Saturday, 14 February 2009

Old age

“Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. For my enemies speak against me; and they that lay wait for my soul take counsel together, Saying, God hath forsaken him: persecute and take him; for [there is] none to deliver [him].” (Ps 71:9-11 Webster)

Every stage of life has its own problems, and old age is no exception. Many a person, becoming aware of the passing years, finds physical and emotional stresses creeping into his life that were never there before. Old age is not a time for despair or self pity, and God in His Word has given us much counsel on how to make our sunset years rewarding and enriching. Did you know that David devoted one whole psalm to those who are “old and grey headed”? Read Psalm 71, and locked up within it you will discover the Christian philosophy that makes for a meaningful old age.

  This psalm was written by David very late in his life. Apparently it was a time of persecution for him, for we read: “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength fails. For my enemies speak against me; and they that lay wait for my soul take counsel together, saying ‘God has forsaken him: persecute and take him; for there is none to deliver him.’” Psalm 71:9-11.

  This suggests the incident recorded in 1 Kings where David experienced the very thing he wrote about. We 
read: “Now King David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he got no heat.” “Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, I will be king; and he prepared chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him.” 1 Kings 1:1, 5.

  It was a time that caused David much concern, and many doubts and fears rose up over him threatening to destroy him. When adverse circumstances in our lives, caused, perhaps, through ill-health or lack of finance or loneliness, threaten to crush us, we should follow the example of David in his extremity. These are his words: “In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust.” Psalm 71:1.

  What does it mean to put our trust in God? It means to place our whole-hearted confidence in Him no matter how black the situation may seem. It means to depend wholly and solely upon Him.

  Two men were in separate adjoining rooms at a large hospital. They were both about sixty-five to seventy years of age, and both of them were dying of cancer. One man cursed bitterly every time someone entered his room, but the other, a godly man, always greeted people with a smile. The one placed his wholehearted trust in God to care for the future. Anyone who talked to him was inspired to a deeper faith in God. It is a terrible thing to be shrunken in body as those men were, but how much worse to be shrunken in soul.

  In 1 Sam. 30 we read of an Egyptian servant who had been found dying in the desert, by David and his armies. His Amalekite master had left him there to perish when he had fallen ill. God is not like that Amalekite master. He will not desert us when we become sick and feeble. He is one we can trust. David uses a very striking illustration in this psalm of what it means to trust in God. “Lord be my strong habitation, to where I may continually resort: You have given commandment to save me; for You are my rock and my fortress.” Psalm 71:3.

  In the days of ancient Israel, the Israelites would choose the sites for their cities in places that could be well fortified. Usually this was amidst rocky outcrops atop hilly places. They surrounded their cities with thick protective walls, and to these cities the people would flee in event of war. Similarly, David says, when the enemies of life surround us, when worry, sin, pain and despair threaten to destroy us, we are to flee to God and hide ourselves in Him. That is what it means to trust in God. We are to cast ourselves into His protecting care completely.

  The next thing David encourages us to do in old age is to look back over our lives and remind ourselves of the times that God has watched over us, has protected us and has delivered us. We might call it “counting our blessings,” but it is a practice that David urges us to establish in our lives. He says: “For You are my hope, O Lord God: You are my trust from my youth. By You I have been helped from the womb: You are He that took me out of my mother’s bowels: my praise shall be continually to You” Psa. 71:5, 6.

  There are many, like David, who have served God from their youth up. How rich their lives usually are. Yet those of us who have become aware of God’s love for us only at a later period in our lives need not despair. Christ’s parable in Matt. 20:1-16 of the labourers in the vineyard reassures us that God will accept our repentance and cries for forgiveness at any stage of life. Even those who have wrought but one hour “are made equal unto those who have borne the burden and heat of the day.” Even the thief on the cross was assured of life eternal when in the closing hours of his earthly life he cast himself upon Jesus.
  The next thing in this psalm to give us confidence is that David’s life was not perfect. He had committed dreadful sins; sins of adultery, false witness and murder; sins of which very few of us have been guilty. And yet, deeply repentant as he was, David did not carry the burden of guilt on his shoulders for the rest of his life. He discovered the secret of sins forgiven, and this secret is expressed in the words, “Deliver me in THY righteousness.” Psa. 71:2.

  There are many who are burdened with a sense of guilt, and this carried into old age cripples and embitters the life. We must learn that at any age we need to drop our burden at the foot of the cross. Jesus has assumed our guilt and paid the penalty of it in his death. Therefore we do not have to bear it. David learnt this lesson, and following in the wake of assurance of forgiveness by God came two things: peace of heart, and a desire to praise God. These two things do more to make an aged person’s life attractive than anything else - a knowledge that he is right with God and a disposition to be happy in praising God. Yet another gem of counsel to the aged is found in David’s words, “But I will hope continually.” Psa. 71:14.

  Hope is likened to a star in the darkest night; and hope in the promises of God, in the soon coming of Jesus, in the restitution of all things, in the ultimate banishment of death, is the thing that dispels despair. One favourite text with many people is that which says, “Neither shall there be any more pain.” Rev. 21:4. This text gives hope and hope means that we can never turn inwards on ourselves. Nor has the Christian old person any cause to lose himself in self-pity. Becoming self-centred and having self-pity do more to cripple the aged than anything else. We should continually keep active as long as possible and always have some out-going interest.

  And finally, we might notice David’s parting plea to God: “Now also when I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not; until I have showed Your strength unto this generation, and Your power to everyone that is to come.” Psa. 71:18.

 The aged have a responsibility to this modern generation, and that is to show them their strength. It is certainly  not physical strength spoken of here, for the aged have little of that. It is a spiritual strength, a strong faith that is needed in this modern world. Faith is a thing which is developed and deepened only with personal experiences with God, and most youth today are totally unaware of what such faith implies.

  Old age is not to be an era of barren bitterness. Sanctified by the grace of God, these years can be amongst the most profitable and rewarding years of all.

  - John Aldersley

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