Things I’ve Learned From Elderly Saints

Things I’ve Learned From Elderly Saints
Robert Wurtz II

The glory of young men is their strength, And the splendor of old men is their gray head. (Proverbs 20:29)

It is sometimes hard to imagine that every elderly person that we come into contact with was young once. The unlocked wheels of time have a way of changing the appearance of a person until they no longer resemble the man or woman of their youth. The time would fail to go on describing the many people I have walked into their room and there, sitting on a nightstand or dresser, were the pictures of the person that once was. Men who were accomplished athletes and pictures of strength and masculinity; ladies that were as beautiful as any who graced the cover of a magazine or starred in a Hollywood movie. Indeed, the glory of youth is a fleeting thing. If God should will it and we live an abundance of years, we too, will look on as our golden, auburn, brown or black heads turn in uniformity to grey or white. Some of us will lose it all together.

As a Christian I have often wondered how an elderly person can go on expressing their faith in a meaningful way. Consider their circumstances. Among the first things to go are your sight and hearing. This presents a great challenge. Consider some of these problems:

If a person cannot see, how will they read their Bible? 

If a person cannot hear, how will they listen to someone else read it to them?

If they lose their mobility and become confined to a bed, how will they attend church meetings?

If they lose their mental capacity, how will they assemble their thoughts?

If they are in pain and medicated, how will they think clearly at all?

If their voice and lung capacity is lost, how will they sing the songs and hymns that once encouraged them? They can sing them to themselves, but this implies recollection of the lyrics. Most elderly believers cannot see a songbook well enough to sing from it- no matter how large the font.

If a person suffers from any combination of these problems, how will they share their faith with others? How can they express their faith at all?

Over the years I have met numerous Christians that no longer had the ability to express their faith as they did in their youth. Some were pastors or chaplains; some were Sunday School teachers and choir members. Some were born again as a child and were used to going to meetings several times a week- reading their Bible and all other standard Christian exercises. But now, for many of them, none of these things are possible. Imagine living, wondering, if you will wake up tomorrow, but physically and mentally struggle to express your faith as you once did. What do I do now? 

I often say that the longest and loneliest valley a Christian will ever walk will be the final months and years of their long life. Usually they that hear me say that push the thought as far back into their mind as they possibly can- hoping it will never be true of them. I could not possible list the number of times I have heard elderly saints ask for prayer that their family would come to visit them. Loneliness is often the only faithful earthly companion of the elderly. Well, we can avoid this by dying young, but there are few in line wanting to do that. 

One thing I have learned from elderly saints is that we must prepare ourselves now for the circumstances of old age. Once you are old you will generally no longer desire or be able to “keep in check” the feelings and attitudes dwelling just under the surface of your personality. You will be so distraught at your circumstances that you no longer care what people think. You will likely speak your mind for good or evil. Keep that close to your mind and guard your heart with all diligence. In other words, the time to get deliverance from hard feelings and ill temper is now. Because if it is still there when you are older, it will typically come out in unguarded moments. What else ought we to do to prepare for the older years? 

First, we must become men and women of prayer. Understand that prayer is the primary way that you and I express our faith. Abraham had no Bible, but he built altars for prayer. The old timers used to say that we need to learn to pray until we touch God. Others have said we need to pray that the Holy Spirit come and anoint us to pray. That is a way of saying that God is enabling us to pray above and beyond the “lay me down to sleep” type of praying. Prayer is our lifeline to God. We ignore it to our own peril.

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray in Luke 11:1ff. John the Baptist taught his disciples how to pray as well. This is amazing. The greatest Prophet of the Old Testament was a teacher of prayer. Leonard Ravenhill used to say that no man of God is greater than his prayer life. As John the Baptist, Jesus took time and taught His disciples to pray as well. He taught them the content of prayer and the necessity of prayer. When faced with the cross He fell to the ground and cried out in prayer. A wise man once said that prayer doesn’t change God- it changes us. Prayer is the bringing of our will into harmony with God’s will. Jesus ended His prayer with, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”

There will come a time when all we can do is pray, so we need to be praying men and women now. Like the foolish virgins who left to get oil when the Bridegroom was coming- so too are they who wait to develop a prayer life until they perceive the need. By the time a person is in a crisis there is no time to develop a prayer life. We need to be able to touch God in an instant. 

The early church did not have Bibles to carry around or ipods to listen to music. The printed page did not exist until the 1400s. This is very much like the daily life of elderly saints. All of their faith and their understanding of it was what they had hidden in their hearts when they were physically and mentally able. They are living off of those reserves. This is a very sobering consideration. someday all we will have as means to express our faith is what we have built into our life and practice right now. I am afraid that in modern times we risk becoming too dependent on our books and gadgets- not knowing that at some point they will be rendered useless to us. We must put to memory the scriptures, now. We must commit to our minds edifying song lyrics, now. We must build altars of prayer, now.


Backsliding in the Latter Years

Backsliding in the Latter Years
Robert Wurtz II

For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. (1 Kings 11:4)

It is hard to imagine how the wisest man that ever lived, save our Lord Jesus Christ, could be deceived into serving other gods. Here is a man that when dedicating the Temple saw the Fire fall from heaven to consume the sacrifices and the glory of God filling the house. He wrote the vast majority of the Proverbs and at one time was the most powerful man in the Middle East. But something happened. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods. 

Growing Old

Conventional wisdom would lend us to think that it is the youthful man that turns against God, sows his wild oats, and then later when he is old returns to God. Not in this case. Disobeying God started to catch up with Solomon. Striving to give himself to all manor of pleasures soon took their toll. He woke up one day and it seems that the glorious experience he once had in God was but a distant memory. As the cliche’ goes; ‘out of sight- out of mind.’ For years he was caught up maxing out the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Solomon had it all in super abundance. God had warned the future kings of Israel in Deuteronomy 17:17,  Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. Although familiar with these and other verses, Solomon somehow began to carry himself as if he were above the Law of God. This is very dangerous. 
Examples Unto Us

 Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:11, Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Paul spends several verses leading up to this passage showing the people at Corinth that they were capable of committing the same sins as did the Children of Israel. Pastor D.L. Burch used to say, “When you get out from under the hand of God, you don’t know what you are capable of.” Certainly we are capable of doing anything that happened in the Old Testament. That would seem impossible for the Born Again. Theology gets real fuzzy when sin comes into the picture. All the charts and graphs seem to break down. Yet the warnings are clear, all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition. 

Above the Law

What was true in our youth will be true in our old age. Time does not shield us from the harsh reality that we still live in a sinful world and among devils plotting to take us out. The passing of sands in the hour-glass cannot assure us of a continued faith and trust in God; we have to go on working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart serving the Lord. We never get too old to obey God. He is not like our parents that we somehow reach an age that we gain our autonomy and do what we wish. We are forever subject to His precepts. If we ever get hardened and deceived by sin, we will soon believe we are above the laws of God. We can come to assume we can pick and choose what we have to adhere to. Solomon lived out this reality. The older he got, the more carnal he became; all the while maintaining his wisdom. A very sobering thing to consider. 

Trappings of Old Age

One of the great dangers of gaining life experience is that many of them are very negative. Life experience can either be an asset or a detriment. How easy it is to become cynical. He easy it would be to become bitter. Why? Life has a way of hardening us. Pretty soon nothing surprises us. Disappointments and disillusionments with people can lead to the notion that almost everyone is a hypocrite. You might be tempted to believe that they are all fakes and pretenders. Nothing works anymore- everything is doomed to failure. Pessimism can take over and rule the mind. This is Solomon in Ecclesiastes. It’s all just vanity and vexation of spirit. What’s the use? These are the type of thoughts that can dominate the mind and sour us in this present evil world.

Keeping a Good Spirit

We have this passage in Hebrews 12:15, looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. It is a picture from Deut. 29:18 and a strong warning against the widespread destructiveness of sin. When a person gets a bad spirit and begins to grow cold in God, they are at risk of failing in the grace of God. The consequence? Not only they, but others can become defiled in the process. No man or woman is an island. There is a sense in which we are all connected together and when one goes down the others suffer as well. The solution is prevention. We have to maintain a good spirit. No matter what happens in life, no matter how many disappointments, no matter how many people backslide, we have to keep on serving God. We need to be renewed daily before the Lord. We need to allow God to go through and reset the dials and make sure we are ready to face each day fresh; not carrying over the misadjustments and baggage of yesterday. We need to be refreshed before the Lord each day and in so doing we can finish this race ready to be offered, having finished our course, having kept the faith.