Many of you have heard me say of myself, “How did such a young man as me get stuck inside this old body?”
I’ll be honest with you, there is not much I like about getting older. I hate not being able to run anymore, as that was such a big part of my life. Now, walking across a room pain free is a big victory. It comes to that.
Though we all intellectually know that it is going to happen to us, it still seems so difficult to believe it when it actually does. Old people were other people; they weren’t me.
In varied cultures and times of history, elderly people have been abused and neglected. Yet other cultures cherish and honor the aged. When travelling in the Turkic World of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkey, I was told by Americans living there that I would be especially welcomed among those within our travel group because I was the one person with white hair.
It does not honestly seem to me that the current American culture or church culture honors aging people as in the past. I went to seminary right after Bible College with my double bachelor degrees – yes, because God directed, but also because no church was going to hire a 23-year-old. It was a best use of time to spend the next four years working on the most academically-challenging theological education in the world. And even then, in my upper 20s, it was still difficult to get started since only older pastors were really honored. All of that has seemed to flip now 30+ years later.
One wonders where the country may go in terms of care and dignity for the elderly as the huge expense of the massive baby boom generation’s geriatric and medical care becomes a severe financial weight upon the country.
Today’s Psalm 71 was written by an unnamed aging man. His name might have been Randy ben David, but I can’t prove it.
The writer acknowledges that God has always been his refuge and that he again needs the Lord to deliver him from his enemies. God has been faithful to him from the very beginning. Now, for a variety of reasons, he is in peril of his enemies overtaking him – one of the reasons being that he is now an older man. The writer pleads for God’s help, and in the end he finishes with a strong sense of God’s preservation – for which he vows that he will be a public worshipper and teacher.
1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.
2 In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me; turn your ear to me and save me.
3 Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.
5 For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.
6 From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you.
7 I have become a sign to many; you are my strong refuge.
8 My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long.
9 Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
10 For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together.
11 They say, “God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.”
12 Do not be far from me, my God; come quickly, God, to help me.
13 May my accusers perish in shame; may those who want to harm me be covered with scorn and disgrace.
14 As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long—though I know not how to relate them all.
16 I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
17 Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
18 Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.
19 Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens, you who have done great things. Who is like you, God?
20 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.
21 You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.
22 I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you—I whom you have delivered.
24 My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion.
I see two really big ideas coming out of this Psalm about how to deal well with aging and the burden of years of having seen troubles – “bitter and many!” We need to reclaim and to proclaim.
As we look back upon a long life, especially if that life is filled with years of seeking to be a faithful disciple, we will know without any doubt that God has been good and true. There will be quite a pile of difficult times and painful memories. We will recall being very confused quite often and in those times uncertain where God was and what He was doing. But in retrospect, we will see a faithful hand of God and his works woven throughout the fabric and pathways of our lives. We need to remind ourselves of this when the pain gets bad and we wonder where we have made an impact in live.
After years of living and experiencing day after day with the Lord, we have some wisdom about life that the next generation needs to hear. Yes, it is true that they do not understand how much they need these words, and yes, they errantly think they are way ahead of the game. Yet at the same time, older people need to realize that the vast majority of young adults in a church environment LOVE having older people who care about them and desire to make an active investment in their lives. In fact, there is no greater personal fulfillment to be found as an older person than to be a discipler and mentor to generations who are younger. It is as good for you to be able to share it as it is for them to receive it.
As many of you know, I have for quite a number of years been a battlefield guide at Antietam. I’ve taken groups on trips around that hallowed ground almost 500 times now. We get new guides joining our program. They are always very sharp, knowledgeable people about the Civil War. But they have no experience with the general public. They always know MORE than I do about the battle and War. But having taken people around that field so many times, I can tell you the questions that will be asked at certain points long before they are verbalized. And I could help a new associate by sharing that knowledge – if he is willing to listen.
So, wherever you are, be willing to listen and be willing to share.