Pastoring a largely elderly congregation has shown me how old age can bring new challenges for the Christian. When your physical and mental strength are waning you can feel frustrated and even depressed about not being able to serve the Saviour as actively as you did before.
Take heart! You remain a soldier of Christ; but he’s calling you to play a different part in the battle now. What part might that be? Over three editions, this column will look at some elderly believers in Scripture and point to three areas in which older Christians are especially well placed to bring glory to God. The first is the area of late-life trials.
As an old man, Abraham could look back on many years of following the Lord. He’d left his homeland to live as a tent-dwelling wanderer. He’d rescued Lot and interceded for Sodom. And all the while he’d kept on believing God’s promise to grant him many descendants — despite all the physical evidence saying otherwise. Abraham endured that severe test for 25 years; but relief finally came when, at the age of 100, he became father to Isaac.
At that point Abraham probably felt his life’s work was done. He’d made it! He’d passed! Now he could sit back and watch his son grow into a young man. But his service wasn’t over yet. Genesis 22:1 says, ‘After these things God tested Abraham’.
Now aged well over a century, and having achieved more than most of us would ever aspire to in a lifetime, Abraham was called to face the toughest trial of his life — and perhaps the one for which he is best remembered today. Would he trust the Lord enough to offer Isaac as a sacrifice? Yes he would! And for bearing that trial successfully in his old age, he was rewarded richly (Gen 22:15-18).
It would be nice to think that, having put in a hard shift of Christian service, you could spend your final days at rest on the Delectable Mountains. But that’s rarely the Lord’s way. It’s more often the case that your trials increase during those later years: there’s more illness, weakness, bereavements, disappointments and family worries.
And this is where the opportunity opens up for the elderly man or woman of God. He’s calling you to glorify him now in a way that most younger believers aren’t able to. What a testimony it is to his power when a believer knows contentment and joy in the midst of trouble. How it proves the reality of his preserving grace when you go on trusting him through your suffering!
I praise God for the older Christian I know who endured the slow decline and death of her husband, without a hint of self-pity; and for the one who, in a life-threatening medical emergency, committed his soul to the Lord with a supernatural peace while the ambulance was on its way; and for the dear sister who still, after nights of agonising pain, tells me how she is full of thanks to God. I have learned far more of his faithfulness and love through these older suffering saints than I have through many a gifted preacher.
In bringing you trials later in life, your Father has placed you in a position where you can glorify him before men in a way that you could never have done in your younger, easier days. If you seek his grace to endure them with joy, your later years may yet prove your most useful and fruitful in your service of him.
Matthew Cox, Pastor of Union Chapel Bethersden, Kent, and book reviews editor at Evangelical Times.