When I preached a message from Psalm 71 in 1989, I began, “If time continues, sociologists are saying that the world may be ruled by what they call a ‘gerontocracy.’ By the year 2000, there will be 32-36 million senior citizens in the U.S. (there were 39 million), and twice that by the year 2020.” (There are now 54.1 million citizens of the United States who are 65 years of age or older).
Old age, as we know it now, can be both a blessing and a burden. A noted psychologist said that most men are “old fogies” at 25, suggesting that one’s mental attitude has a lot to do with the matter of age. Jack Benny, who never admitted to being over 39, said age was just mind over matter: if you didn’t mind, it didn’t matter! One senior citizen wrote a poem lamenting some of what those who are growing old must endure:
“Thought I’d let my doctor check me, cause I didn’t feel quite right. All those aches and pains annoyed me, and I couldn’t sleep at night. He could find no real disorder, but he wouldn’t let it rest; what with Medicare and Blue Cross, it would not hurt to do some tests. To the hospital he did send me, though I didn’t feel that bad; he arranged for them to give me, every test that could be had! I was fluoroscoped and cystoscoped, my aging frame displayed; stripped upon an ice-cold table, while my gizzards were x-rayed. I was checked for worms and parasites, for fungus and the crud; while they pierced me with long needles, taking samples of my blood. Doctors came to check me over, probed and pushed and poked around, and to make sure I was living, they wired me for sound. They have finally concluded, (their results have filled a page); what I have will someday kill me, my affliction is OLD AGE!”
Because of the physical-mental-spiritual complexity of human beings, the aging process brings changes that are sometimes not pleasant to deal with. Senility, the loss of control of some bodily functions, Alzheimer’s disease, the passing of many of our dearest friends, arthritis, loss of memory, and a host of other complications work upon the minds of those staring old age in the face. Apart from God’s grace, one can be overwhelmed by it all. Yes, old age can be something to anticipate with great pleasure or face with deep pain. David, the psalmist, knew this, and in the sunset years of his life he wrote a Psalm that any adult would benefit from reading and pondering. It is Psalm 71.
- David’s Refuge, vss. 1-8: He found that God was his refuge from predicaments, or as he put it, from “confusion.” He prayed God would deliver him in His righteousness, be his strong habitation to which he could resort, and deliver him out of the hand of the wicked. He affirms that God had been his help from his youth up and had held him from his mother’s womb. People looked at David in wonderment as they saw in him one whose refuge was the living God, so that David exclaimed “Let my mouth be filled with praise and with thy honour all the day.” (v.8)
- David’s Reservation, vss. 9-11. David was honest in admitting his concern for God’s presence and for His protection as he faced growing old. “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.” (v.9) Such fear, probably not uncommon in the minds of our senior citizens, might have been what has given birth to the following “Beatitudes of the Aged:” “Blessed are they who understand my faltering step and palsied hand. Blessed are they who know that my ears today must strain to catch the things they say; Blessed are they that seem to know my eyes are dim and my wits are slow. Blessed are they who looked away when coffee spiled at the table today. Blessed are they with a cheery smile, who stop to chat for a little while. Blessed are they who never say, ‘You’ve told that story twice today.’ Blessed are they who know the way to bring back memories of yesterday. Blessed are they who make it known that I’m loved, respected and not alone. Blessed are they who know I’m at a loss, to find the strength to carry a cross. Blessed are they who ease the days on my journey Home in loving ways.”
- David’s Resolve, vss. 14-24. David said that he would “hope continually.” (v.14) Not only righteousness, His wondrous works and His power (vss.15-18) would be the subjects of the psalmist’s praise.
Perhaps this would be an appropriate prayer: “Lord, thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and someday will be old. Keep me from getting talkative, particularly from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and every occasion.
Release me from the craving to try to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others’ pains. Help me to endure them with patience. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains. They are increasing, and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a super saint—some of them are so hard to live with—but a sour old woman or man is one of the crowning works of the Devil. Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it; but Thou, Lord, knowest that I want a few friends at the end. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people. And give me, Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.” (Author Unknown)
“Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not, until I have shewed Thy strength unto this generation, and Thy power to everyone that is to come.” (Ps.71:18)