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Aging in Christ

old hands

by Dennis Pollock

By most accounts I am an “old guy” now. I received my Medicare card in the mail this year, having reached that age when I qualify for every senior discount anyone cares to give. I remember the first time a McDonalds restaurant worker gave me a senior discount on a cup of coffee. I think I was in my early to mid-fifties then and found it a bit irritating. Nowadays I gratefully receive such discounts, without feeling the least indignation. I am a senior and I look it. I carry the scars of decades of struggle, and wrestling with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

I have seen many changes in the world. When I was born, Dwight Eisenhower was president. In my childhood we watched TV on the four basic channels we could receive through our rabbit ears on our small black and white set. Saturday mornings were a kid’s paradise in TV programming. I would watch one cartoon after another. One of my favorites was “Mighty Mouse,” pretty corny and simple by today’s standards, but I thought it was just great watching that superhero mouse save his mouse village from the evil, dastardly cats. I also enjoyed “Tom Terrific,” “Mr. Magoo,” “Top Cat,” and “Yogi Bear.” All us kids looked forward to summer vacation, which meant nearly three months without school. I spent much of my summers outdoors, partly looking for adventure and partly to escape the tremendous heat that would build up in our non-air-conditioned house during those blistering Saint Louis summers.

The only phones those days were the kinds that either sat on a table or hung on the wall. Long distance was a big deal then. You didn’t waste any time when there was a long-distance telephone call. I can remember calling out to mom or dad, “It’s long distance,” which would bring them running to find who could be calling them from far away. Of course, we all had to keep those long-distance calls short, knowing that we were being charged extra for them. Things were cheap in those days, but salaries were small, so there was rarely much money left over for “extravagances.” I remember when the Postal Department raised the cost of a first-class stamp from 4 to 5 cents.

Evaporation of Childhood

My childhood days are long gone. I did what all kids do: I grew up and was transformed gradually from child to adolescent, and from adolescent to young adult. Along the way, at the age of nineteen, I gave my life to Jesus. It happened as a result of reading a small King James Bible my dad had given me at the age of twelve. At the time I received the Bible I quickly lost interest in it, but at nineteen I decided to read through the New Testament. That did it! Reading about Jesus was utterly compelling to me and I quickly converted from agnostic to evangelical.

That happened in 1973. A lot of years have come and gone since those days, and I have weaved in and out of many, varied seasons of my life in those years until now. When I first started preaching, at the age of 25, it seemed that I was the youngest preacher around – nearly all the preachers and church leaders were older than me. Today the reverse is the case. When I enter almost any church these days, I find that nearly everyone involved in the ministry of that church is younger than me. And it’s not just church leaders. Department store clerks, airline crews, CEO’s of major corporations, news anchors, TV meteorologists, restaurant managers – you name it, the people with whom I constantly interact are nearly all younger than I. What in the world has happened? Well, of course what happened is that I have become old. Not old, old yet. There are certainly a lot of folks older than me. In truth I am in the spring of old age, although there are no guarantees that I will reach the winter.

Being an analytical sort, I have thought quite a bit about this phenomenon of aging, and wanted to share a few of my thoughts, along with a couple of Bible verses which give us God’s mind on the subject. Getting old has both pros and cons, although most young people can only see the cons. Let’s first consider the obvious negatives:

All the Changes

With age there is a decrease in looks (for sure) and some abilities. I have to include the word some, because in many ways I feel that I am a better minister today than at any time in my life. Not necessarily a more dynamic preacher, but at least a more insightful teacher. As far as looks, that doesn’t bother me too much. First, I was never all that good-looking in my youth, and old age acts as a sort of equalizer in the looks department. Many who were stunning at 25 don’t look all that superior at 65 to those who could never have competed with them in their youth. But regardless of that, as a follower of Jesus and one who ministers His grace, it’s not about how good I look – it’s about how good I can make Jesus look to others through the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts don’t come as quickly as they used to, and sometimes I find myself in a room wondering why I entered that room. Then I leave and figure out some time later why I went there and then have to go there again. I stumble in speech a bit more than I used to. In fact, if you could hear my recorded devos in their original form you would find it painful to listen. Thank the Lord for audio editing programs!

All of this may sound pretty depressing, but it’s really not as bad as it sounds. Here’s a news flash: I have talked with a number of men and women from my generation and none of them would ever want to go back in a time machine and live their lives over again. Most of us have had relatively pleasant lives, but we have also faced enough struggles and experienced enough disappointments, rejections, and pain that we would not be eager to go and do it all over again. You might say, “But what if you could go back under different circumstances, with different abilities, and perhaps more talent, and start from there?” I think most of us would still say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Regardless of our circumstances or abilities, life provides some major bruises for nearly everybody. There is something beautiful about seeing the finish line of life’s race, and knowing that most of your ordained heartaches, pains, and disappointments are in your rear-view mirror.

But our contentment with our age and station in life is more than merely a desire not to suffer. We feel we are near graduation; why would we possibly want to start the process all over again? Go to a young man or woman who has studied hard for a university degree and is just weeks away from graduating and entering into the career for which they have trained so long and worked so hard. Ask them if they would like to start all over again as little 5-year-old kindergarten children. I don’t think you could find one out of a thousand who would consider this a good thing.

Reason for our Confidence

I might not feel this way if I were an atheist or an agnostic. I suppose I would cling desperately to life, trying to eek out a little more pleasure before I faced that long eternal silence of non-existence. But in Christ, we simply do not believe this will be our future. We are confident that through Jesus, the best is yet to come. My body may be giving out, my mind may be slipping a few gears, and I may not look nearly so good as I did at twenty-five, but I face an eternal youth with Jesus in a place called heaven, where my Lord awaits me. Jesus declares, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself.” Paul writes, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible (without the ability to age or grow weak), and we shall be changed.”

Believing these things puts an entirely new perspective on aging and future death. Once when my mother was in the hospital, she had a heart attack and her heart stopped beating. The medical team came immediately, applied resuscitation techniques, and her heart began beating again. Some days afterward I talked with her and said, “You were very close to dying. How did it feel?” It was probably not the most sensitive thing to ask her, but the question didn’t bother her. She replied easily, “I didn’t mind it. I figured if it was my time to go, I was ready.” Mom was a Christian and had the hope of eternal life through Jesus.

“Fresh and Flourishing”

Another blessing we older Christians enjoy that the non-Christians do not is the promise of usefulness, even into our old age. In Psalms we read:

Those who are planted in the house of the LORD
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing… (Psalm 92:13, 14)

Ever since my early twenties, my number one prayer to God has been for the “much fruit” Jesus promised to those who would abide in Him. This Psalm 92 passage is an Old Testament version of Jesus’ abiding promise: Plant yourself in God’s house (in Christ Jesus), and even in old age you will find yourself bearing good fruit. Most men and women start looking eagerly to retirement as they reach their late fifties or early sixties. The thought that they can sleep late and spend their days any way they please, without a boss looking over their shoulders seems almost heavenly to them. But there is no retirement program for the abiding life. Whether ninety-five or twenty-five, we are called to abide in the Savior and bear much good fruit.

The fruit may change over the years. Some things are simply not physically possible for us as the years affect our strength. But the Holy Spirit within us never ages – He is eternally young! And He will position us in ministries through which we can “still bear fruit in old age” and “be fresh and flourishing.” I know that my trips to Africa are limited. Sometime in the future I will cut back on my schedule. The travel, the pressure, the lack of sleep, the jet lag, the fifteen-hour flights, and all the rest take a toll on my body. I sometimes come home not only exhausted but physically ill. I do not believe it is carnal or unspiritual to operate within your capacity, nor do I think it is spiritual to so strain yourself in ministry that you die twenty years before your time, as two of my heroes, D. L. Moody and George Whitefield did. Both these men believed we are supposed to “burn out for Jesus” and pushed themselves much harder than was wise, in my opinion. Whitefield died at 57 and Moody in his early sixties.

No Retirement for Abiding

But although our frequency and style of ministry may need to change, we never stop being what we are: ambassadors of Jesus Christ. Birds never stop chirping, and Christ’s followers never move from their place of abiding in Jesus. And as we abide in Him, we will be provided ways and means to serve our Lord right up to the very end. I recently learned of a Christian lady I knew years previously and was delighted to discover that even in her nineties she teaches and leads a home Bible study. Awesome!

God commands the young to show respect for the aged. They have gone before you, and experienced both blessings and struggles, some of which you have little knowledge. They don’t move so fast, some may walk a little slowly or a bit hunched over, and in their conversation, they may sometimes struggle to find their words. They are on their way out of this world while you may be just coming into the power of adulthood. But if they are in Christ, they probably have a few things to share with you which could benefit you immensely. After all, you cannot spend four or five decades walking with Jesus and be entirely clueless.

And for all those in Christ who are called “seniors,” be encouraged. The same faithful Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, who has carried you all these years will be with you right up to the end, and on into glory.

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