Of all the unwise practices that can be found in churches, one strikes me as particularly foolish. And before I start, please don’t think I have an axe to grind.
It’s how we treat older believers. And yes, I admit I am not as young as I used to be. But I think I have been fairly consistent on this issue for many years.
Psalm 71 gives the story of an aged believer who is persecuted by unknown opponents on account of his godliness. Instead of the honour they should have given them, they are seeking to take advantage of some unstated misfortune in his life to rid the earth of him.
In the process of the Psalm, as he cries out to God, we gain an insight into the thought patterns of this remarkable man, whose identity we do not know. And that is maybe as God intended it. For if it were David or Solomon, we would take him to be a special case. But because he is anonymous, he can and should stand for older believers in general.
This man has learned to trust in God from his youngest years. He has been taught by God his whole life, a life accompanied by many troubles and trials. These trials may have come to refine him, develop his character, teach him greater dependency, or simply be the result of being on the front lines of spiritual warfare. Probably all of the above.
The point is that he has accumulated a treasury of wisdom. And he has no intention of retiring. He is looking for God to do even greater things in his life than ever before.
And he has one goal on which he is focussed: to proclaim God’s might to another generation, and his power to those yet to come (verse 18).
This Psalm is a meditation on the immense value of older believers. In the Western church, we need to learn the Biblical practice of honouring older people, particularly those who have proven faithful. They can give perspective on trial, hope in despair, confidence in God’s faithfulness, and wisdom in how to live. Their role in active leadership may diminish, but their place in mentoring and discipleship should be utilized until their dying day.
Some years ago, I spent a morning with Dick Iverson, a man who started a movement which now has thousands of churches around the world. At that point, he was still travelling on five continents, mentoring leaders and encouraging God’s people at the young age of 85. He held no position but that of father, but in that role he may for all I know have left a greater legacy than when he was leading churches. He retired a couple years ago, just before the day of his funeral.
I admit I’d like to do the same.