Rethinking Old Age – Growing in Christ likeness

It is to state the obvious that old age, or the process of ageing bringa with it a whole set of unwelcomed if not painful problems. Our energy levels are a lot lower and ability to process things and do things are much slower. As well as this there are the endless of array of health issues that comes with ageing. So it not surprising that none of us really likes to get old. But not only does old age bring with it a lot of problems, sadly old people can often be seen as problem people in themselves. Think about some of the traditional phrases we associate with old  people

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

Old,  cynical and cranky

In other words, it seems the older you get the more stuck in your ways you become and the more unpleasant you are to everyone around you. Old people can and are often seen as the problem people in our church, particularly in a church that wants to change and progressive in order to reach the world with the gospel. The shakers and movers, the key change agents are often seen as the young people. They have the energy and the ideas where as the old people are often seen as being  more self serving,  self indulging, always and constantly complaining that no one cares for them. They are often perceived as being consummed with their personal needs rather than the need of the world to hear the gospel.

However I wonder if this should be the case? As I reflect on the teaching of scripture one of the glaring truths that comes out is that the Christian life is all about growth. This comes out most clearly in all Paul’s letter and particulary his prayers. In Colossians 1:28,29 his aim is to present people PERFECT in Christ. In Philippians 1:9-11 his prayer is that their “…. love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,” Philippians 1:9, NIV. In Ephesians 1:15-22 he prays that they have a deeper understanding of the hope we have. In 2 Thess 1:3 Paul rejoices that the faith and the love of the Thessalonian Christians is growing and growing.

It is hard to miss the strong emphasis on GROWING in Christ likeness. It seems that many old people, and indeed young people think that, when you get old you stop growing. Physically – Yes! But spiritually? Not so. We never stop and should never stop growing. The Christian life is life long process of growth that never stops, even with old age.

But as we all know this is not just Paul’s passion, it is also God’s passion. In Romans 1:28,29 Paul tells us that God’s work is to make us more and more like the Lord Jesus. Again in James 1:2-4 we are to count all our sufferings as pure joy because through them we will be made perfect lacking nothing. As we all know this work will not be completed in this life, not until the Lord Jesus returns.

Now if we follow the logic then it should change the way we look at old age and the old people in our church. Instead of growing old, cranky, cynical and being the problem people of our churches, the old people who are in Christ should be completely the opposite. They should be the most gracious, the most heavenly minded, the most prayerful, the most joyful, the most thankful, the most patient, the most generous, the most humble, the most courageous, the most biblically minded, the most holiest, the most self sacrificing, the most disciplined, the most gospel minded, the most mission minded, the most Christ loving, the most wonderful people in our churches.

Why? It’s obvious. Because God has had more time to work on them and to sanctify them over their many years. If they have committed themselves to growing in Christ likeness then what they were when they were young should pale into insignificance to what they are when they are so much older. Physically there may not be a lot they can do. But what they cannot do physically can more than adequately be made up by passion and prayer. They maybe confined to a bed because of health issues but this does not necessarily stop them from being prayerful for the church and for the spread of the gospel. It does not stop them from passionately encouraging others to keep running the  race, to take up the cross and to live for Jesus even if it kills.

Old age may mean there is not much they can do physically. But old age should never be a barrier to Christ likeness. If anything,  with old age we should see more and more of Christ exuding from the lips and the hearts of the old people who have committed themselves to a life of growing in Christ likeness.

I still remember being invited to meet the General Secretary of large international missionary organisation many  years ago. when I first saw him walk into the room I quickly thought to myself “Is this really the General secretary. The gentleman walked in very slowly, more like a shuffle. When I looked at him I thought he should have been in  a nursing home not the general secretary of a mission organisation. However my attitude very quickly changed once we started talking. I was blown away. His body may have been old and frail but he had energy and enthusiasm. He had a heart for the world and a love for the gospel that matched it. And he was not just talk. Despite his age he spent half his time travelling around the world encouraging Christians and the churches to keep preaching the gospel. What really blew my mind was that he had kidney failure and therefore needed regular dialysis. But this did not stop him from travelling. In fact, despite his health problems he would still insist on flying economy so as to save money for the mission agencies continuing work. And when he travelled he would take bags and bags of blood he needed for the dialysis.  There was never ever any self pitying or self indulgence. There was “Woe is me for I am!”  Nothing like this. On the other hand there was no stopping him. He is now with the Lord but to his dying days his enthusiasm for the gospel and for mission never waned.

We are all going to get older and older and it will come to a point when the whole ‘plumbing brakes down’ significantly. We’ll be plagued with one health issue after another. When we meet with other older people invariably part of the conversations will be, as one elderly gentleman commented accordingly:  “When I get together with my old mates we have an organ recital” i.e which organs have you had removed or replaced recently? But the challenge of old age is not how to deal with the inevitable health issues we’ll face. It is whether we can keep growing more and more in Christ likeness despite them. However, if our life has been a life of growth, then old age should be embraced with great joy because we are even one step so much closer to being more and more like the Lord Jesus.

Just some reflections.


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