By David Bush
A pastoral call took me to the oncology floor of a local hospital last week. I had the privilege of spending some time in conversation, scripture, and prayer with a dear saint whose battle with cancer was entering its final weeks. The individual’s faithfulness to the Lord has had many expressions, but at sixty-two I’m sure there is a temporal belief that much remains unfinished.
We’ve all experienced at least the vicarious discomfort of learning of someone’s passing soon after retiring from a lifetime of full-time work. “Tough break” we think to ourselves. “They finally get to live life on their terms…enjoy their Golden Years relaxing after a lifetime of toil… and then this.”
This perspective is understandable but flawed. Not because it’s wrong to anticipate greater flexibility and a change of pace and responsibilities in our latter years, but because it assumes that retirement from a vocation entitles the follower of Christ entre into a prolonged season of autonomy and disengagement from the work of the church. Scripture knows nothing of the kind of “retirement” that is the expectation of many in the western world.
How should we approach the fall and winter of our lives in light of life’s uncertainty and unpredictability? Scripture does not leave us without instruction in this area. Psalm 71 is a resource that provides encouragement regarding the stewardship of the entirety of the days God gives us. Seemingly written by someone mature in years, it shares wisdom for the past, the present, and the future – all of which are to be leveraged for God’s praise and glory.
“For You, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; You are He who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of You. I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day… O God, from my youth You have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds…Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like You?” –Psalm 71:5-8, 17, 19
The elderly have a valuable commodity we all need: history and perspective. Are you telling others the history of God’s faithfulness in your life? Do you have stories like this to tell? Or are others quick to hear of hardships that infer God “did you wrong” in some aspect of your life? Like Job, do you have many questions and complaints you’d like God to answer for you?
“In You, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!.. Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come…Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent…So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim Your might to another generation, Your power to all those to come.” – Psalm 71:1, 3, 9, 17-18
Our praise of the Lord never stops. Our service to the Lord never ends. Our reliance upon the Lord never diminishes. The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit continues until we die; there is no point at which we “arrive” and coast to the finish line. Are you still growing in your walk? Have you resigned yourself to attitudes and character issues the Holy Spirit desires to transform under the excuse “what’s the use of changing at this point?” Also found here is a strong vision for generational faithfulness. What can you do to assist those coming behind in running the race of faith well?
“But I will hope in You continually and will praise You yet more and more. My mouth will tell of Your righteous acts, of Your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge…You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again… You will increase my greatness and comfort me again. I will also praise You with the harp for Your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to You with the lyre…my lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to You; my soul also, which You have redeemed. – Psalm 71: 14-15, 20-23
We see an optimistic anticipation here. God, Who has been faithful in the past and is faithful in the present will continue to be faithful in the future. Some relevant questions for those entering their winter years:
- Am I setting myself up for prolonged ministry in the future? The way you are stewarding your physical body will play an oversized role in how this question is answered.
- Are the retirement decisions I’m making, making me less available to God? Financial decisions, relocation decisions, the pursuit of hobbies, etc. all have a direct impact on our availability.
The reality of ministry at First Federated is this: most of the routine work each week is accomplished by retired or semi-retired people who have decided to remain available for ministry work. They have stewarded their time, finances, and health in such a way that they are available. Their availability is a blessing to all of us, and their servant attitudes bring glory to God.
The timing and manner of our passing remain in God’s sovereign hands. My visit to the hospital was both a reminder that my plans for the future will ultimately give way to God’s plans and that it’s possible to bring God glory right up ‘til our final breath. May Psalm 71 inform the steps of those who are in or approaching a season of life that can be the most fruitful and satisfying of all.