Another birthday is fast approaching for me, and as I was trying to think of the benefits of getting another year older, I started enumerating some of the perks in this season of life. 1) I now get discounts at many restaurants and occasionally land a free cup of coffee for being a "senior" 2) There are special days specifically for my age group to shop for clothing at reduced prices 3) Date night at the movies is now cheaper for my husband and I 4) My checking account is FREE with no service charges and the best one 5) When my children come to visit, they "love" to go shopping with me because I have a handicap hanger for my car and they don't have to walk so far.
Of course, there is a downside to living in an aging body. The aches and pains that never used to be there are ever present. My once solid knees, that carried me as a high school majorette down the street in parades, are both shot and one is in need of replacement before too long. Then, there is my vision which reached a point where my arms were not long enough to read the fine print thus requiring correction. Thank goodness my husband is an eye doctor!
Personally speaking, I do not feel my age in my heart. My spirit has not grown old so much as it has grown wise through the life experiences I have walked through. Raising and teaching four children through home schooling, walking through the valley of the shadow of death with both my husband's parents and my own, welcoming the marriages of our children and finding joy in having grandchildren, have been a few of the many moments that have shaped my walk with Christ.
While aging is an inevitability in everyone's life (considering the alternative it is a good one), it does not disqualify us from serving the Lord. On the contrary, of any in the church, older people are needed for guidance, wisdom and their experiences in life. Unfortunately, starting in the 1960's, our culture has become more youth oriented, and older folks are often considered to be out of touch. This has carried over to some extent in our churches. Therefore, it is a good time to look at what God's Word has to say to older people and to the church.
A good place to begin is in Leviticus 19:32 where God is giving instructions to His people: "You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord." The Lord expects us to respect those who are older and give them honor. I don't see that happening in our society any longer, but it should never occur in the church. Actually this can be remedied by making certain this is taught in our homes. Teaching respect for older people, women, and good manners in general is an important aspect of a child's education.
When it comes to our service before the Lord, Psalm 92:12-15 reads: The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in Him." If we are planted solidly in Jesus Christ, the Bible tells us that we will flourish and bear fruit even in our old age. It even speaks to having sap and being green which means to me that though our body is aging, our spirit can be lively and quick to serve God. As far as I can discern, none of us has an expiration date stamped on us that keeps us from serving the Lord 'til He calls us home. Maybe we cannot get out and do physical labor like we once did but we can pray, teach God's Word, sing to the Lord, and offer our shoulder to someone who needs a listening ear. Speaking for myself, I want each moment to count for Him until I draw my last breath. This is the reason that I write devotions. While my old knees cannot march me down the street like they used to, my keyboard can carry me around the world so that I may share the "Good News" with others. Each of us has a place in the Body of Christ whether young or old!
How does the church, then, respond to the older members? What do they have to offer? In the book of Job, there are two different places where the value of senior believers is mentioned. Job 12:12 states:
Wisdom is with aged men. With long life is understanding." Job 32:7 says: "Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom." The benefit of having life experience can never be overrated when it comes to the Body of believers. We live in difficult days economically, politically and spiritually. Having the insight that comes from wise men and women who have lived a good deal of their lives with Christ keeps the church more stable and grounded when decisions need to be made. Furthermore, older members have a rich testimony they can share. Psalm 71:17-18 reads: "Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare Your power to the next generation, Your might to all who are to come." We, who are older, have a rich heritage of faith we can pass along to the younger people in the church. Because we have walked through many challenges, we can offer comfort and hope. We have seen the Lord at work, and we must tell others our story.
Finally, the benefits we have in Christ as we grow older are far greater than any discount in a restaurant or clothing store to be certain. God says this about the aged: "Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life" (Proverbs 16:31). Then, in Isaiah 46:4, the Lord speaks comfort to His older children: "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." All I can say is, "Thank you Lord!" Knowing that He is with us and will sustain us during those "creaky" moments older folks have is such a blessing to my heart!
Age does have its benefits and it is my prayer that the Body of Christ will use the resource of the older members to pass on the heritage of faith to the next generation. Likewise, I pray that older members will feel their call even more strongly to share the faith which they have lived as well as their life experiences. We gain by hearing the stories that come from those who have lived them.
In our current society, we often see age specific activities in the church that keep the young people from really mingling with the older members. I hope this will change. My own congregation takes time to recognize those who have been married 60 years or who are having their 90th birthday. It shows great respect and also presents a great witness to the young people that are present. We need more of this...not less. At all stages and seasons of life, we have something to offer, but older Christians definitely have the experience and wisdom of walking with Jesus through some difficult passages. My prayer is that the church will call upon them and that we will respond to that call by using the gifts which God has given to us. Selah!
How are older people treated in your church? How can we integrate their experiences in the Body of Christ? If you are an older person, how is God using you in your fellowship?