Growing Older in the Grace of God
But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign LORD; I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone. (Psalm 71:14-16)
Recently Laurie and I welcomed our seventh grandchild, Judah Kirby Narofsky, to the family. If you are a grandparent, you know how every child comes as a unique and fresh imprint of the image of God. There is nothing that reminds us more of the glory of God and the dignity of humanity than a precious, small, helpless infant. The psalmist said, “ O LORD, our LORD how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise…” (8:1-2).
Of course, there is another side to having grandchildren. Someone has well said, “God gives babies to young people!” Those of us approaching “un-young-hood” know the energy, physical stamina, and other qualities that are needed for parents but are not in as large supply as we age.
Which brings me to the topic of “Growing Older in the Grace of God.” For those of you who have been involved in the IBC over the past 25 years or so, the name Bob Marsh is familiar to you. (We happen to have another Bob Marsh in the IBC — Bob and Carol Marsh are a delightful church-planting couple in Darmstadt, Germany. But I am speaking of Bob Marsh the “Elder,” who weighs in at approximately 30 years beyond church planter Bob Marsh.) Bob Marsh the Elder has served, along with Myra, as interim pastor, Bible teacher/preacher, interim General Secretary, and many other roles. Bob’s picture can be seen next to the word, “encouragement,” in the dictionary. Although he said hello to his eighth decade several years ago, he is still among the favorite Bible teachers for IBC conferences. He spoke at our most recent Ministry Leadership Conference in March.
Bob recently wrote an encouraging piece, entitled, “Growing Older in the Grace of God.” I asked and received permission to share it with you. I know you will be encouraged and challenged, regardless of your age. Hear what Bob has to say:
Growing Older in the Grace of God
“You will come to the grave in full vigor.” (Job 5:26)
“Even to your old age and gray hair I am He who will sustain you… made you… will carry you… rescue you.” (Isaiah 46:4)
We were seated in the living room of some precious friends in Oberursel, Germany, where we were serving the International Church. One of the four children, beautiful eight-year-old daughter, came in. I knew her, and she knew me. We had taken walks through the village, sat in this living room laughing, and talking together. When she walked into the room I playfully asked, “Now, what is your name? Is it Rumpelstiltskin? Is it Doodlewaddle? Why can’t I remember your name?” She, just as playfully, fired back, “Maybe you are just getting old.” Wham! Ouch! Well, I asked for that barb, but laughed at how she tried to look sweetly innocent of delivering such a blow. Getting old? After letting that sink in a wee bit, I wanted to shout to anyone in hearing range, “Never! Getting old will not define me, for I am determined to GROW OLDER, not GET OLD.” And therein lies a vast difference. However, what is the difference, and how does one dodge what appears to be inevitable, GETTING OLD, and indeed move beyond mere semantics into a reality that could truly be labeled GROWING OLDER?
ATTITUDE and FOCUS
In Psalm 71:14-16, notice how emphatically the psalmist uses the term ‘I WILL!” Whatever else he is stating, he is teaching us that how we come through life, GETTING OLD or GROWING OLDER, depends significantly on ATTITUDE and FOCUS. “I will hope.” That is predicated on an attitude, on making a choice to hope. “I will praise.” “I will tell, proclaim.” He was determined to keep his FOCUS on the goodness of God. There are many features in the process of aging over which we have no control, but we can make a choice to embrace attitudes that reflect hope, cheer, praise, and sharing the good news of God’s love. We can make a choice to FOCUS on realities that will make life worth living, and lift us above the dark clouds of doubt and despair.
GETTING OLD has nothing to do with the calendar, with chronology. It has everything to do with attitude, the decisions we make as to how we are going to face life with all of its challenges, disappointments, and irritations. GETTING OLD is an attitude of pessimism, being polluted by pettiness, submitting to the tyrant of trivia, and developing a mentality of the mundane. We GET OLD when our attitude is old, when we leave our dreams behind, when love grows cold, for we are as old as our negative attitudes in life. We GET OLD when our FOCUS is on our complaints, perceived slights, refusal to forgive, fearful thoughts that we allow to dominate, and the loss of our vision for life.
Somewhere along the pathway of life we must learn that our most insidious enemy is not FATHER TIME; it is BROTHER BITTERNESS AND SISTER SOURNESS. FATHER TIME can wrinkle the skin and dim our sight. BROTHER BITTERNESS can pinch the spirit and blind us to the blessings of God that surround us.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth plaintively commiserated about life:
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The writer of Ecclesiastes pessimistically moaned: “Meaningless, Meaningless, everything is meaningless.”
Certainly we as children of God reject such dystopian despair, while acknowledging that “for mortals their days are like grass.” However, we continue with the certainty “that the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.”
GROWING OLDER is in contrast to the stagnant GETTING OLD. The operative term is GROWING! The Moffat translation has a verse in Romans enthusiastically encouraging us to “MAINTAIN THE GLOW” — the glow of the presence of Christ. The glow of knowing the Lord better today than you knew Him yesterday. The glow of focusing on (1) GROWING in enriching the lives of others, (2) GROWING in daily seeking Him in His Word and submitting to His Holy Spirit, (3) GROWING in living a LIFE OF LOVE, and (4) GROWING in preparing to move into His presence when He calls us into His Glory.
So, as a child of God, contrary to that precious girl in Oberusel, I do not have to GET OLD. Developing what Paul taught in Philippians 2:5, THE ATTITUDE OF JESUS, we can daily be GROWING AND GLOWING in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Job 5:26 speaks of our desire to “come to the grave in full vigor, like sheaves gathered in season.” The Apostle Paul virtually shouted when he faced inevitable death, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race!!” In GROWING OLDER IN THE GRACE OF GOD, we will face inexplicable events, disappointments, and the challenges of aging. However, we can FOCUS on WHO HE IS, what HE HAS PROMISED, and shake off the doubts that would cause us to merely exist through life. The poet said it well:
I will not doubt, though all my ships at sea
Come drifting home with broken masts and sails;
I shall believe the Hand which never fails
From seeming evil worketh good for me;
And though I weep because those sails are battered,
Still will I cry, while my best hopes lie shattered,
I trust in thee.
I will not doubt; well anchored in the faith,
Like some staunch ship, my soul braves every gale,
So strong its courage that it will not fail
To breast the mighty unknown sea of Death.
Oh, may I cry when body parts with spirit,
I do not doubt, so listening worlds may hear it,
With my last breath, I TRUST IN THEE!
Thanks to Bob not only for his words but also for his life that reminds us of a truth spoken by Abraham Lincoln, “And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” I want to be like Bob when I grow up!