After I had expressed appreciation of John Buchanan’s testimony, Darryl asked me to write my testimony, as a Christian in old age.
Billy Graham, in his latest book “Nearing Home – Life, Faith, and Finishing Well” says that while he was taught how to die as a Christian, no one ever taught him how to grow old. And he admits it’s not easy. “Growing old is not for sissies!” “How can we not only learn to cope with the fears and struggles and growing limitations we face, but also actually grow stronger inwardly in the midst of these difficulties?” St Paul got it right when he says in 2 Corinthians 4:16 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Paul’s right, but it takes a bit of learning!
Growing old is a learning process. When I was young, I used to think that, by 50, I would have learned all the lessons of life, and be able to cope with whatever life threw at me. Not so! More than ever, I have to learn to live by faith and trust in Jesus. I don’t have all the answers. Any delusions I had in the strength of youth are rapidly disappearing along with my eyesight and hearing.
The greatest learning is learning to face the fear of death. Cancer and heart disease are happening, and a host of diseases we had never even heard of! I have pills to swallow and doctors to see. The late Rev John Chapman quipped “Another year – another specialist!” Fear is natural, arising from the fallen nature that has turned from God. Against this natural fear I put my faith in Jesus, who promised “I am going to prepare a place for you; and I will come again and take you to myself.” That trust must be reinforced each time fear surfaces as each new illness appears. The Holy Spirit is not called the Comforter for nothing. I would like to think that I will die heroically, but I suspect that I may be a blubbering mess! Thank God that it’s not the strength of my faith that’s important – rather the strength of the One in whom we have faith – Jesus.
One of the great temptations of age is to be self centred on our aches and ills. It’s hard to think of others when I have the flu, let alone something worse. C.S.Lewis said “Suffering makes a few people noble!” I greatly admire people who are seriously ill, but can still be outgoing and cheerful and thoughtful of others. Learning to rejoice in the Lord when you are miserable!
On the positive side there’s lots of learning in our relationship with the Father. We can no longer rush around DOING so much for the Kingdom (and I don’t despise this, younger people!) but we can BE children of God. Thanks John B for sharing your pilgrimage this way.. Learning again the greatest and most important – to love God with all our heart and soul and fading strength – and learning in practice, not just good theology.
I am trying to learn to relax; that I don’t have to feel guilty about not being busy all the time, and justifying myself to myself by my works.
I’m learning also to shed the accumulated baggage, downsizing. Physically, this is cleaning out the garage, the books, the files, the clothes, and the letters. Spiritually, it’s letting go the unfulfilled dreams, the “I wish” and “if only”; the past hurts and unforgiveness – “throwing off all that hinders” (Hebrews 12:1)
I believe that God still has “good works prepared for us to do”. It may be a scaled down version of what I have done well in the past; but I see some friends who find quite new avenues of Christian service in their old age. There is much ministry to our peers – “age evangelism” doesn’t get much credit! Thank God for the privilege of being fruitful, by His Spirit! It is not God’s will that we live to be useless.
Retirement does mean more time, especially time to pray. Yet I find one of the struggles is that time can be so easily eroded. Unstructured retirement requires as much discipline as structured work. The spiritual disciplines are still needed.
And that’s another temptation of age – the love of comfort. I don’t want to be bothered or hassled. Some of this is good – I am less enthralled by TV cluttering up my limited brain with an overkill of knowledge. But I find also that it is easier to drift down the broad way, not making the effort, rather than choosing the narrow path Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:13-14.
I’m encouraged by Hebrews 12 “Let’s run with perseverance the race marked out for us – eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our race.” Perseverance –that’s needed. But thank God we have a goal to run for! How sad when many of our contemporaries can see nothing in the future but death.
That’s enough from an old preacher. As ever, I find it easy to tell others – harder to do myself!