“You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, perhaps just one, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing.” John Piper, “Don’t Waste Your Life’
One of the many reasons why we struggle as Christ’s church to effectively represent Him to a lost world is because of the lack of clear and compelling biblical standards or plumb lines for our pursuit of holiness.
This need for a standard or model is especially true of the “golden years”. The golden years or our senior years in the kingdom were meant to overflow with fruit. They were meant to provide a clear example to the generations to come as to what their senior years should look like. They were meant to be a testimony to the faithfulness and power of God for those who aren’t sure if He can be trusted. They were meant to provide a clear roadmap for how believers can end well. But alas that often has not been the case for we believers has it? And a big reason for that is we don’t have a clear goal or standard in mind as we live out our last years either from scripture or from the example of Christian seniors around us.
I believe seniors (i.e. people 65 or older and who generally are retired from their careers) in the kingdom are crucial for the church to be able to rise to the high calling that Christ has given us in these last days. We seniors have a unique and significant role to play until our last breath. But we can only fulfill that role if we are crystal clear on what we are shooting for, and if we are constantly empowered by the Holy Spirit to pull it off; and if we are yoked with other believers on the same path.
The apostle Paul thankfully both lived this out and gave us some instruction for how it ought to look in the lives of others. Let’s start with the standard he left us, and then we will look at a few others.
Just in case we are tempted by the father of lies to wrongly think it is unrealistic and unreasonable for we average believers to aspire to follow Paul’s example, please note the following commands to the believers/churches Paul ministered to:
“Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” I Cor. 4:16 “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” I Cor. 11:1 “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Phil. 3:17 “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Phil. 4:9 “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” I Thess. 1:6 “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.” II Thess. 3:7-9
Now let’s look at Paul’s example in his senior years. Scholars generally believe II Timothy was the last epistle Paul wrote before his execution.
II Timothy 4:6-8 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” Comment: Paul saw his life and ministry as a laid down sacrifice. He never quit fighting. He sought God for His course and mission every day and at the end of his life could confidently say he had finished it or fulfilled it. He never wavered in his faith and trust in the Lord and His goodness toward Paul (even with all the suffering and affliction he endured). He was confident of the crown and rewards awaiting him, and expected to receive them from His Lord and Master.
II Timothy 4:18 “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Comment: Paul regularly entered dangerous situations with the confidence that the Lord would rescue and deliver him. His trust was not in government, guns, or any of the other things Americans tend to resort to. Danger and threats and persecution never stopped him from doing the will of the Lord. Again his hope was ultimately in his soon arrival in the heavenly kingdom that awaits all disciples of Christ.
Paul was a first generation Christian. One might wonder where he got inspiration from to end well and to fully accomplish the will of God in his life until his last breath. Might I suggest among others - Simeon and Anna? Let’s take a look:
Luke 2:25-38 “And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light Of Revelation To The Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”
Comment: First we are told Simeon was a godly man who walked with God as a way of life, and whose greatest longing in life was to see God’s promises for Israel fulfilled in the coming of Messiah. Second, we are told that at some point in His communion with God - the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die until he personally laid eyes on the coming Messiah (this promise was probably necessary because he was old and of the age that people typically die). Third, three times his relationship with the Holy Spirit is mentioned (even though Pentecost had not happened yet). Fourth, Simeon was a man who based his life and expectations on God’s word/promise to him out of his relationship with God. This man was ready to die because God’s purposes for his life had now been fulfilled. BTW – he was probably a widower at this point in his life. (see vs. 34,35 for how God used him in Mary and Joseph’s lives).
Luke 2:36-38 “And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Comment: Anna was a prophetess and an older single woman being a widow for much of her adult life. She lived to worship God and was an intercessor. She loved being with the people of God and pretty much lived in the temple. God rewarded her faithfulness by letting her hear Simeon’s words and by letting her also see the long promised Messiah who would bring redemption to Jerusalem and the world. Anna spoke of these things to those gathered there that day.
(Even if Paul never got to read Luke’s gospel, he spent many days with Luke as is seen in the book of Acts and thus it is very probable that Luke told him about these two individuals at some point).
Psalm 71:6-9 “By You I have been sustained from my birth; You are He who took me from my mother’s womb; My praise is continually of You. I have become a marvel to many, For You are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with Your praise And with Your glory all day long. Do not cast me off in the time of old age; Do not forsake me when my strength fails.” Vs. 18 “And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come.”
Comment: This old man was a God centered man, who clearly knew His responsibility to be a solid testimony to the next generation of God’s faithfulness; and thus cried out to God for the strength and grace to do so. Great psalm and prayer for we seniors!!
Psalm 92:12-15 “The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, They will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green, To declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”
Comment/Testimony: When our son Joshua replaced me as lead pastor (June 1, 2015), and our congregation sent us off on a 3 month sabbatical, we spent the first 5 and a half weeks on a road trip around the nation. When we returned to Los Osos, we knew our son had met with our elders a number of times while we were gone and that they would continue to meet throughout our sabbatical without me and without reporting to me. (I did not begin that sabbatical at the top of my game. I was exhausted and worn thin). What were they discussing? Should I stay engaged at our church? Should I move on, which was the counsel of some who informed me that fathers can rarely turn around and follow their sons? If I stayed, what would my role be? Our transition throughout the month of May was not the smoothest and well planned of transitions. Well my Psalm the first morning after we returned from our trip was Psalm 92. And God powerfully assured me that if we gave ourselves to worshipping and serving Him with His people come hell or high water, God would make us fruitful and sappy to the end of our days. That encounter with God got me through the bumps and challenges of the next year until things smoothed out and Joshua and I began to thrive by His grace together.
Well I will probably do a part II to this since part I is longer than it probably should be and I have more to say. I do hope you can see from these passages that the picture we are bombarded with in America through media and the examples of seniors all around us of what retirement should look like is demonically inspired and one that we disciples must be fully cleansed and delivered from. Even if you or I could attain to the highest expression of this self obsessed and entitled picture, we would find no blessing of God in it (that is the blessing that manifests in His presence and peace and depth of fellowship with Him and joy from that fellowship).
This I know, godly, kingdom first seeking seniors are greatly needed in the church today. God always meant for the younger generation to be inspired and mentored by such. And there is great blessing of God on those seniors who will forsake the world’s way and embrace His way.
Can we keep up the pace we once kept? Clearly and increasingly not. Will we need more naps and breaks from the action as we age? Probably. But best that the Holy Spirit makes those calls and we look to Him and those we are yoked with for such – not our senior magazines.
Father, thank You that You have called we seniors in Your kingdom to bear increasing fruit in our latter years. Thank You for providing us all these examples and more in scripture to help us break away from the deception and delusion of the world’s concept of retirement. Give us ever increasing passion to know You, to worship You with Your people, and to do Your will every moment of every day. Help us to end this earthly life well, knowing we lived to our last breath to do Your will and to be in the thick of what You are doing in and through Your church. In Jesus’s name, Amen.