Theme: Some Universal Problems
In this week’s lessons we are reminded that God has demonstrated his faithfulness in the past, and can be counted on in the future.
Scripture: Psalm 71:1-24
It is not fun to be old, especially in America. At other times and in other cultures old age had advantages to offset its disadvantages. Elderly persons were honored and respected. Their wisdom was valued. That is no longer true in America or in the West generally. Here we value youth, and the culture is so oriented to youthful interests that many old people even try to dress and act like teenagers. David didn’t have those problems, of course. But the problems he had as a result of his old age were serious and even universal. In fact, they are the most basic problems of all.
Weakness, the loss of former strength or abilities. One problem with getting old is that you lose the strength and many of the abilities you had when you were younger. John Wesley, the great Methodist evangelist, lived to be eighty-eight years old (1703-1791). He kept a diary throughout most of his life, and for the 28th of June, 1789, there is this entry:
Sunday 28…This day I enter on my eighty-sixth year. I now find I grow old: 1) My sight is decayed, so that I cannot read a small print, unless in a strong light; 2) My strength is decayed, so that I walk much slower than I did some years since; 3) My memory of names, whether of persons or places, is decayed, till I stop a little to recollect them. What I should be afraid of is, if I took thought for the morrow, that my body should weigh down my mind and create either stubbornness, by the decrease of my understanding, or peevishness, by the increase of bodily infirmities. But thou shalt answer for me, O Lord my God.1
Many of us find that we can echo that. We can’t hear as well as we used to hear. We can’t see the small print. We get tired faster. We don’t even sleep as well, and we wake up three or four times throughout the night. It is what David is talking about when he tells God, “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (v. 9).
A continuation of troubles, particularly enemies. The second problem of old age is that the difficulties we have faced throughout our lives do not go away but instead remain with us. And the trouble they cause is augmented due to our diminishing strength or capacities to deal with them. In David’s case this had to do with his enemies, those he has written about in nearly every other psalm. Here he writes of these dangerous people: “My enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together” (v. 10). Marvin E. Tate says, “The speaker might have expected mature age to bring exemption from such attacks, but such is not the case.”2 The enemies of the king were present as much at the end of his life as at the beginning.
So also with us. My most disturbing and continuing problem is maintaining financial support for the various ministries I am involved in. It would be nice if those problems would go away, but they do not. In fact, they are more serious now, more serious because of their greater dimensions, than they were when I began my ministry twenty-six years ago. I wish somebody else would assume responsibility for these problems, but no one else does. In fact, I even get letters saying that we would not have these problems if we were only more careful about being in the will of God.
Other people have family problems, and these do not get better either. I know one woman who has taken care of her cantankerous octogenarian mother for several decades. The mother is now in a Christian nursing home where she is well cared for. Her finances are well managed. But she doesn’t thank her daughter. She is as critical and difficult as ever. In fact, just recently she has brought in a public defender and an unscrupulous lawyer to bring pressure on her daughter to do more. The problem never gets better; that is what is so wearing.
Some people have health problems all their lives. Some struggle with depression. Others labor against class or ethnic prejudice, and the problems do not go away or even grow lighter as we grow older. In fact, they are often more difficult and certainly more oppressive and hard to bear than when we were young.
Being alone, no one to help. The third thing that bothered David is that as he grew older he had fewer and fewer people to help him solve or shoulder these burdens. In fact, he describes himself as being utterly alone with none to help but God. His enemies recognize this; they argue that even God has deserted him. “They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him’” (v. 11). Maybe you feel that way. In your youth you had many friends and coworkers. There were people you could share your burdens with. But now you are old. Those former friends are gone, and you have no one.
It bothered David that as he grew older he seemed more and more alone. Maybe you also feel that you have no one to help. No one? No human being perhaps, but if you are a Christian, you still have God. And that means that you still have the only one who was really with you and really able to help you all along. It is one advantage of old age to know that and to know it experientially.
1John Wesley, Journal from September 13, 1773 to October 24, 1790 (End), vol. 4 in The Works of John Wesley (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.), p. 464.
2Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20, Psalms 51-100, pp. 217, 218.
Compare how our culture regards the elderly with that of youth?
What does this comparison reveal about society’s values, and how do those values compare with what Scripture teaches about old age and youth?
Prayer: Do you know anyone with family problems? Is there someone who is elderly and facing the battles described in this lesson? Put these people on your prayer list and pray for them daily this week.
Application: Do you have a friend who is coping with an elderly friend or relative? List two ways you can help that person and then follow through this week. Also, think of an older person or shut-in you know and make it a point to call or visit this week.