Imagine going round a stately home and seeing an old-fashioned mangle in the kitchen. Many of us have done that at one time or another and we’ve explained to our children what they were for and we’ve been glad we no longer have to use one! But how often as we get older, do we feel like that forgotten and unappreciated mangle? How much do we feel that we used to be able to serve God and play our part in the church, but now we are no longer useful and simply outdated?
Many of us have been involved in the church for a long time, we’ve led youth groups, Sunday clubs and homegroups. We’ve organised coffee rotas, lunch clubs and helped other people, but we have had to give these things up because we can no longer do them and younger people have taken over. So, does that make us like mangles, relegated to the side-lines, of historical interest but no use today?
Well, if you do feel like that, you can be encouraged because that is certainly not how God feels about you! The Bible shows us that God often uses older people to achieve his purposes. For example, Abraham was called when he was 75, Moses was in his 80s when he returned to Egypt to challenge Pharaoh and Daniel was probably 80 when he was thrown into the lion’s den. And it should be noted that all three continued serving God for many years more.
In case you’re thinking, ‘Well that was then’, there are lots of more recent examples too. These include Billy Graham who was still speaking at age 88, Corrie ten Boom who appeared in a film of her life when she was 86 and John Stott who preached his last sermon aged at the same age.
You may now be objecting, ‘Well they are exceptional people, of course God would use them!’ But it is not only well-known Christians that God uses into their old age. I know several people who have served as missionaries or become vicars after retirement from other jobs.
However, if I’m honest, I still find it easy to think of those types of people as exceptional people with exceptional gifts and that ‘ordinary’ older people like me cannot be used. But actually, if we stop to think about it, we probably all know of ‘ordinary’ elderly people who still serve God even though they may do it in different ways to their past service. I think of a woman in her 80s, who is respected and valued in the church for regularly and faithfully praying for people. I think too of those who befriend the elderly and minister to them as their contemporaries which means they can relate to them and empathise with them in a way young people can’t. I think of those who meet with young people to mentor them and to give them the benefit of their experience of Christ throughout their lives. This week I heard of a 98 year old who invited her friend to a course about Christianity. The friend accepted the invitation, came to faith and died a week later as a Christian. The things we can do may seem small and insignificant, but God can use what we do for his glory.
The truth is that however old we are, Jesus’ words about bearing fruit still apply to us, ‘‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.’ As we continue to abide in Christ, we can and should continue serving him and bearing fruit in whatever way we can. Notice however, that there is no age restriction or retirement date on bearing fruit.
In his very helpful book ‘Fruitfulness on the Frontline’ Mark Greene explains some of the ways we can bear fruit even as older people. He specifically mentions those who are housebound, ‘Even if we are housebound and living alone there are still opportunities to extend grace to the people who come to our door, the people who call us up and that’s fruit.’ (Mark Greene, Fruitfulness on the frontline (IVP, 2014) p.39)
He also tells the story of a grandmother who explained to her homegroup that she could not be useful like the younger people in the group. However, she mentioned that she spoke to her 23 year old grandchild every week about what she had learnt at church. As they listened to her, the group began to realise that she had a regular opportunity to talk to a 23 year old who was ‘right slap bang in the middle of the age group that the church in the UK is finding hardest to reach.’ (ibid. p.28)
Or again, one older woman decided that her frontline was the local supermarket and she set off to develop relationships with the staff and ‘now when she goes into the shop two of the staff tend to give her a hug.’ (Ibid. p. 123) Not so easy in Covid times, but you get the picture!
The good news is – to return to the illustration at the start – that none of us are mangles. None of us were just useful in the past but now replaced and of no use today. So, let’s ensure we keep relying on Christ, abiding in him and asking that he will bear fruit in us and through us that will bring glory to him.
- How much are you encouraged by looking at the ministries of older people in the Bible such as Abraham, Moses and Daniel?
- How much can you continue in the ministries you have?
- Are there any new areas you can get involved in?
- How can we ensure we are abiding in Christ so we can bear fruit? (John 15)
- Where are your frontlines? How can you seek to bear fruit in them?