As I prayed about what I might say in these few minutes, I think the Lord led me to Psalm 71. It’s not a psalm about death. It’s about getting old and approaching death.
Verse 8–9: My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day. Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.
Verse 17–18: 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.
I thought: I could speak of Jean Hamlett and the spectacular truth that
- she is more alive right now than we are;
- she has no more pain or discomfort;
- she has completely ceased to sin;
- her attitude and her words and her deeds will henceforth be perfect;
- and best of all, she no longer sees through a glass dimly, but face to face.
We could linger over all the good things that are true of Jean right now and forever. And that would be good. It be wonderful.
But it seemed to me that Jean might want me mainly to encourage and exhort and strengthen you for the aging and dying every one of you will have to do.
Get Ready to Meet Jesus
As Noël and I were thinking last Sunday, it takes enormous energy to raise kids. So God has planned that children be born to parents that are young. Old people can’t have babies. To be a success as a parent, you need energy. You need more. But not less.
At the other end of life, when we are not bringing people into the world, but preparing to leave, energy is not the key to success. The day will come when you can’t even get out of bed. And at that moment, you can be a success. The key to getting old and dying well is God’s word and God’s grace.
So I would like to take the wisdom and grace of Psalm 71 — the prayer of an aging man — and give it to you in seven exhortations. And since I am one of these old men now, instead of saying you, I am going to say us. And instead of saying, “You do . . .” I’m going to say, “Let’s do. . .” And in the process, I think we will be greatly encouraged about Jean.
We could call these seven resolutions from God’s word and God’s grace for aging and getting ready to meet Jesus. Each of them is based on Psalm 71.
1) Let’s resolve to take refuge in God rather than taking offense at our troubles.
Verse 1: “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge.”
As Psalm 46 makes plain, we have a refuge from every storm and every enemy.
And when we forget that we are safe in God, we start to take offense at our troubles. I don’t want to get old complaining.
If Jean had a complaining side to her, which we all do, she’s done.
2) Let’s resolve to remember with wonder and thanks the thousands of times we have leaned on God since our youth.
Verses 5–6: “For you, O LORD, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth.”
Verse 17: “O God from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.”
God’s grace is like a river that flows out of the future of God’s promises every day of our lives, and spills over the waterfall of the present moment of fulfillment and gathers in an ever-growing reservoir of past grace.
And as we look back, we should be filled with thankfulness. And as we look forward, that thankfulness should turn in mighty hope.
3) Let’s resolve to speak to God more and more about all his greatness, until there is no room left in our mouths for murmuring.
Verse 6: “My praise is continually of you.”
Verse 14: “I will praise you yet more and more.”
The longer we live, the more we should praise. Isn’t that amazing? We are so prone to think of our waning powers and be discouraged. But for God’s children, the day is getting brighter and brighter.
Jean Hamlet is in ecstasy right now. If we could only keep this before us, we would praise him more and more. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
4) Let’s resolve to be people of rugged, undefeatable hope and not give in to despair, even in the nursing home, and even if we outlive all our friends.
Verse 14: “I will hope continually . . .”
This will be a great battle. It was for Jean. It will be for us. We will get to the point where we feel useless and too weak to do any good. And the temptation to despair will be huge.
But this old man said, “I will hope continually.” And Peter said, “Having girded up the loins of your mind, set your hope fully in the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (see 1 Peter 1:13).
Jesus said, Always pray and do not lose heart (see Luke 18:1). And Paul knew exactly what the danger of aging is:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)
5) Let’s resolve to go out of our way to find people to tell about God’s wonderful acts of salvation, that never run out, because they are innumerable.
Verse 15: “My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge.”
Verse 18: “I [will] proclaim your might to another generation.”
Nothing is more energizing than speaking of God’s wonders to someone else.
6) Let’s resolve to remember that there are great things about God above our imagination, and soon enough, like Jean, we will know these too.
Verses 18–19: “I [will] proclaim . . . your power to all those to come. Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens.”
There will always be things that are over our heads. We are not God. So let’s let God be God and wait patiently for the day when we will know even as we are known.
7) Finally, let’s resolve to resist all stuffy stereotypes of old people, and play and sing and shout with joy whether we look dignified or not.
Verses 22–23: “I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you.”
There won’t be any phoniness in heaven. There will only be complete authenticity. We will discover what childlikeness was really meant to be.
We will be free. For freedom Christ has set you free. Let’s do this. Don’t lose heart.
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10)