Back in the 80s and 90s, I used to do quite a bit of running and managed to complete a couple of the Twin Cities Marathons. At the starting line of a marathon, everyone is chattering, happy, and chirpy. Many people show up in costume, and many others are bundled up because it’s usually cold in the early morning.
The end, however, has an interesting change. People’s faces are much more stern. Not much talking is going on; the runners are gutting it out. Some people are barely putting one foot in front of the other. The only real talking you hear is from the sidelines as friends and loved ones scream, “Come on! You can make it! You can make it!” The last part of the marathon is typically the hardest.
Such is the case with the seasons of life. A fella I know, who works with senior citizens, said one time, “God seems to save the hardest part until last.” Have you ever heard the phrase, “Growing old ain’t for sissies”? Maybe you know exactly what that means.
Having many years, though, is considered a blessing according to Scripture. Still we know the last stretch can oftentimes be quite hard. The body isn’t working like it used to. Parts are wearing out. The memory isn’t as sharp. A grieving is going on – loss of spouse, loss of friends. Physical abilities are starting to fall by the wayside. More and more we experience a loss of independence, and you find yourself going to more funerals for peers. Some people go through the experience of feeling quite alone and isolated, forgotten. They feel they’ve lost the respect of others around them. It’s a sad time for them.
It’s a real shame when this happens, because the elderly are meant to be prized. The Bible tells us to honor them, for they have so much to teach those of us who are coming up the ranks to join them someday. Such is the case in this prayer, Psalm 71. It was written by an elderly person of God who was facing hard times in his last stretch of life. He has something very important, I believe, to teach us.
This person is not feeling very prized by others either. He’s under fire and going through tough times. People try to “get after” him and give him a hard time. Something bad is happening in his life as he talks of the hands of the wicked and the unjust and the cruel person. He describes conspiring accusers out to get him, to wreck his life, and he’s feeling forsaken by God. He’s even worried about whether God is looking over him. His strength is gone. He’s tired; he’s sick perhaps.
Some Bible scholars have speculated that this Psalm could have very well been written by King David when he was running from his son Absalom, who was trying to overthrow his kingdom. He is desperate and in need of refuge, rescue, help, strength, and vindication. As you read it, you see all those words. He’s under attack, and he’s feeling old, because he is old. Things are so bad, he seems to have a touch of anxiety about his standing with God at this stage in his life. “Do not cast me off in the time of my old age, God,” he says. “Forsake me not when my strength is spent.” Perhaps people had been saying the Lord has deserted him. God has grown tired of him and won’t take care of him. Now we can get him.
This person is absolutely overwhelmed by life. Have you ever felt that way? Like you need refuge? You need strength, because yours is spent. You are feeling under attack. How do you get through it? How do you get a grip on aging? Well, let me tell you, this guy is very wise in Psalm 71. He knows exactly where to turn.
Verse 1 – “In you, O Lord, I take refuge.” He knows how big and faithful God is, and what He can do. Listen to his God descriptors in this song, this prayer he’s written. “(You are) my rock, my Refuge, my Fortress.” Righteous, faithful, holy One, mighty, Savior, powerful, Creator, personal, in control. Wow! That is quite a resume, wouldn’t you say.
How does he know all this? The answers can be found in verses 5 and 6. “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my confidence, my trust from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth. You are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.
Do you see what he’s doing there? He’s doing a life review of his experiences with God. He’s looking back and counting his blessings. God, you were there even before I was born. You were there for me to lean on, to learn from. You know me. You made me. When I came into this world, Lord, you were present. And as I’ve gone through life even from youth till now, You have been alongside of me. And I remember the many times when I was able to lean on You through the years as I faced various life circumstances, and I couldn’t overcome them on my own.
If David was indeed the writer, perhaps he was thinking about facing Goliath early in his life. Lord, You were there. You were there in all those times!
Have you ever looked back on God’s faithfulness in your own life saying, “I remember when . . . ”? I remember when I was sick and in the hospital. It was not looking so good for me. But God kept showing up and He carried me through that experience. Now here I am. This is what the psalmist seems to be saying. “Lord, you helped me out of so many tough times before. I’ve been depending on you ever since I was born. I know I can trust you. You are my hope. And you never change. How about helping me again?
The Psalm ends with trust and affirmation. It starts out sounding desperate, but the end is the strength. He says, “I believe you will help me. I will be singing your praises and telling others about it.” That’s why this song can be classified as a psalm of trust.
We can learn a couple of lessons from this veteran of the faith. The first one is this: there are seasons in life when life can be challenging and tough, BUT you do not have to face it alone. Lean on God. That is what this guy was doing. Start leaning on God now, even before those times hit, and watch Him work in your life. You’ll learn this truth: “If you’ve made a habit of communing with God when the sun is shining, you’ll find it much easier to sing when it rains.” Lean on Him now. If you have been leaning on Him, keep leaning. Keep turning to Him. He’s available. His love for you is unchanging.
Another lesson we pick up from this person is this: When life gets tough, look back at your lifetime of experiences with God and His faithfulness working in your life. Count your blessings; name them one by one. Many of you have some great memories and great stories of the faithfulness of God at work in your life. It might have been His presence in a hospital experience or how He has provided daily for you when it looked like you didn’t know where the next dollar was going to come from. All kinds of experiences where God showed up. He never changes. Remind yourself of that.
Finally, the last section of this prayer holds a third lesson from the senior saint, which I want to look at with you. It is addressed, I believe, to senior saints. Listen to these words: “O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wonderful deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come.”
He is saying, Lord, help me so I can keep on doing ministry for you. There is work left to be done. I’m not ready to hang it up until I proclaim Your might to another generation. Keep me going. I want to proclaim your might in my testimony. I want to be able to tell the world what a faithful and loving God you are in my life and what you’ve done for the world. I want to tell the Good News – how we were lost in our sinfulness, but You in Your mercy sent Your Son, Jesus Christ, to die upon a cross so no one might be lost but all might be restored into a relationship with you. I have people – generations coming up as well as generations around me – who need to hear about your grace. They need to hear about your power, which changed my life and can change theirs. I want to keep talking about you, Lord.
This guy is not ready to hang it up. There is no retirement in his service to the Lord. This is a truth for us as well. There is no retirement in the kingdom of God. God always has something for us to do. No matter how old we may be getting, ministry is for life.
I had a friend named Joanne Jackson who has graduated now to be with the Lord in His heaven. She was a person who just kept going and going and going even though she was quite elderly and not healthy. Every time I went to see her in the hospital, it seemed almost certain it was her last stretch. She would be dying, but always seemed to beat the odds and snap out of it. At times she would say to me, “Steve, I don’t know why God doesn’t just take me home. I’m ready to go. I want to see my husband who is waiting for me in heaven.” Then she would smile and say, “I guess God still has more work for me to complete.” This is the psalmist’s attitude.
Let me get personal and specific with you who are veterans of the faith. How would you finish the psalmist’s statement? “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I . . .” Now fill in a ministry or a mission. It doesn’t matter how old you are. You are needed. You are on call. No retiring here.
Finish this verse: “Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me until . . .”
. . . my friends all know that Jesus is the Savior of the world that everyone needs?
. . . I have learned how to share my testimony or to effectively share your story and then share it with those You have placed in my life.
. . . I have prayed daily for the mission of my Church and for the missionaries for the next year.
. . . every refugee and poor person has a blanket to cover up with in the cold of night – a blanket I could make.
. . . a great awakening happens in our country and a great harvest of souls, to the glory of your holy name.
. . . I have brought my children who have strayed from the faith back into a relationship with you.
. . . my unchurched grandchildren have come to personally know and believe in Jesus Christ.
The list can go on and on. How would you finish that verse? Look around. What is God challenging you with, even in this season in your life? There is no retirement.
Thank God for senior saints! I love my senior saints! I respect them and esteem them in my own congregation. I hope that is happening for you, too. I especially thank God for the senior saint who penned Psalm 71, because he has given us quite a lesson on how to get a grip on aging. Life can be tough in the last stretch, but you don’t have to face it alone. You can lean on the God who loves you, who gave His Son to die for you on a cross so you could have a personal relationship with Him. He has promised to never ever leave you orphaned or on your own. He is present for you.
When life is looking particularly tough and rough, remember to look back. When you’re wondering if God has turned His back on you, look back and review His faithfulness in your life. Remember this truth: God is never changing. His love for you is never changing. The God who has taken care of you in the past is there to walk with you in the present.
NO RETIREMENT! God has something for you to do. Retirement isn’t meant to be spent sitting around or chasing a golf ball around a golf course, which is fun I know. While there is nothing wrong with those activities, don’t build your life on them in retirement. Keep serving the cause of Jesus Christ. There are people in this world who still have not met Him. God is counting on you, who have been so blessed by Him along the way with His presence in your life, to point them in the direction of Jesus Christ.
By the way, this is where real joy is found in the last stretch of your race. It is in serving Christ. Serve Him, trust Him, and lean on Him.
God bless you in your final stretch. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer