How to Age Gracefully

Aging has my attention theses days. Perhaps because my grey hairs keep increasing. Receiving my my Medicare card last year made my “senior citizen” status somewhat undeniable!

All who are past their prime in life are increasingly aware of the discouraging symptoms of physical decline. As Bill Gillham would say, our “earth suit” is wearing down. There is only so much that healthy eating, fitness and cosmetics can do.

To appreciate the consolation of the Gospel we need to acknowledge our need of it.

Let’s take Ecclesiastes chapter 12 as our primary text. Ecclesiastes repeatedly compares a secular worldview without God to a biblical worldview with God. The secular view is “under the sun”; the biblical view is above the sun–based on revelation. The secular viewpoint is vanity – Eccl. 1:3,9,14; the biblical worldview reveals dignity. Life without God is meaningless and fleeting; life with God is meaningful and eternal.[1]

1. Face aging realistically

A. Face the deterioration of your body

Reflect on the reality of aging as described in the concluding chapter of Ecclesiastes. This passage describes the physical symptoms of advancing age. The metaphorical style of the poetry helps us to view this threatening subject in a more detached way. (I include the proposed symbolic meeting in parentheses.)

“Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth,
Before the difficult days come,
And the years draw near when you say,
“I have no pleasure in them”:
While the sun and the light,
The moon and the stars,
Are not darkened, (losing track of time)
And the clouds do not return after the rain; (less resilience)
In the day when the keepers of the house tremble, {shaking arms and hands)
And the strong men bow down; (stooping shoulders)
When the grinders cease because they are few, (loss of teeth)
And those that look through the windows grow dim; (weak eye sight)
When the doors are shut in the streets, (lack of hearing)
When one rises up at the sound of a bird, (lack of sleep)
And all the daughters of music are brought low (weakened voice)
Also they are afraid of height, (fear of falling)
And of terrors in the way; (fear of travel)
When the almond tree blossoms, (white hair)
The grasshopper is a burden, (trouble walking)

And desire fails (loss of stamina).” (Eccl. 12:1-5a)

B. Face the inevitability of your death.

The writer of Hebrew declares our mortality in this matter of fact way: “…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). The poem in Ecclesiastes describes the scene this way:

“For man goes to his eternal home, (physical death)
And the mourners go about the streets (a funeral procession).
Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed (symbols of death include household objects are tragically broken),
Or the golden bowl is broken,
Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain,
Or the wheel broken at the well.
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was (the body disintegrates),
And the spirit will return to God who gave it.” (The human spirit meets its Maker), (Eccl. 12:5b-7).

But this sad portrait of aging and death can be transcended through the Gospel! There is a way to age gracefully.

2. Transcend aging through God’s grace.

A.  Age gracefully through abundant life in Christ

Jesus Christ declared, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10a). Satan was the instigator of original sin that brought tragic, cosmic consequences to the human family, including death (Genesis ch. 3). Jesus contrasted death with His provision of life: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b).

Although aging is physical and natural, abundant life is spiritual and supernatural. The apostle Paul declared, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:16-18).

Although we should take care of our physical health through good nutrition and exercise, the effects of aging are inevitable. But aging gracefully is possible if our values align with God’s values. As Paul perceived, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7).  This helps us grasp the paradox: “For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11).

To age gracefully, your primary treasures should be in heaven. Our Lord counsels, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Daniel Henderson reflects on the biblical perspective of aging: “I love the biblical vision of the best kind of aging where it says, ‘Those who are planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing, to declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him’ (Psalm 92:13-15). While I cannot control the creep of crow’s feet and the appearance of age spots, I can cultivate the character of a fully-alive inner man that is fresh, flourishing, and fruitful until my final breath.” [2]

B. Age gracefully through eternal life in Christ.

1). For the born again believer in Jesus Christ, death has lost its sting.

In the Resurrection chapter, we read these triumphant statements: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet [at Christ’s second coming]. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’

‘O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?’

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:51-57).

2). For the born again believer in Jesus Christ, glorification is coming.

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil 3:20,21).

The believer’s essential identity is spiritual and does not fade even when our bodies do. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:16,17).

Conclusion

E. Stanley Jones was an dynamic evangelist, missionary leader and author. After 50 years of ministry based in India, he testified of God’s enabling grace: “Without the total rescuing from weakness to strength, from confusion to certainty, from inner conflict to unity, from myself to His self, I doubt whether I would have had the nerve to undertake this work to which I have been called. It was too demanding, too baffling, too overwhelmingly difficult to match it with bare human resources. [He recounts his spiritual discoveries.] But now I saw my resources. I saw I could take all I needed for body, mind, and spirit in any situation, anywhere, and any time. I saw my resources, and they have not failed! The years have done nothing but corroborate and confirm them. They have been, and are, completely dependable.”[3]

If you are a “senior citizen” or caring for one, aging doesn’t need to rob us of joy, peace and hope. We are not tourists here; we are pilgrims. Through the resources of God we can age with grace.

_______________________
[1] Note the contrasts in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; 3:11;12:9-14. See Leland Ryken, Words of Delight, pp. 319-328.
[2] From a devotional article at StrategicRenewal.org
[3] E. Stanley Jones, Song of Ascents, p. 90. (He wrote over 20 books with 3.5 million in print.)

Copyright © 2022 by John B. Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article in its entirety for non-commercial use with credit given. Biblical quotations are from the New King James Version, Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.

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