Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone... Even when I am old and grey, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation... I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel... Psalm 71: 9, 18, 22
I don’t suppose anyone relishes the idea of getting old.
One of my jobs as a volunteer for human rights charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide is to enter new supporters’ details on the data base. As well as address, phone number and email address, they are invited to give their date of birth - and I have to admit that I am sometimes struck by the thought “Mm, there seem to be a lot of people around these days who were born well after me...” In other words, I’m getting old!
Perhaps this is why Psalm 71, long a favourite of mine, grows on me more every time I read it. This is the prayer of an old man reflecting on the goodness God has shown him down through the years.
Well, you may still be young, you may already be old, or you may be (as I like to think of myself!) late middle-aged. Whatever, there are thoughts here worth squirreling away in our minds as we think about the passing of our own years, and as we relate to those who are close to the end of their lives. How does the voice of this unknown writer still speak to us today?
First, he recognises the vulnerability of old age. He displays a lack of confidence: “Do not cast me away when I am old” (as if God would!). He accepts that he is physically no longer the man he was: “...do not forsake me when my strength is gone...”
If nothing else, these slightly sad words remind us of two things. One is that, if we are already old, we shouldn’t pretend otherwise! There are few sights more pathetic than old people refusing to face reality. Growing old is something that, with God’s help, should be done with quiet dignity, good humour and solid faith.
But also, if we are those who are still that bit younger, we should be specially sensitive to the needs of the old. Is there someone in your circle you should be calling on, caring for - and, of course, learning from?
Second, he announces his determination to continue his witness: “... till I declare your power to the next generation.” It’s striking that as this man confronts old age he doesn’t pray simply to be given an easy time: comfy slippers, a mug of cocoa and a rug round his knees, so to speak. Oh no! He still has something to say, and he obviously intends to say it loud and clear as long as he is able. He sees himself, if we can borrow New Testament terms, as both evangelist and teacher.
God forgive us if we despise the old! Their testimony and experience are to be valued and used. But God forgive us too if, being old, we fail to pass on to others the precious things we have learned throughout our lives. A Christian’s testimony never ends.
Third, he declares his intention to be a life-long worshipper: “I will praise you with the harp... I will sing praise to you with the lyre...” These words make me smile. All right, his fingers on the harp may be a bit gnarled, and no doubt he picks a few wrong notes. And his voice is probably a bit cracked and rather wheezy. But does he care about that? No he does not! As long as his heart is right, what does it matter? God delights to receive his praises.
It’s always great to see a bunch of young people praising God and bearing testimony to his love. But there’s a sense, I think, in which it is even greater to see old people - people who have struggled through the ups and downs of the Christian life, people who bear the scars of battle - not cynical, not dried up, not world-weary, but still radiant and enthusiastic for God.
Lord, let me be such!
Lord Jesus, as a baby you were blessed by Simeon and Anna, two faithful Israelites who had waited a lifetime to greet you. Thank you that in your eyes youth and age are not what matter, but that you simply look for the heart that loves you, the faith that trusts you, and the will that obeys you. Amen.