“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.” (Psalm 92:12-14)
Some people think the only thing worse than growing old is the alternative: not growing old! I often have occasions to tell an older friend, “Gettin’ old ain’t fer sissies!” And yet, I recently read a report on research on happiness. You know what they discovered? The oldest Americans are the happiest segment of the population! Yet for many there are feelings of uselessness, loneliness, bitterness, and a fear of possible illness and financial insecurity.
But I don’t fear growing old. In fact, I sort of enjoy it. Why? The Bible has special promises for us old folks. Our resources are the promises of God. In fact, the Bible has promises for every one of the problems of aging. Think about it.
As we grow older and are tempted to feel less and less useful, there’s something we need to remember: God is much more concerned with who we are than in what we do. At Easter time some years ago I visited two close friends who were growing old. Both were ailing and could do less and less. Both had served powerfully as pastors, one in long years of missionary work, the other in education. They were miserable and had given up on life. Cranky, hard to live with. I tried to persuade them that their value and significance does not depend on what they accomplish but in what kind of person they become. But they couldn’t even hear me. They said their role model is Caleb who was still fighting wars in his old age!
Many people are miserable in old age because they can’t do things of significance. Their sense of worth is tied to their activity. Even Christians think they must earn God’s approval by hard work and can’t relax, trust God’s grace and enjoy God and His gifts. For all those feelings of uselessness, the Bible has a promise: “The righteous will flourish…like trees…that still bear fruit in old age and are always green and strong.” (Psalm 92:12-14).
“Aunt” Mary was over 100 years of age. In her prime she was a successful businesswoman when women didn’t do that sort of thing. But for her last 25 years she was in a nursing home, the last 10 years abed. No family, alone. Useless, right? No, she was very valuable to many people, including me. She prayed for people, for God’s work around the world. Do you want to do something significant? Prayer is the most important work a person can do! And she strengthened all of us who knew her. Instead of feeling sorry for herself and complaining, she was always cheerful, full of gratitude for a lifetime of God’s faithfulness toward her. Visitors left her feeling uplifted. Such a useful person!
Our role changes through the seasons of life, as we grow older, but we must not cling to the past or we will destroy ourselves. God has ever new purposes for us to fulfill — a special purpose for each person at each stage of life. “Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do” (Isaiah 43:18,19).
Of course, that new assignment God has for you may be some significant work for him but more likely it may be a quiet ministry of prayer as in Aunt Mary’s case. Whatever, it will certainly be to put his glorious character on display, and to be his companion. Useless? We are useful to God and people at any age as we fulfill what God has called us to be and do at that stage. And when we do his assignment we have his assurance that we are very useful. To him, if not to anyone else!