Aging with joy

 
Dec. 31, 2016 | by Bob Russell

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to a senior’s banquet. In my remarks that night, I discussed aging with joy. I challenged my peers to finish their final chapter of life with a contagious, joyful spirit.

This is a message also suited to every pastor or church leader who is moving into the latter stages of life. It’s not necessarily easy to age gracefully and with a smile on your face. The Bible warns that the last decade of life is usually filled with trouble and sorrow.  It’s hard to be joyful when the body hurts, people disappoint, friends die, and the future is uncertain. 

Still, 1 Peter 4:13 urges: “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Even when we hurt, we can be thankful that we can better appreciate what Jesus endured for us.

The fruit of the Spirit

Christians are supposed to be distinctively joyful. Just hours before He died Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul listed joy as one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

However, I encounter a lot of older Christians who aren’t very joyful. Some complain about physical ailments, pine for the past when they were more important, criticize the younger generation for their lack of respect, or whine about how horrible the government has become.

It seems the older we get, the more sour we become. One teen complained, “My Grandpa is OCD.” When a friend asked, “He has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?” the teen replied, “No, he’s old, cranky and dangerous!”

The distinctive ‘but’

That’s the story for too many Christians. Our distinctive isn’t joy; our distinctive is the word, “but.” As in:

  • “Have a good Thanksgiving?”  “Yes, but I worked like a dog and no one seemed to appreciate it.”
  • “The leaves are pretty, aren’t they?”  Yeah,but you know what that means…winter is right around the corner.”
  • How are you feeling?” “Okay I guess, but my arthritis is acting up.” 

We’re not joyful or cheerful. We’re mournful, doleful, miserable, sorrowful and dismal. But Philippians 4:4 doesn’t say, “Rejoice in the Lord until you get 65 and then gripe as much as you like,” but “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

Positive witnesses

Several weeks ago, I encountered a retired 104-year-old preacher at Kentucky Christian University. After preaching, I got to meet him. He was alert and had a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. He was joyful. Maybe that’s why he lived so long. Maybe that’s why so many people were eager to meet him.

Older people who are joyful are fun to be around. They are a positive witness for Christ. People who are “old, cranky and dangerous” are not. Sadly, they are wasting their lives, one day at a time.

Years ago, Doctors Frank Minirth and Paul Meier wrote a book with the captivating title, Happiness Is a Choice. I believe that. The more I’ve observed life, the more I’m convinced that contentment is learned. 

Joy is a daily choice. You usually can’t choose your circumstances, but you can choose your attitude. You can choose to refrain from complaining. You can choose to laugh out loud.  You can choose to develop a cheerful countenance.

A godly attitude

Lea Tate was an attractive, joyful, older member of our church who died in 2015. She was always positive, encouraging and cheerful. Every time I met her I was impressed with the gentle, sincere smile on her face. 

After she died, a family member gave me a note she had left for me. It read in part, “When you receive this note of thanks, I will have arrived safely home to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the sweet prince he gave to me as my traveling companion through this earthly journey. But when you arrive, don’t look for us at the gate because we will have gone on downtown where the action is.”

That’s what I’m talking about. Lea was confident in her salvation, had a joyful spirit in spite of the circumstances she faced at the end of life, and focused on the action that was yet to be. That kind of godly attitude produces joy.

 


Topics: Commentary, Leadership, Ministry, Pastoral Care, Preaching, Teaching Resources, Vision


Bob Russell / At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church. That small congregation of 120 members became one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending the four worship services every weekend in 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches & conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups.
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