Author Catherine Campbell looks at what God says about elderly people
On my most recent “significant” birthday, our young grandson recognised the celebrations were more extravagant than usual. “Granny,” he asked, brows furrowed, “how old are you?” My reply was clearly jaw-dropping. “Oh Granny, that’s a very big number!” At that moment I thought so too.
Ageing is something none of us can escape. It fools us by happening in little portions of 24 hours at a time and then suddenly jumps out at us with the mention of the “R” word. Before you notice it, life begins to change and if you’re not careful you fall into the trap of accepting the attitude of our Western culture, where it is perceived that accomplishments in life are the domain of the young.
It would be as foolish not to agree with this in certain circumstances, nor to ignore the obvious challenges of ageing. But thankfully not everything of importance, whether secular or spiritual, requires an agile body or a quick mind. God makes it clear that he is more interested in how we are on the inside than with our physical prowess: “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT).
Elderly Bible characters
The real problem begins when we allow stiff joints and a propensity to forget names to tempt a conviction that our days of usefulness in God’s kingdom are behind us, or at least are numbered. However, the Bible is replete with examples that show us that nothing could be further from the truth. God is never finished with us, whatever our age.
- Noah, at 480 years old, was instructed to build the ark (Genesis 6:1418). When he finished it, he was 126 years older!
- Abraham, at 75 was told by God to leave his idol worship and everything familiar to him: “Go from your country…to a land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation.” (Genesis 12:1-2).
- Moses was an 80 year old shepherd when he returned to Egypt – where he was a wanted man – to rescue a nation of over one million people from slavery (Exodus 3:1–12).
- John, the Apostle outlived all of Jesus’ other disciples,, leaving us the Gospel of John, three letters to the Church, and the book of the Revelation, written when he was around 99 years old.
And it was a very elderly pair – Simeon and Anna – to whom God chose to introduce his son. Not to the high priest or religious leaders of the temple, nor to King Herod, or Rome’s governor, but to an old man, confirming not only his promise of many years to the waiting Simeon (Luke 2:26), but also that God uses whom he chooses whatever their age.
We tend to look at those cited as some kind of super-heroes, and nothing at all like us. Nothing could be further from the truth. One look at their mistakes and ineptitudes and you’ll discover they were as ordinary as we are. However, we should not miss their unshakeable belief in the power of God, alongside their desire to worship God whatever the personal cost.
Suitability for kingdom use is all about God getting the glory, not us. God makes it clear, however Mother Nature tries to convince us otherwise, that: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). What a counter-cultural statement that is…power perfected in weakness. God’s purposes demonstrated through both old and young. God is not ageist!
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Perhaps when the confidence of youth passes, we become more willing for God’s strength rather than our ability to come to the fore. God pours his spirit into vessels emptied of self, even those showing the cracks of age or the chips of suffering. That was certainly true with Simeon and Anna. Simeon was very old, something hinted at when he declared the Lord was letting his servant depart in peace (Luke 2:29). You get the impression he’d waited a long time. Anna had been widowed for 84 years, and had chosen to selflessly serve in the temple precincts since that time.
Why did God reveal “to (Simeon) by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26)? How come the old widow Anna, immediately recognised the baby in her friend’s arms as the Messiah? We are not told but there are some clues to consider.
Simeon had gained a reputation summarised in just two words, “righteous” and “devout” (Luke 2:25), which said a lot about the man to whom God chose to introduce his son. Righteousness is about how we treat others, and how we conduct ourselves in the public arena, while to be devout points to our relationship with God. Down the years, Simeon’s faith in God’s promise did not waiver.
While the word devout was not used of Anna, her life of worship, prayer and self-sacrifice was a window into what the word conveys. These elderly friends demonstrated the meaning of devotion. God was at the centre of their lives. The promise of Christ’s coming was as real to them, as his presence should be to us today.
What kind of reputation do we want to follow, or proceed, us? Does our love for God and his word show those around us that trusting Christ is the bedrock of our lives, even if like Simeon, he calls for our patience in the outworking of his promises?
When I was both young in years and in faith I questioned too much. I complained and struggled with life’s pain, even occasionally doubting God’s plan for me. I’m not proud of that, but the older I became, and the more I experienced Christ’s love for me, I discovered his grace in the darkness, and his anchor in the storm.
The kind of trust that results in usefulness to God doesn’t happen overnight. It builds with time. The more acquainted we become with God, the easier it is to believe that “his way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30), and that “the Lord is good to those who wait for him” (Lamentations 3:25).
Therefore, we should neither fear getting old, nor disrespect those displaying the disadvantages of aging. These are merely signs that we’ve been given time and opportunity to learn in the school of faith. After all, as Job tells us: “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (Job 12:12). And doesn’t God promise “Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green” (Psalm 92:14 NLT)?
Let’s be clear, God isn’t finished with us yet…not until the day we too shall look into the face of Jesus, just like Simeon and Anna. Only this time it will not be into the face of a baby, but into the face of the one who gave his life for our salvation – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Catherine Campbell is author of God Isn’t Finished With You Yet and Consider Him.