In Awe of the Aged

Have you ever met a mature Christian?  That question’s not meant to be snarky, no matter how many smirks it may inspire.  It’s meant to call attention to the truly special experience of interacting with people who sincerely (and sometimes unknowingly) exude from the core of their being what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5).  Their demeanor is calm and calming.  Ordinary conversations with them feel holy, and when you leave, you feel understood, taken seriously, and loved.  These people scare the stuff out of me.     

Sometimes in life, the calm is more unnerving than the storm.  Think of the disciples during that one particularly horrific journey at sea, terror-stricken as fierce winds fell upon them and punishing waves pummeled their boat (Mark 4:37-41).  Panicked at the storm and indignant at their Lord who was sleeping through it all, they awake him, accuse him of not caring about them, and then become witnesses to one of the most unsettling declarations of peace ever uttered in this world.  Jesus rebukes their lack of faith, and then he speaks to the storm which was tormenting them.  “Peace” he says, and peace happens!  The storm simply stops.  Raging creation is brought to sudden silence and modesty by its creator, and in the holy quiet which followed, the disciples got really scared.  They ask one another, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the waves obey him?”  Their feelings of awe were now properly aligned.  After all, which is more worthy of dread and wonder, of acclaim and fearful admiration – a storm, or someone who can calm it simply by speaking?

In the violent word-storms of the digital age, and in the fuss and fury of the struggles and pains of life in a fallen world that seems perpetually on fast-forward, this same Jesus calls us to peace and grants it as our faith gazes unwaveringly upon him.  Isaiah 26 tells us that God keeps in a state of perfect peace those whose hearts are stayed upon him.  The mature Christians I mention are those for whom the risen Son seems to fill the whole field of their soul’s vision.  They just love their Lord, and they know he’s alive.  Their joyful trust is more than the mixed light and heat of early faith, the inconstant fireworks which burn and shine for a moment but then fade into darkness and confusion just as quickly.  These are Christians who in most cases have walked with the Lord many, many years, who have what my pastor calls “a history of impressions” of God’s faithfulness throughout their lives.  They’re not always the oldest among us Christians, but as makes sense, these mature Christians are more frequently found in the ranks of the elderly.

Though the following descriptions could certainly apply to people within various age groups, see if you don’t find them more consistently exemplified by the elderly saints among us:   They’re not easily upset, but they can and do cry.  They’re unafraid to speak their mind but they don’t like arguing, especially when it could injure their opponent. They’ve got the time to talk, and they don’t love to hear themselves speak.  They do, however, love to talk about their Lord, and to ask about you.  They look out for those whom most people overlook and they find ways to serve them, even if doing so is inconvenient. They probably won’t tell you much about that, unless they’re asking you to join them in serving.  They’re not passive, but they love peace and they pursue it with all people; peace seems to radiate from them. They’re calm, confident, compassionate, and Christ-loving.  Their eyes shine with the knowing twinkle of wisdom, back-lit by the warm glow of genuine love.  It’s really freaky.  But it’s beautiful, and after the anxious suspicion that it’s all a show fades through lengthy observation of lives so lived, it’s so deeply, deeply heartening, and so needed in our time.

Ours is an angst-ridden age in which, by no mere coincidence, our thoughts are so often first and fundamentally about ourselves.  We’re even taught to think and live this way – if I have no access to absolute truth, then I am the truth!  Self-denying servants of Christ stand out in a self-exalting crowd.  Though these saints are not trying to draw attention to themselves, you can’t help but notice lives lived in such utter contradiction to the narcissistic norm.  Our “me-first-right-now” needs to see “others-first-be patient” lived out authentically and to learn from that example.

Many passages within Scripture extol the integrity and wisdom of the aged (Job 12:12) but Scripture stops short of praising agedness in and of itself, except when ascribing it to the eternal one, the one who is of old, the Ancient of Days.  It is not the number of days  lived in this world that signals holy wisdom, but the days, and even the moments of eternal consequence, spent in humble, adoring, obedient, active faith in the living God – time that is saturated with Scripture and filled with ongoing prayer or prayerfulness.  These moments, infused with eternity, mature us sometimes far beyond our peers, far beyond our years and even the many years of the elderly (Job 32:9, Psalm 119:100).  This is the kind of life our Lord lived, from his youth up (Luke 2:46-52), and that’s the best reason to spend time with those who’ve known him for so long.  Getting to know saints who’ve had decades of those worshipful, maturing moments is getting to know more fully the Lord himself.  They can teach us of Christ from a deeper well of experience, tell a longer tale of God’s faithfulness and sing a more authentically lived-in song of the Lord’s greatness and goodness.

Whatever the number of their days, the spiritually aged know in the depths of their graced souls that they are loved, forgiven, redeemed and remade sons and daughters of the Ancient of Days.  The rest of us would do well, as Scripture enjoins us, to mark them, cherish them, and to seek to follow them as they follow Christ (Philippians 3:17).

May our lives be increasingly marked by the calm and calming confidence in Christ we see among the spiritually aged, even if it terrifies us and others!  And may that maturity be a blessing to unsteady souls tossed about in angst-riddled times.  In this new year, may we grow, and grow up, in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, attaining more of this blessed agedness.

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