Senior years come with their own unique opportunities and responsibilities. No longer are we bound to schedules imposed by others, and we must establish our own parameters to be sure that our time is still being spent to profit. The anticipation of freedom quickly vanishes as new factors demand our time and attention. Poor health, which can become a dominating concern, may further erode our free time. It soon becomes clear that we must make provision in the fear of God, to use our remaining time and talents for His glory, and for the blessing of others. I make the following suggestions, as goals that I still pursue.
Recognize and Acknowledge That Time Brings Change
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecc 3:7, KJV). The preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes came to the conclusion that God had set boundaries on every phase of human endeavor. He set boundaries in nature: “When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment” (Prov 8:29, KJV). He set boundaries for nations: “determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation”(Acts 17:26, KJV). He set boundaries for Levitical service: “And from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the service thereof, and shall serve no more” (Num 8:25, KJV). In the case of the Levites, a transition took place and the senior Levites would cease from manual work in the service of the Lord and assume an honorable service of consultation, teaching, and assistance.
The apostle Paul likewise, although he had a poor estimate of Cretans in general, had a similar message to the Christians in Crete: “That the aged men be sober” (Titus 2:2, KJV). Senior years, therefore, are not to be years of resignation or retirement from all activity, but should be focused on providing, by example and communication, a model of grace and piety to younger believers.
When we think of senior years, our minds are frequently turned to the three octogenarians: Caleb, Barzillai, and Anna.
The Example of Caleb
Few of us can say like Caleb: “I am this day fourscore and five years old. Yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now” (Josh 14:10, KJV). “Hebron therefore became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite unto this day, because that he wholly followed the LORD God of Israel” (Josh 14:14, KJV). The effectiveness of our influence in senior years will depend upon our faithfulness in earlier years of responsibilities. Caleb wholly followed the Lord by committing himself to knowing and pursuing the will of God, both in his personal life and for the nation of Israel.
The Example of Barzillai
Barzillai is also an example of positive influence in senior years. “Now Barzillai was a very aged man, even fourscore years old: and he had provided the king of sustenance while he lay at Mahanaim; for he was a very great man” (2Sam 19:32, KJV). He was reluctant, in his senior years, to give less than a positive contribution to David after David returned to Jerusalem, but he sponsored Chimham to go with David over Jordan. As Barzillai was providing sustenance for the king, a younger man was learning his values, and Barzillai had confidence in recommending him as a servant to David. Likewise the apostle Paul could recommend Timothy to the Philippians: “For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state” (Phil 2:20, KJV). “But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel” (Phil 2:22, KJV). It is important that we not only provide examples of ethical behavior, but also display values and convictions to those who learn from us.
Barzillai leaves us another example of senior impairment in that he felt that his powers of discernment had diminished and consequently his contributions to David’s program would be insignificant. While it appears that his days of service were finished, his sons would eat at Solomon’s table (1Kings 2:7) and later generations came up with Ezra and Zerubbabel from Babylon. It is good when we leave a posterity who remain faithful to the Lord and to the assembly. Senior believers should mentor younger believers, as Moses did with Joshua.
The Example of Anna
Anna exemplifies another endeavor in which seniors can be engaged: “And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher: she was of a great age … which departed not from the temple, but served God with fasting and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:36,37, KJV). What a legacy to leave for others to follow! Her life was filled with prayer and worship. It was not a casual exercise, but rather a dedicated and serious use of her time to worship God and intercede for others. We must schedule our days to spend time in prayer and thanksgiving to God. Other things must be sacrificed to provide time for this valuable exercise.
The Example of Paul
Paul’s advice to Timothy was to read and meditate upon the scriptures. “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all” (1Tim 4:15, KJV). The exhortation was for a serious commitment of time each day to study the Scriptures. The Psalmist also reminds us of the godly man, “But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psa 1:2, KJV). Senior years must schedule time each day to read the Scriptures consecutively, and also to pursue a personal study of some subject or theme. Paul evidently instructed Timothy, in light of his own passing and the emergence of Timothy as a leader of God’s people, to commit the truth of God to younger men so that the testimony would continue unabated after he was called home.
The Example of Jacob
“By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshiped, leaning upon the top of his staff” (Heb 11:21, KJV). Jacob’s life was inconsistent in some ways, but his last days were triumphant. He was able to demonstrate his apprehension of the will of God in relation to his progeny, and he was able to worship God although in perhaps a weakened physical condition. The worship of senior men in the assembly can be a desirable asset in the experience of any company of God’s people.
While most of us wistfully look back with regrets regarding our contribution to the assembly testimony, and feel that we could have accomplished so much more for God, there is still an opportunity to serve as examples of students, intercessors, and worshipers until the Lord comes.