Picking up where we left off in this two-part series on honoring the elderly, let’s look at two more ways (points four and five below) for how we can honor the elderly, and then we’ll talk about equipping the church to serve the elderly. Finally, we’ll conclude with a note to the elderly.
I lived on a tropical island for many years, and my favorite time of year was mango season. Mangoes are fairly easy to grow, but they don’t produce much fruit the first couple of years you plant them. However, the older the tree, the deeper its roots run, making it more established in the soil and environment in which it was planted. These mature trees are the ones that bear much fruit.
Similarly, the Bible teaches us that old age is no barrier of fruit. In fact, the latter years may be the most fruitful years. “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” (Psa. 92: 12-15).
Those whose lives have been marked by righteousness and holiness continue to bear fruit as those early seeds of faith have taken deep root through prayer, grown into tiny plants through time in God’s Word, blossomed through fellowship with the saints, and grown sturdy through discipling relationships. We see this in the life of the prophetess Anna, whose husband died after seven years of marriage, leaving her widowed into her 80s. She stayed in the temple, worshiping, fasting and praying night and day (Luke 2: 36-38). Her life remained fruitful well into her elder years. May we give God praise for faithful, fruitful elder saints in our churches.
We first meet Joshua, who Moses charged with raising up an army to fight and defeat the Amalekites, as a young man (Exod. 17: 8-14). Joshua becomes an assistant to Moses, going with him up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments (Exod. 24: 13). He alerts Moses to the raucous Israelites as they worshiped the golden calf (Exod. 32: 17); he spies the land of Canaan and, along with Caleb, brings back a favorable report of the land (Num. 14: 6). Only Joshua and Caleb lived of the first generation of Israelites (Num. 14: 38). And he’s the successor to Moses as leader of the people of Israel (Num. 27: 12-22). When Joshua steps into Moses’ role, he leads the Israelites across the Jordan into the Promised Land (Josh. 3: 1-17). He’s at the helm as God miraculously helps his people defeat Jericho (Josh. 6: 1-27). Joshua leads them in conquering their enemies to take possession of the land God had promised them. He was a busy man!
About half way through the book of Joshua, we learn that Joshua was “old and advanced in years”( Josh. 13: 1), yet the Lord had much left for him to accomplish. He finished distributing land to the tribes of Judah that Moses had assigned years before. And once all the land had been distributed, the Lord gave Joshua land that he had requested for himself, “Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim. And he rebuilt the city and settled in it” (Josh. 19: 50). Joshua lived a long time after that and was able to enjoy the rest that the Lord had given Israel from their enemies. In his final days, Joshua poured out his heart for the people, reminding them of all the Lord had done for them and promised to them. He encouraged, warned and instructed them before his death at 110 years old (Josh. 23-24). H.D. Dennis above offers the same sort of fresh zeal we should pray God gives us grace to emulate!
Although Joshua and the people of Israel experienced a season of peace, Joshua did not fritter that time away in worthless pursuits. He worked until the end. The rest he pursued was not a long hiatus from work and from serving others—it was finishing the work that the Lord had for him. It was using his old age to exhort, remind, encourage, warn and instruct the young folk in the words and ways of the Lord. He may have rested from hard, manual labor, but he worked hard to impart the wisdom and knowledge that God had given him over his many years of serving the Lord.
We encourage rest in our senior saints by taking in their wisdom and passing it on to the next generation, just as they so often model for us. “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Psa. 78: 5-7).
Honor. Wisdom. Hope. Fruit. Rest. These blessings are just a sampling of the ways the Lord has demonstrated his kindness to our senior saints. We would do well to honor our senior saints, to glean from their wisdom, to model their hopefulness, to join them in fruitful ministry, and to rest in our old age from manual labor, but not from serving the Lord and passing on the legacy of faith to future generations.
LEARN TO LISTEN, AND LISTEN TO LEARN
Of course, what this requires of us is that we spend time with our senior saints. It is often in the stories our older friends tell that we see the Lord’s blessings practically applied to their lives. Listen to their stories of love, loss and life. We should patiently and intently listen to the stories that they tell. These stories are not just reminders of the past, but they are history as seen through one person’s eyes. They serve as encouragements and warnings to us that we might not repeat their mistakes but that we might learn from them and walk in wisdom.
As you listen to the many stories of our older saints, be attentive to what these stories teach about perseverance, faith, prayer, maturity, rejoicing in hope, patience in tribulation, power of prayer, different perspectives on culture and society, defying odds, humility, gratitude, and so much more. There is wisdom to learn if we just slow down and listen. We should be eager to learn to listen to our senior saints and listen in order to learn valuable life lessons from them. They have a full range of life experiences that they are now placing under the banner of the gospel.
EQUIPPING THE BODY TO SERVE THE ELDERLY
Pastor Brian Croft offers five key insights in his book, Caring for Widows, which are focused on the widow, but I believe can also be applied to how we care for the elderly. He directs these suggestions to pastors, but they are helpful for us all to keep in mind as we serve our older saints. His suggestions are paraphrased and summarized here:
- Pastors should preach with special application for how we might love and care for our elderly, and lay-people should seek to apply these suggestions. We can all teach about caring for the elderly in small groups, classes or even in relationships with one another.
- Pray for the elderly in public gatherings. Pray for specific health or personal concerns, gospel opportunity and fruit, hope in God to flourish, and connection to the body of Christ.
- Provide details to inform the body of Christ about who the elderly are and opportunities to serve them.
- Pastors must practice what they preach. Teachers must be consistent with their instruction. Leading by example is essential.
- Praise members, friends and fellow believers for specific ways they care for our elderly.2
Why should Christians care for those often invisible, elderly members of our churches? Because love compels us. We love our seniors because Christ loved them first and best. Our love for our older saints is a dim reflection of the love Christ has for them, but we are still called and compelled to love one another just as Christ has loved us (John 13: 34).
Sometimes it’s hard to love someone we seem to have little in common with. Ed Welch says it so well, “We move toward others in love. Because we are relentlessly pursued, especially when we are not worthy of such pursuit, we also become pursuers. We turn toward others and move in their direction. That is how the kingdom of heaven works. Sin scatters people; grace draws us toward each other.”3 We can only be drawn to others by the grace and Spirit of God. By his grace, we are able to move toward one another in love, sharing in all that we have in common in Christ, and rejoicing in the differences that make our fellowship all the sweeter.
TO THE ELDERLY SAINTS
What a treasure you are to us! The Lord has given you a lifetime of experiences wherein you have learned to trust him. You have seen the Lord show up time and time again in your need. You have seen his promises come to pass—his promise to never leave or forsake you, to answer your cries, to provide, to guide, to strengthen, to comfort, to restore, to give courage, protect, to discipline you for your good, to help you persevere, to grow you in holiness, to give you a peace that passes understanding, to satisfy, to make you fruitful. You have stood on the promises of God’s Word and have found him faithful. Thank you for your faithful witness. May he keep you in his grace, and may we better love and serve and listen to you that we might together grow up into maturity in Christ until he takes us home.
2. Brian Croft and Austin Walker, Caring for Widows: Ministering God’s Grace (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015). Kindle version, p. 91-95. back
3. Welch, Ed. “Moving Toward People”. CCEF Blog. Posted May 6, 2010. www.ccef.org/ resources/ blog/ moving-toward-people back