“And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” (Isaiah 46:4)
Brother and Sister A—— were both ministers. They were regularly at the campmeetings that I attended when I was in my teens. They must have been in their sixties or seventies at that time. The Lord used them to be a great blessing to me.
My memories are full of their fervent prayers and deep earnestness. There was a sincerity and trueness that left a deep and abiding impression on me.
They were completely consecrated and spent all of their time traveling, holding meetings as they felt burdened. If I remember correctly, I think they put about 70,000 miles per year on their car. They wore out cars regularly, but the Lord would supply them with another one.
They were both “Israelites without any guile,” and they had a lot of fun together as a couple. They would tell stories of how they got saved. (She got saved before him, if I remember correctly.) Then, as a young couple, raising their family, they attended meeting together. If the preacher said something that she needed to measure up to, he would poke her in the side with his elbow; and if the preacher said something that he needed to measure up to, she would poke him in the side with her elbow. As they told this story, they would grin at each other, and you could tell how happy, how open, how well-adjusted, how saved and filled with the grace of God, this couple were. Surely this was a couple whose prayers together were not hindered (1 Peter 3:7).
The Lord used them in a wonderful, simple way. Sister A—— got up at a meeting in Missouri. She was holding a salt shaker, full of salt. As she preached on being well salted, she shook salt everywhere. They told about how they were in a wreck somewhere on one of their travels. It was a terrible wreck (someone had run into them). Sister A—— was injured so badly that it appeared she might not live. Brother A—— was lying on the pavement, audibly calling on God with all his might to help them. As a result of injuries from this wreck, Sister A—— suffered a long time. At one time, she felt her spirit removed from her body. She said that she could look back at her body from a height and see the saints praying for her. Said she heard a voice from heaven saying, “Tell the saints to stop playing religion and get down to business.” Then her spirit descended back down into her body. The Lord healed her and she lived for many years after that.
This couple was very dear to me—a mother and father in Israel. I looked forward to seeing them in meetings, and began to expect that blessing that God had put in their lives. There were depths to them that I did not comprehend. I loved the Lord with all my heart and was walking in the light that He gave me, and Brother and Sister A—— appreciated me and gave me every encouragement that they could. I am sure that they prayed for me. But they were old and had lived many years, and I was young and naive. I recognized and appreciated that they were all out for Jesus, but I did not comprehend many of their trials. I could not pray for them as they needed prayer in their old age, not because I did not want to do so, but because I did not realize their need.
Brother A—— said, “I don’t mind being old, but I miss my mind.” This seemed a little funny at the time—the idea of someone walking around without their mind—but it seems all too real now. The strangeness of the thought is gone, replaced by the resignation of familiarity. For I, too, am missing my mind, more and more. As one said, “We are the old folks now.”
A man of our acquaintance, an elderly man who had lost his wife to death, whose children were grown, who lived by himself, had always been a vigorous, highly-intelligent man. He had mastered a profession that required rigorous, intellectual thinking, and he had always been an innovative, perceptive explorer of the profoundness of things around him. It was, therefore, quite a shock for his grown children to begin to realize that his mind was failing. They had begun to realize that dad had probably better not have his credit cards, because he had always traveled a great deal, all over the world, and he ought not to be traveling alone any more, because of his condition. So they took his credit cards. They thought they had covered things and protected him.
One of his daughters and her family were visiting him one day, and saw some luggage in the car. He was supposed to leave the next week with another of his daughters and fly to Yemen to visit another daughter. “Where are you going, Dad?” they asked. He said that he had to go to China. He had bought the ticket, too. Since he couldn’t find his credit cards, he got his car keys and drove up to the airport (about a hour and a half away) and paid cash for the ticket. He was about to leave the next day! He had read an article in a magazine about children in China and felt he was scheduled to go. He thought that he had a contractual obligation to take care of those children in China. Said he didn’t see how he was going to do it, but he had promised. This was all imaginary. They tried to reason with him. “Dad, you are supposed to go with B—— next week to Yemen. Dad, you can’t be in Yemen and China at the same time!” His reply: “Why not?” When this story was told to my wife and I, it seemed rather funny, too. Especially the part about being in Yemen and China at the same time. We told it to my parents. They did not laugh at all, and now I know why. I do not laugh anymore, either. It is too easy to imagine it happening to me.
God has designed all of this. Some lose more than others; some are bright and sharp right up to the end. But all come to the end. “There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.” (Ecclesiastes 8:8) Yes, “there is no discharge in that war.” No one gets out of it. All have to face death. “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7) “It is appointed unto men once to die.” (Hebrews 9:27) “For we must needs die, and are as water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person.” (2 Samuel 14:14)
Some come to the end of their lives unexpectedly. Some are cut off almost from birth. Some are taken in the prime of life without a chance to pray. Others dread death and taste of death many times before they actually die. Others live in such pain or misery that they pray for death. Some take their own lives. But all die. They leave the physical living and go to the world of disembodied spirits. It is a very different world than here. Some day, dear reader, you are going to leave this life, and I will, too. May we both be ready!
But, if we live long enough, we will come to old age before we die.
The process of old age is described in Ecclesiastes 12:1-7. It is not a pretty picture. There is not much in it to inspire complacency. It sounds like trouble ahead. The language is poetic and highly descriptive, but the subject is not to our liking. When have you ever heard someone say, “I’m looking forward to growing old and wearing out. I want to feel my teeth decaying and realize that my eyes are growing dim. I want my nerves to be on edge, my hair to turn white, my hearing and strength to fail. I want to no longer be able to take care of myself; I want to return to the helplessness of an infant.” No one wants all that, right? In fact, no one really wants much of any of it. There is a hopelessness to the whole deterioration that is very depressing. Why have I grown up? Why did I gain, if it is only to lose it all?
We plant a tomato seed in a little pot. We shelter it from the cold of winter and early spring. It is watered and nurtured. The little shoot grows into a sturdy, little tomato plant. We transplant it into the garden. There it puts roots downward and bears fruit upward. The tomatoes form, green and growing. Then the harvest. The tomatoes are picked. Finally, there are no more. The tomato vine is tough and strong. It continues to grow. It draws water and food through its roots. It lifts its leaves to the sun. But there are no more tomatoes. There will be no more tomatoes. Why does the tomato plant continue to live? Rot and decay await it.
The young child grows to adolescence. The young man and young woman marry. They raise their children, who depart to do the same. Then they continue to live, just as the aged tomato plant. There will be no more offspring. The vigor and strength of life began to abate. The decline begins. Constant adjustment. Unrelenting erosion. Decay. It is degrading, humiliating.
Again, we say that God has designed all this. And we would add, that he conceived all this for our good. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” (Romans 8:28) Now if you do not love God, old age is bad news to you and a serious warning of things to come, but if you do love God, you can know that old age is for our good.
“And even to your old age I am he.” (Isaiah 46:4) This is the secret of the thing. The focus is on God and His purpose in making us the way that He has. “I am he.” “And even to hoar hairs will I carry you.” (Isaiah 46:4) God designed us to be carried by Him. It is worth noting that we will be carried. The question is, by whom will we be carried? Or by what? Alas, most do not want to be carried by God. And, discovering that life is so arranged that they come to the point where they will be carried by something, then most will do almost anything else than be carried by God. Perhaps I should add that they are willing to be carried and taken care by God if He would do it their way. He will not do it their way, so men have devised their inventions to avoid, to ignore, or to minimize the effects of old age as much as possible.
When we were babies, it was our glory to be carried and to be the focal point of a great deal of care and attention. We were made so that we had to have it, and were unable to take care of ourselves. What a humility is inherent in being a baby! But who has found a baby crying because they are a baby, and saying something like this, “I am so helpless and little.” Boo hoo. Sob. Sob. “I am such a burden to everyone. Why should I live in such a way?” Oh, no. The baby accepts its humble lot in life, and looks forward to “growing up.” Some instinct, some impulse, is there to grow and gain. There is a goal.
Praise the Lord! It is all true in our second childhood, so to speak. (“Once a man, twice a child.”) I am designed to fade, to decrease. The same, wonderful wisdom that designed the manner of my beginning has devised the manner of my end. He is alpha and omega, the beginning and the end (Revelation 1:8,11). It is my glory to be carried by my Creator. I have something to look forward to, even “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21) Yea, the outward man perishes, “yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) “I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” (Isaiah 46:4)
Old age is the time of relinquishment. My dictionary defines relinquishment as a giving up of a possession, claim, or right; a yielding, a resignation, an abandoning, a surrender, a ceding, a waiving, a renouncing. The word comes from a Latin word which meant to leave. Like Abraham, we are given the Isaac of physical life, and then there comes a time when we must offer it up. In this way, the lesson is starkly clear. What was given was temporary, only for a short time, for limited purposes, and it must be relinquished. If we are allowed to go up, we must come down. We must learn how to be abased as well as to abound.
Please consider: Paradise is full of human beings who learned the precious lesson that the way up is the way down. And torment is full of human beings who misused their God-given potential and shunned godly knowledge and the fear of God.
“For now we see through a glass, darkly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) The life of our outer man surrounds us. It is very real and present. We are easily brought to hunger. We need our rest, and it effects us greatly when we miss it. This is particularly true when our health deteriorates. The concerns and needs of our outward physical life focus a great deal of our time and energy on staying alive, etc. We cannot totally ignore it. We would needs go out of the body to do so. When a person is saved, the inner man comes alive and is renewed day by day. We become aware of a higher calling. We realize that we will not abide always in the body. We understand that the body’s needs must be subjected to the needs of the soul. We keep under our body and bring it into subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27 [Greek: “I give my body a punch in the eye”]). Were it not for the continuing help of the Spirit of God, we would be overwhelmed by the needs and wants of the outer man and lose our focus on the things of the spirit. We only see darkly through the glass. It is very easy to invest more in this world of time and place than is appropriate. Therefore, God, in mercy and compassion to the human race, has designed that the body should fail. Sometimes suddenly, sometimes gradually; but the end is certain. Truly, “all things work together for good to them that love God.” (Romans 8:28)
Now I cannot do as I did before. The younger men are passing me up. I must settle for less. My memory is failing. My natural strength is abated. I am not as competent as I used to be. I have gained in experience, but I find that the younger ones coming on, more or less listen about as well as I did when I was their age. They are coming down the same path that I walked—the path that leads to old age. As my faculties fail, I value the respect and courtesy of others more than ever. I wonder how long I will be able to function even as well as I do now. The entire process completely envelops me; there is no escape. I am losing what I had; I am constantly surrendering. Strange pains assail me. New and unfamiliar inadequacies beset me. I recall the abilities of my youth. I am glad for the strength and energy of my grown children, but I comprehend more and more that “here we have no continuing city.” (Hebrews 13:14) The only worthwhile thing anymore is the life and world to come.
“All in this world is dross;
Its pleasures soon decay;
Its honors prove a snare;
Its treasures fly away.”*
God has designed old age to help us. If we take these things rightly, they will do us good. God is not unsympathetic to our struggles as we began to fail. “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) “And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you.” (Isaiah 46:4)
Let your mind dwell much on heaven. It will do you good to think of death if you think of it as you should, if you look upon it as the open door to the glories of heaven. Remember that it is sure to come. Learn to look upon it as you do a messenger you are expecting to come with glad tidings to you. Do not wait for Death in fear, but wait as you would for a loving friend. It has lost its sting. Jesus removed the sting and placed a blessing in its stead. Be busy while you are waiting. Guard against idleness even in your old days. Keep busy to the last. Let no moments go by unemployed. Do not give place to that inclination to slow down and take life easy because you are growing old. Do not entertain the thought that there is no more now for you to do but to fold your hands and wait the coming of the angels. Let us pray that in our dying hour we may magnify Christ. Always be of good cheer. Never let your heart be troubled. Live holy, live prayerfully, trust God in all things and for all things.
When a certain minister couple became unable to take care of themselves, they went to the home of their daughter. She had not lived as they had. The fear of God was not on her in the same way as it was on her mother and father. Only God knows what they had to bear in their last days. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” (John 21:18) You might say, “Why did the Lord allow them to come to that?” And the Bible replies in the next verse, “This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.” (John 21:19) There is something about the reduction, the stripping, the bankruptcy of natural life that has the potential to glorify God. “How?” you may question. What we have inside shows more and more as we lose the outside. This is true, whether what we have is good, or whether it is evil. Either way, the supremacy and importance of the inner life and of the eternal soul is revealed and highlighted. Oh, reader, there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun, and God is faithful. He has not left us without witness.
Some come to the end of this life and are revealed to have nothing. A grown daughter, who had delighted in her father’s accomplishments and ambitions, was brought to a realization that it all meant nothing in the end. None of it was of eternal worth. He had invested in things down here enormously and had no treasures in heaven. Oh, how important to be rich in faith with much treasure over there! How important to live life as we should! If you have been investing in things down here, which things are all to perish with the using, take heed! I beg of you to consider the lessons all around you and within you. I would urge you to consider the meaning of the aging process. Oh, abandon the temporal and embrace the eternal! “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Matthew 6:25)
“Thus David the son of Jesse reigned over all Israel…. And he died in a good old age, full of days, riches, and honour.” (1 Chronicles 29:26, 28) This really sounds good, doesn’t it? “A good old age.” This was spoken of the same man who prayed, “O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.” (Psalm 71:17-18) If we live long enough, we are definitely going to have an old age. Wouldn’t you like to have a good old age, as David did?
A certain minister was visiting at the local hospital. He looked in a certain room and saw a woman, who was in pitiful shape. Her hands were drawn up in such a way that she could not use them. Her feet were drawn up in like manner and were useless, too. Her back was drawn up, as well. She was helpless, lying on the bed, and could do nothing for herself. But, she was cheerful! Had a bright smile for everyone. All in the room were smiling back. She radiated a wonderful attitude in spite of her pitiful condition. The minister went away saying, “Oh, Lord! Help me, help me.”
I do not know what God has for me ahead, but, oh! I want to finish my course with joy. I want to demonstrate what God can do in poor, weak flesh with a soul that is completely yielded to Him. I want to glorify Him. I want to show His power, His strength, to the generation that is coming, to the generation that is to be created. To live so as to show a reality to God’s great salvation!
If I am to be carried in old age, I must learn to be carried now. This was David’s secret. He yielded to God when he was young, strong, energetic. The Lord carried him through the battle with the lion and the conflict with the bear. Then God carried him through Goliath and King Saul’s court. He was carried as king of Israel, and God did not forsake him in his old age. To have victory in old age, we must get and keep, by divine power, the victory when we are younger. You can make a start in old age, but it is harder. There is a lifetime of doing it wrong to overcome. Better to start giving up to God now while you have time and opportunity (Ecclesiastes 12:1). Then, in old age, you will have something to tell the younger generation. “That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” (Titus 2:2-5) If all you can teach is how to make money or entertain yourself, what will you have to give? If you have failed to love your companion or children as you should, if you are unreliable and do not know how to pray, if you gossip, do not forgive, and do not love people as you should; then what do you think will come out in your old age? You will reap what you have sown. When the time for giving comes, many have nothing to give of eternal worth. They have wasted their whole life, and soon it will be time to answer to God. All about us are people woefully unprepared for old age, for they have not made preparation for eternity. “And what will ye do in the end thereof?” (Jeremiah 5:31)
Oh! The sad improvising! The desperate attempts to avoid the weight of truth! “My kingdom!” cried the dying queen, “for a moment of time!” The awful poverty that is revealed in so many that have made this world their god. There is One who has waited to carry you the whole time. God still wants you; He waits for you.