Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from Kristie Anyabwile’s chapter in Women on Life, edited by our sister and friend Trillia Newbell.
In today’s culture of idolizing youthfulness, casting off tradition and shunning authority, the value and beauty and honor of old age seems to have all but vanished. Elder care and retirement home construction is big business. The physical distance between parents and grandparents seems as wide as the Gulf. Older people are literally being relegated to the back of the church, to neither be seen nor heard.
Church attendance was already thin when the senior choir sang on fourth Sundays. Now, there is no senior choir, only praise teams and worship bands. Bible studies often preclude older members because they either don’t drive, or avoid driving in the evenings when these studies take place. Youth pastors, for example, focus on the needs of children and their families, but very few churches have ministries specifically charged with caring for the needs of senior members and their families.
Most would agree that caring for the soul is a primary responsibility of a pastor and that mutual care and concern is a primary responsibility of church members toward one another. In many of our church covenants, we agree to “exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other.” We promise to rejoice in each other’s happiness and to bear one another’s burdens and sorrows. How often, when we recite these covenantal promises, do we consider our senior saints? How might we exercise this care and what should we be watching out for in our older saints’ lives?
Here are five ways the Scriptures demonstrate the Lord’s blessings toward our senior saints and what we might learn from these blessings in order to be a blessing to them.
Our primary responsibility toward our seniors is to honor them. Many of us are told from young childhood that we should honor our elders. We read in Leviticus 19: 32, “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.” Commenting on this verse, Matthew Henry says,
Those whom God has honored with the common blessing of long life, we ought to honor with the distinguishing expressions of civility; and those who in age are wise and good are worthy of double honor. More respect is owing to such old men than merely to rise up before them; their credit and comfort must be carefully consulted, their experience and observations improved, and their counsels asked and hearkened to.1
What a way to honor our senior saints: consulting them for advice, improving upon their experiences so that we take the good and learn from their mistakes, and by listening to and accepting their counsel. Not only would we honor them through this, but we would be much better off ourselves.
In our previous church, my small group would sponsor senior luncheons, casual times of fellowship over a meal with our senior members. We would prepare home-cooked meals, provide a small gift to each of them such as a small potted plant, devotional book or ornament. Sometimes we had special musical selections by students or by our church choir. Mostly though, it was a time to honor our senior members and to share in fellowship with them. We sought to demonstrate our esteem of them, to let them know tangibly that we hadn’t forgotten them. We identified senior members as those who were at least 60 years of age.
One year, we invited a man who was a few years shy of 60 and had a good laugh with him about his being too young to be at the “senior luncheon.” His gray hair, leadership in the church and longtime service in the community had us fooled. None of us would ever have imagined that of all the folk present at the luncheon that year, he would be the one entering glory before our next gathering.
As I reflect back, what a sobering privilege it was to have honored this man, even before old age. We were reminded of Spurgeon’s words, “Time is short, and it behooves each one to be working for his Lord, that when he is called home he may leave behind him something for the generations following.” This man was not what we would call old, but he lived a very full and fruitful life. He worked hard, married well, raised two fine boys, devoted his life to Christ and the service of the church, dedicated much time to preserving preserving the history and culture of his people and much more. His legacy of service placed him among the elders of the land and it was a gift from the Lord to have honored him along with our senior saints.
In Job 12, we read “wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding” (Job 12: 12-13). Interestingly, in these verses, we are told that with old age comes wisdom and understanding. There is something to be said about older saints who are viewing the breadth and depth of their life experiences through the lens of the gospel. They are seeing life through a larger lens.
Almost any decent photographer will tell you that the key to taking great photos is using the correct lens for the type of pictures you are taking. I read recently that photographers would rather shoot with a decent camera and a great lens rather than a great camera with a substandard lens. When choosing a lens, you must consider something called the focal length. The bigger this number, the greater focus on details. The lower the number is, the more you see but not in great detail.
When a believer is younger, they tend to focus on the big picture—there’s a lower focal length for this person. Life is about “get all you can, can all you get, and sit on your can.” We don’t want to get bogged down with too many details. Older persons realize that real life is in the details—they bring a larger focal length with greater detail and clarity. The details of our identity in Christ cause us to zoom in on our lives and examine ways in which we live in light of our identity and ways in which we have broadened our view so as to blur our ability to see clearly where we might need to apply better wisdom to our life situations.
Older saints see that decision you’re making now and can zoom in to point out flaws in your process, holes in your thinking, stumbling blocks you had not considered because you want to get that promotion or man at any cost. You want to take shortcuts now that will cost your family in the future.
How many times have I heard my grandma say, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you”? I’d respond in that youthful, exasperated tone “Why not?” She’d then proceed to tell me about all the potential pitfalls that could result from my actions. Of course, I didn’t believe her and didn’t think she knew what she was talking about. But sure enough, she was right. Washing a red shirt with white laundry will turn the entire load pink. Running from a dog will get you chased and bitten. The wisdom of the aged is wisdom indeed, and we would be wise ourselves if we learned to heed their wisdom and counsel.
Of all people, our elderly should be the most hopeful of all.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent. . . . But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come (Psa. 71: 9, 14-18).
David confidently prays that the Lord would preserve him in his old age. He recognizes that his physical strength is waning and that he will need strength outside of himself to continue running his race with perseverance. His confident hope in the Lord ushers forth unending praise and testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness in keeping him. Where does this hope come from? He remembers the past faithfulness of the Lord from his childhood, which fuels his trust in God for his future. Until his dying day, he will proclaim the goodness of the Lord, giving hope to the generations to come.
Hope from ages past engenders hope for the future. In the church especially, we should look to those who have been through times of testing, trial and temptation and have come through those times hopeful in the Lord and recipients of his faithfulness. We should follow their example but remember that we do not finally look to elder saints or anyone else for identity and hope and wisdom. We look to Christ alone, knowing our hope is found in him.
C’mon back for Part II.
- Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible. The Bible Study App at Olive Tree, version 6.0. Retrieved from www.olivetree.com/ bible-study-apps back