated God’s plan. When Isaac’s “eyes were so weak he could no longer see” (Gen. 27:1) he was subject to a scam perpetrated by Rachel and Jacob, and as a result blessed Jacob and made him the father of God’s chosen people (Gen. 27:27-29). Years later in Egypt, Jacob (Israel) suffered from the same malady as his father. “Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age and he could hardly see” (Gen. 48:10). Yet he too performed according to God’s sovereign plan in blessing the younger Ephraim over the older Manasseh (Gen. 48:17-20). In this parallel case, spiritual sight took precedence over physical sight. The role of elderly parents and grandparents cannot be underestimated in its importance for supporting, directing and promoting a godly legacy in the family, even when declining conditions may be present.
The example of elderly parents who place a priority on worship is more than just a reflection of being old. Worship is what God desires and requires, and it also is uplifting to the worshiper. For example, Jacob, though frail and sightless, found the strength to worship God even though he had to depend on a crutch to support himself in the process (Gen. 47:31; Heb. 11:21). In fact we are instructed to “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name” (Heb. 13:15), an exhortation that does not become obsolete with age. It is significant that such worship is also linked to doing good and sharing our resources with others because God is pleased with these activities (Heb. 13:16). For the Christian, worship entails both praise and remembrance through the celebration of the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 11:23-25). The continuity of this practice is crucial to worship because “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11: 26). Thus worship provides another connector that confirms aging as the prequel to eternity.
Joshua is another example of an elderly saint who kept the faith until the end of his life. During his career he led the children of Israel into the Promised Land, secured it as an inheritance for them and then spent many years basking in the rest given to Israel after the battles. However, he never forgot his mission and role as the leader of both his nation and his family. In Joshua 23-24 we have the account of Joshua’s final public address. When he was “old and well advanced in years” he “summoned all Israel” and delivered his farewell speech in which he reviewed their history, renewed their covenant with God and issued a challenge to the next generations to carry on the faith. In doing so he also affirmed and passed on a godly legacy not only to the nation of Israel but also to his family. He combined words and actions, wrote his commission into the Book of the Law and set up a marker stone to commemorate the occasion. He issued a challenge that would reverberate down through the ages as the calling card of faith in families: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). After completing this final mission, Joshua died at 110 and was “buried in the land of his inheritance” (Josh. 24:29-30). His legacy serves as a fitting epitaph: “Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel” (Josh. 24:31).
Simeon And Anna
It is no coincidence that an elderly man and woman were central to acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah shortly after His birth (Lk. 2:21-39). When Jesus’ parents took Him to Jerusalem to present Him as the firstborn male in His family, they were approached by two elderly persons who had devoted themselves to worship, prayer and anticipation of the Messiah’s coming. Simeon, who was described as righteous and devout and “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” approached Mary and Joseph, took Jesus into his arms and proclaimed Him as the source of God’s salvation to all people. His prophetic words outlined the course of Jesus’ life and the impact He would have, all couched in terms of his own life coming to an end: “Now dismiss Your servant in peace for I have seen Your salvation” (Lk. 2:29).
As soon as Simeon was done with his proclamation Anna stepped forward to add her own affirmation. Now she was an 84 year-old widow who spent the greater part of her life in the temple after losing her husband. She was a 24/7 worshiper who recognized Jesus for who He was – the redeemer of Jerusalem (Lk. 2:36-38). Here was a woman who completely immersed herself in God’s business, and as a result was given the honor of proclaiming Jesus’ identity and publicly thanking God for His gift to mankind.
Embedded in the testimony of these two elderly saints is a commission for all aging Christians to exude an attitude of anticipation relative to the Lord’s coming. Just as Simeon and Anna manifested their faith by living in anticipation of the Messiah, so elderly saints today can immerse themselves in the hope that is reflected by the fact that “this same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven will come back in the same way (He went) into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Such an attitude brings the eternal into the temporal at the same time that it serves as a preparation for the eternal. Aged Christians who spend their time in worship, prayer and dedication to the Lord’s Word and work are living fully in the present while preparing for the future. Christians who live in anticipation of the Lord’s coming but die before He comes are like those saints commended in Hebrews 11 “for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (11:39). Consequently, Paul’s assertion in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 gives hope to the living, peace to the dying and assurance and solace to those who are left behind, especially family members who survive the deceased and who must pick up the mantel and carry on. Thus we have the context of the aging family in broad strokes.
By James Trotzer
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org