“Even to your old age, I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you” (Is. 46:4, ESV).
After paying a visit to an octogenarian couple (or a couple in their eighties), a representative of a major mission organization wrote them saying “Many say that 70-80% of Christian leaders do not finish well, and so it was an honor to meet two who are finishing their lives strong and courageously for the Lord.” Yet many of the Bible’s heroes were active in God’s service well after eighty years of age. Moses “was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone” (Deut. 34:7, TNIV). Indeed, his career as leader of the exodus did not begin until he was an octogenarian. Abraham was still active at the age of one hundred (Gen. 21:5) and Caleb declared “here I am today, eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then” (Joshua 14: 10b-11, TNIV). Daniel was some ninety years old when he was cast into a den of lions, while four of the prophetic voices announcing the coming of the Messiah were persons well advanced in age (Luke 1:42-45, 67-79; 2:33-38).
Just as women are sometimes discouraged from entering into ministry or fail to gain a hearing because of their gender, so too other faithful servants are disregarded and discarded because of their age. All too often we assume that the elderly have nothing more to give, and all too often the elderly come to think that no one wants to listen to what they have to say. Ageism can obstruct the propagation of the gospel as tragically as sexism. Although Titus encouraged older women to teach the younger ones (2:4), many older women say they wouldn’t dare even suggest such a thing! The mandate is ignored to the great detriment of young women who wonder how to balance work and home and sense of mission. How much wisdom, life experience, and years of ministry those grannies have to share!
“Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12, TNIV).
Yes, mentoring is a gift that the elderly can give us, as can their gift of kindly empathy. We knew a retired pastor who sought to augment his slender pension by working in a local supermarket. There he discovered a host of teenage employees who grew to love him and listened eagerly as he told them of Christ’s love. A retired FBI agent now spends two days a week in the local courthouse, offering words of encouragement to abuse victims as he helps them obtain restraining orders.
As the services of many social agencies are curtailed, the opportunity grows for seniors in caring and imaginative ministries. They may only need our encouragement to plunge back into the work of the gospel. Joel promised “your old men will dream dreams” and “even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (2:28b-28a, TNIV). There is a world of ministry to enter if we will open the doors and receive the gifts that the elderly can bring us.
“O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. 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” (Ps. 71:17-18, ESV).