Bearing fruit in old age

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. (Psalm 92.12-15 ESV)

Yesterday our family spent a few hours with one of the elderly couples in our church. It caused me to reflect afresh on the rich blessing of what might be labelled ‘cross-generational fellowship’ but which is nothing more or less than simply ‘Christian fellowship.’ We are blessed in our congregation to have a good spread of ages across the years, and a long and deliberately cultivated tradition of a genuine ‘church family’ ethos, where the young and the old mix in many different ways. Most importantly, we all worship together twice a week. The children are encouraged to go and speak to the most senior saints after the services. We have regular social events which are for the whole congregation, when young and old talk together. Many of our older folk who are able delight to have small children in their homes to visit, and the children for their part look forward to these occasions with unfeigned joy.

In an age where the church so often imitates the world’s idolatry of youth, it would be so easy to be dismissive of a frail old couple. To think they have nothing to contribute and that we have nothing to learn from them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are just a few things we want our young people to learn from this couple and so many others like them in our congregation…

They are a model of married love. This particular couple we were with yesterday have been married for 53 years. 53 years! And still utterly devoted to each other, not just in word but in deed. Young people talk and think so much about love. It’s hard to think of a single pop song that doesn’t have ‘love’ as its theme. How many films or TV shows have you watched recently that didn’t feature a romance of some description between two young people. So many of our senior saints model self-denying, sacrificial, gracious, Christ-like love in a way that younger generations desperately need to see.

They are a model of love for the saints. Few things bring them more joy than to show kindness to others, especially the people of God. This frail, elderly couple had prepared a number of simple, fun games they thought our children (aged 6,7,12 and 13) would enjoy playing with them. And so we spent a happy afternoon, all eight of us, seeing who could throw the most cards into a hat, or drop matches into a bottle, and doing a treasure hunt around the house to track down lovingly wrapped parcels with little presents in them, and doing simple quizzes. And being relentlessly encouraged and cheered along the way. We enjoyed a meal together that must have taken hours to prepare and would have taken hours to clear up afterwards. All as a token of love. Not a single electronic device in sight the whole afternoon—and our children loved it.

They are a model of commitment and service. Neither enjoys especially good health at present, but they are always present at public worship, morning and evening, without fail. They have family worship together every day without fail, praying earnestly and regularly for their family, their minister, their elders, all the members of the congregation, our missionaries, the work of the wider church, and much else besides. Young people think they have energy and are busy and active—but do they have that kind of energy? This couple and a handful of our other oldest saints have poured their lives into serving Jesus Christ in his church over the decades, labouring faithfully to transplant a much-diminished congregation from inner city Belfast at the height of the Troubles to the suburbs of the city. Thanks to the sacrificial giving and prayers and vision of this couple and others like them, the congregation grew from a few handfuls to the 250 or so there today, not including those who have gone out to plant another church in a nearby town. Our younger generations (my own included) are a pampered, spoilt lot. We don’t know much of deprivation or sacrifice or rationing. And it shows in our attitude to service in the church. If it suits we’ll do it (maybe), but we’re not going to build our whole week’s plans around the ministries of the church.

They are a model of faith. They really do trust that God is good and wise. They really believe that he does all things well and works all things for good for his people. Without going into details, this particular couple endured a heart-breaking family tragedy some years ago, and yet they have steadfastly clung to all the Lord’s promises and honoured him every step of the way through that dark valley. How our young people need to see tough, persevering faith lived out in the painful realities of life.

Couples like this one, and times like yesterday afternoon are not exceptional in our church, thank God. Do we appreciate what a great blessing and source of instruction our senior saints are. Do we believe in progressive sanctification? Surely we should expect that those in whom the Spirit has been working longest will display most likeness to Christ. What can we do in our churches to ensure not only that we minister to our oldest saints, but that we can be ministered to by them as much as possible?

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