The Bible makes us aware of the shortness of time and the frailty of human existence. Amidst all the messages we receive from those who want our money
and our attention, to fleece us or divert us, the Bible speaks to us with calm, clear majesty about the things that really matter.
See, for example, Psalm 90.
Ageing is inevitable; life is brief; time is both too short and too long. How can we andle this part of our life with the dignity that comes from grace? We would like
ourselves to present as graceful, elegant, attractive and winsome. Does the Bible help? Here are three assertions, accompanied by a balancing observation:
1. The Later Years are a Great Opportunity for Spiritual Maturity With more time and fewer responsibilities. We have more opportunity for grappling with the large issues. It is a time for reflection, summation, self-discernment and the practice of love for others. In ministry terms, it may be a time for more direct and fruitful ministry, instead of administration and family; it may also be a time for receiving ministry in a deep way. In particular, it is a time for maturity, for being in true relation with God and growing in that relation to the likeness of Christ. We define maturity in terms of independence; at one level the Bible agrees: we need to make our own peace with God and not depend on others to do it for us. At another level, spiritual maturity is utter dependence upon God,
accompanied by a willingness to receive help from others who belong to God. I can testify to a number of cases which come readily to mind of real spiritual advance in later years, and of real usefulness for God in later years. The current craze for church growth and obsession with the young must not lead to the neglect of those who will not swell the numbers but who may now know that they are in need of the gospel. We should reflect on the biblical valuing of the aged as meriting our respect and care. But Maturity does not always Come Age as a time of reflection, summation and spiritual growth may not be our experience at
all. Some awful young people make awful old people; or even pleasant young people may not be very attractive old people. See what Ecclesiastes 12 has to say. Bodily ills, loss of relationships, lack of wisdom and a growing hardness to the things of God may be experienced. After all, we are born averted from God and a lifetime experience only increases our skills at avoiding him. If a sinner turns to God as an elderly person, it still remains a miracle and the result of prayer and the Word of God. Our ministry strategy and goals may remain the same, though our approach must suit the person and their needs.
2. Spiritual Maturity has an Impact for Life in this World. All this talk about God may suggest that 'our life on earth is done', and that age is simply the time to get ready for the next life. Not so, a lifetime of Christian living is one of the best preparations for a fruitful old age. There is evidence to suggest that Church-goers live longer. We have (generally speaking) more relationships, a keen sense of interest in our world, a habit of mental activity, and a practice of virtues such as love, faithfulness, forgiveness and gratitude which makes life more fulfilling and ourselves more useful to others. Christian faith is intensely this-worldly and practical....the ministry of prayer, of listening, of wisdom, of championing the young. We Must Prepare for Life in the Next World Christianity is this-worldly because it is next-worldly. That is, we must recognize that ageing is difficult, and often accompanied by social and physical pain (Ecclesiastes 12). It is, after all, the prelude to the coming of 'the last enemy', death. Death is not just the natural end of life, but the reward of the human revolt against God. It is a punishment, and it ushers us into the presence of the Judge (Hebrews 9:27; Psalm 90:12). To avoid this thought or to deny the ageing process either mentally or physically out of fear of the future is natural but self-defeating. Artificial cheeriness is no substitute for reality. The Bible takes all human life with utter seriousness, and our future beyond this life was at the very heart of the coming of Jesus into the world. Earlier periods were not squeamish about death. They could not afford to be, since death was so commonplace and so public. They therefore gave detailed attention to the pastoral task of preparing us for death, of ensuring that sin was dealt with, nesciences clear, assurance experienced, and that each person knew as far as it has been revealed what lies beyond. Practical matters such as wills and funerals were dealt with. The medical profession now offers so much help that it can lead to the neglect of these key spiritual matters...the doctor pushes aside the pastor. Each Christian, and especially Christians in ministry, should be equipped to help others think through the issues raised by death in a quiet but realistic way.
3. Grace is a Fruit of Spiritual Maturity. We want to be graceful. We would like to be physically attractive, even elegant. Indeed we go to great lengths to present as well as we can physically. But it is a fight without hope of success. What really matters to God and to others is that inner grace which makes us attractive. It is all too easy to be complaining, grumpy, garrulous, malicious, spiteful...an ordinarily 'nice' person can become a very difficult person when he has to struggle with disability such as memory loss. All the more wonderful to meet people who suffer greatly but who are still thinking of others...who manifest the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). Is it a matter, then, of 'practicing the virtues' of laboring hard to be nice, gracious, fruitful? No, because ....spiritual maturity stems from God's grace. Spiritual maturity defined in terms of a trusting relationship with God does not occur because of human niceness or human effort. It arises from the fact that ' He loved us' and gave his Son as a ransom for our sins (see Roman 5: 1-11). Forgiveness lies at the heart of the gospel, and forgiveness brings the Spirit and the working of forgiveness in our lives. Peace with God leads to the peace of knowing the love of God and the assurance of His love even through the desolation of sickness, suffering and death.
Conclusion In the Bible, the elderly are valued and respected (egg Proverbs 23:22). We live in a consumer society where we have got used to disposing of unwanted babies. It is going to be extraordinarily hard to withstand the pressure to hurry age along towards death; to take life and death into our own hands as though they belong to us and not to God. But this stage of life may be amongst the most fruitful for giving and receiving ministry, despite - or even because of - the problems. We need above all a firm confidence in the sovereignty and mercy of God.