Ministry to Senior Believers, Part 2

God’s Concern for Older Ones in His Family
Part 2 in a Series of 5

On one occasion the wife of the writer asked, "Do aging people ever think of themselves as being old?" He replied, "I guess not, and in some ways that may be a good thing." Perhaps others should not accuse them of being in “denial” when that happens.

When he was well into his nineties, E. S. Williams, long time General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, remarked that he hoped when he got old he never became forgetful like many of the "old" people at Maranatha, a retirement center for the denomination where he lived in his later years. He was likely among the oldest of them at the time!

For one who has lived many years not to think of himself as being old likely contributes to his mental health. Certainly, to dwell on one’s age in his later years in a morbid way is not helpful. Few people at any age could survive if they fully “saw themselves as others see them.”

Then, when it comes to reflecting a concern for senior believers in a congregation considering what they see as their needs seems necessary.

The fact is that their superficial needs may be few. At birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas, relatives may wonder if they have any needs, what with shirts, socks, handkerchiefs, shaving, and beauty supplies in stacks at their house. When others ask about their needs on such occasions, they may reply, "Don't spend any money on me." They have lived so long for children, grandchildren, and others that they can't change to ask things for self.

However, their real needs are many. The adjustments of their period of life are probably greater than in adolescence, for newly-weds, or in the middle years of life. The Lord seems to allow their faith to be tried more than ever, rather than allowing them to coast into heaven. Their needs from others may be "small" things like love, kindness, and a little attention.

God’s Word makes clear that He knows well the needs of those who have faithfully served Him through the years. Scripture contains exhortations and promises specifically designed for senior believers. They provide what is needed for mature Christians to live more victoriously during the remainder of their time on earth than ever before. The Bible has guidance for them regarding the matter of prayers, promises, and purposes in life.

Prayers

For example, an implied exhortation from the psalmist is that senior believers should pray more than ever during the declining years of life. One petition that comes from their lips with little effort is that the Lord will not forsake them in their old age.

Setting the example for older ones in the church the psalmist prayed, “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (Ps. 71:9). Concerning this psalm Davidson writes, “It is the prayer of an old man, and there is a mellowness and serenity about it which is characteristic of a long life spent in reliance upon God” (M. A. Davidson, ed., The New Bible Commentary [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953], p. 461).

The psalmist had good reasons for asking the Lord not to forsake him. They appear as he continues in his prayer saying, “For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together. They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him’” (10, 11). His foes concluded that his God had forsaken him. With that and the fact that, as they thought, no one else will rescue him either, they conclude it would now be easy for them to “pursue him and seize him.”

Certainly, with waning strength he can no longer defend himself in battle. Of the writer here Wood says, “He knows there will always be those opposing him, who think they have him trapped. He is now old and his strength is gone, while his enemies are conspiring and saying that God himself has forsaken him” (George O. Wood, A Psalm in Your Heart, Vol. 1 [Springfield, MO. Gospel Publishing House, 1997], p. 287). His enemies were not unlike the younger men who set out to “get” the older “best gunfighter in the West” as he aged. Accordingly, the psalmist pleads again, “Be not far from me, O God; come quickly, O my God, to help me” (12).

At the same time the psalmist refuses to wallow in self-pity. He determined that he would not cave in.  He will not sit down and waste away physically or spiritually. He realizes that the senior years can be among the most fruitful in his life. Thus in his prayer he declared, “But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more” (14). He was determined to keep on fighting, even until he had overcome death. In his prayer he said to God, “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up” (20) (Emphasis mine).

In his determination to keep going in life he is like those of more recent years who decide to spend some of their remaining years on earth in a Recreational Volunteer program. They will travel to a place with need and devote short periods to assist in building a church or repairing the facilities of a worthy educational institution. As a pastor the author once counseled a retiring gentleman in his congregation who had worked hard physically for over forty years on his job to avoid sitting down and doing nothing once his job ended.

Senior believers make a mistake in looking forward to retirement as a time with no more responsibilities in life. Knocking on doors in a small town where he pastored, the author greeted an aged retired farmer sitting on the front porch of a house into which he had move when he left the farm. Reclining in his rocking chair he said thoughtfully, “Preacher, I used to think that if all I had to do was to sit in a rocker in the shade all day long that would be the nearest to heaven I would ever get on earth. However, since that is all I do now, I have decided that sitting in a chair in the shade hour after hour is the hardest work I ever did in my life!”

Promises

The senior believer should also hold fast to the promises of God which He has made to him, specifically regarding his later years in life.  Surely, the Lord has been faithful to him since childhood. The prophet Isaiah reminds him that such has been the case, even from the time of his birth. Speaking for Jehovah he said, “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth” (Isaiah 46:3). Matthew Henry declares, “Even to your old age, when you grow unfit for business, when you are compassed with infirmities, and perhaps your relations begin to grow weary of you, yet I am he—he that I am, he that I have been—the very same by whom you have been borne from the belly and carried from the womb. You change, but I am the same” (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 4 [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954], p. 259). The psalmist recognizes the same thing.” He declared, “For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you” (Ps. 71:5, 6). He recalled that God had been faithful to him from birth, through youth, and now for the rest of his life the Lord would no doubt grant blessings that would provoke praise from his lips.

With such memories the senior believer knows for sure that his God will not forsake him in his old age. Through Isaiah Jehovah promised just that. He declared, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you” (Isa. 46:4). Price notes, “Though the care of a mother ceases when the child becomes grown, not so with God’s solicitude of His own; this endures to the end of life” (Ross E. Price, “Isaiah,” Beacon Bible commentary, Vol. IV [Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1966], p. 197).

In this our God differs radically from the gods of other old people. Isaiah explained that they made gods, idols, and had to carry them as heavy burdens from one place to another. The prophet declared, “They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move (Isa. 46:7). Clarke says, “This is the way in which the Hindoos carry their gods; and indeed so exact a picture is this of the idolatrous procession of this people, that the prophet might almost be supposed to have been sitting among the Hindoos when he delivered this prophecy” (Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. IV [New York: Abingdon Press, n. d.], p. 182). Yet, Rawlings explains, “Here, however, it is not the carrying in procession that is spoken of, but the conveyance of the image by the workman from his own work-shop to the temple where it is to be set up” (M. A. Rawlings, “Isaiah,” Vol. 12, The Pulpit Commentary [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950], p. 196).

Obviously, then, in time of war rather than deliver, their idols were captured and carried away to a strange land with their worshipers (Isa. 46:1, 2). By contrast, Jehovah created his servants, carried them as children, and will continue to carry then, even in old age, and will deliver them in time of war. As the voice of Jehovah Isaiah said, “I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isa. 46:4).

Purpose

Senior believers should keep in mind that they have noble purposes in life as long as the Lord lends them breath. For from feeling sorry for himself in his later years, the psalmist did not pray his prayer selfishly. He recalls that he has witnessed for the Lord from the days of his youth when he enjoyed full strength saying, “Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds” (Ps. 71:17). He determines that he will not slow down much now that he is old and gray-headed. He says, “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” (18).

He wants this generation to know about the goodness of the Lord. He wants the next, his children, to know. Then he wants the next, his grandchildren, and the next, his great-grandchildren to know. In fact, He wants "everyone who is to come" to know about the power of God! Of such an aging person Wood writes, “He is not bitter or grouchy. His remaining years may be few)but another generation is coming. He wants his life to be the laboratory, the model in which God demonstrates His power for the benefit of the children and grandchildren streaming behind him” (p. 287).

The fact is, then, that senior believers can live more victoriously than ever during the remainder of their time on earth. The later years of the senior believer need not be wasted. To make that possible, the Bible has guidance for them regarding the matter of prayers, promises, and purposes in life. They have much to offer to their family, community, and church. Even when confined to a nursing home with the right attitude they can still serve others. Often the visitor who comes there to minister leaves as the one who has been ministered to.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Clarke, Adam. Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. IV. New York: Abingdon Press, n. d.

Davidson, M. A. ed. The New Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing   Company, 1953.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 4. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954.

Price, Ross E. “Isaiah.” Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. IV. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1966.

Rawlings, M. A. “Isaiah.” The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 12.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950.

Wood, George O. A Psalm in Your Heart, Vol. 1. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1997.