We're an aging population - with 11.8 million of us over the age of 65, 1.8 million of us over 85 and those number set to increase dramatically in the next 20 years, the "Greying" of Britain is a trend that's here to stay.
For some, later years mean opportunities to travel, relax and spend time with the grandchildren. For others, though, increasing age brings losses all around. Loss of role, of friends, of independence and health. Two million people over the age of 75 live alone, many going for days or even weeks without seeing a friend. It wasn’t meant to be this way. In Genesis 1-2, we see God’s design was for us to live without decay – to have relationships that never fade. It won’t always be like this – there will be a time when there is no more pain, no more death (Revelation 21). In this fallen world, joy and heartbreak live side by side.
It’s the reality that we, at London City Mission, see day by day as we knock on doors and welcome the elderly into our drop-ins, lunch clubs, tea afternoons and more. Western society appears to hold a low view of later life. Adverts pretend that what’s best is youth, beauty, fitness and wealth. The Bible, however, shows us there is more to increasing age than retirement and replacement knees.
For Christians, later life is meant to be:
A TIME OF THANKFULNESS
A long life is a gift from God. Each day has only been possible because of the Lord’s sustaining power. Many will contain precious memories of God’s generous kindness. Each will provide fuel for a thankful heart.
A TIME OF HONOUR
Within the community of believers, we’re called to treat the older generation with great respect. Whether that’s giving our older brothers and sisters in Christ special dignity or honouring our parents in practical ways (Ephesians 6:2-3), we’re to look up to the generation above.
A TIME OF WISDOM
Many who live to see the later years will have gained much knowledge and insight along the way, much needed by the local church and by the next generation who are called to be humble enough to learn (Titus 2).
A TIME OF SERVICE
There’s no time-limit on serving God. Of course, the way we serve him may change over the years but the call to keep on using our gifts to bless others remains the same. Anna and Simeon, well-advanced in years, were some of the first people to meet Jesus –showing us what a blessing ongoing service can be.
A TIME OF GROWTH
1 TIMOTHY 5:1
It doesn’t matter how old we get, we can always learn more about Jesus and how to be more like Christ. The one who began working many years ago is continuing his process of change (Philippians 1:6).
A TIME OF NEED
The Bible is realistic. As age proceeds, our bodies begin to fail, bringing physical
discomfort and practical challenges – all of which should be met, at least in part, by the body of Christ. That’s why God repeatedly calls us to take care of widows and other vulnerable groups (James 1:27).
A TIME OF MISSION
In Psalm 71, the Psalmist asks the Lord, among other things, for the capacity to keep on going until he has told the next generation the wonderful truths about the Lord. As other parts of God’s word remind us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) – all need to hear the message of the cross.
A TIME OF PREPARATION
For all, later life is a time of preparation for the life to come. Passing away at the age of 97 is not the end – it’s barely the beginning of the life that God has promised. Every octogenarian can confidently know that they have thousands of years ahead of them (and more!) The question is – where will they be spent? In a place of perfection, in relationship with Christ – or far away from his love and care? It’s this biblical framework that spurs us on to love and good works among the elderly we meet. We long to help them make the most of the rest of their lives by enjoying life in all its fullness (John 10:10) – both now and in all eternity. For some of our missionaries, that will mean making contact on the doors – finding out where the housebound of the area live and visiting them regularly to listen to their stories and point them to the better story of Christ. For others, it will mean organising events where meals are provided and spiritual food is offered alongside. For others still, the regular routine of visiting care homes to speak words of comfort and joy.
For all, it means being passionate about sharing the gospel with those in later life – and encouraging older believers to work alongside them in ministry, using their gifts to reach out to their peers. It’s this biblical framework too that keeps us passionate about working in partnership with other organisations who share the same heart for those of later years – it’s why we feel so privileged to be part of Faith in Later Life, an initiative which aims to inform, equip, inspire and encourage Christians to keep leading the change needed so that older people in the UK will receive Christian encouragement, care, and support (see faithinlaterlife.org).
We hope it excites you too. Please join with us in praying that the words of Psalm 92:14-15 will be true of the older contacts we meet: ‘They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”’