Finishing well starts now. It may be an age-old struggle to admit old age, but younger Christians need the examples of older saints who have embraced their age and who are cultivating spiritual fruit into their later years.
The encouragement of older friends is a special blessing. Sidney was almost sixty years older than me, but in the last few years of his life, he was one of my closest friends. He would call me on the phone, and his first words were usually, “This is the old man.” Sidney embraced his age, and as he enjoyed the love of God over many decades, he was committed to finishing well.
Sidney showed me how to finish well with three words. On one occasion, I went with him to see a dying friend, and Sidney leaned over at his friend’s side, talked quietly with him, prayed with him, and then said to his friend, “Billy, three words: I. Love. You.” That was it—three words that are simple but remarkable. And that was Sidney—he loved people in simple but remarkable ways. Whether it was his wife as she suffered through Alzheimer’s, or his doctors and nurses who cared for him through cancer and a stroke, or his waiter who brought him coffee before lunch, Sidney wanted to know about them, to know how they were doing, and to know how he could help and pray for them. I watched the “old man” serve God and others through those three simple words.
The need for faithfulness in the second half of life is too important to wait until it is too late.
The great blessing of watching someone finish well is not learning merely how to live tomorrow; actually, it is learning how to live today. Men and women who continue in the second half of life with maturity and faithfulness to God are an encouragement for younger generations to live that same way now.
We read in the New Testament about how Timothy enjoyed the blessings of faithful and godly examples. Not only had his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice modeled and taught him in the faith, but Paul, also, had fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. Timothy needed the lessons he learned from older men and women in order to be diligent and fruitful in God’s calling. Think of some of the ways in which Paul finished well:
He was devoted to God in prayer, praise, worship, and obedience until the end.
He endured trials with grace and courage.
He lived with humility, contentment, gratitude, joy, and hope.
He loved and served others, even when it was difficult for him.
He remembered and trained the next generation for ministry.
He prepared for death and was eager to be with Christ.
Paul “finished the race,” and the overall pattern of his life was a picture of God’s grace and perseverance, but in reality, the priorities of Paul’s life are the pressing concerns at any age.
When facing busy schedules, daily pressures, and the cost of following Jesus, younger believers want to know that everything will be OK. Our sinful fears and the lies of the world insist that success and pleasure should be pursued at all cost, but mature believers have the benefit of hindsight and perspective to insist that God’s way is the best way. We need living examples of wisdom and old age to testify that God is faithful and that being faithful to Him is, in the end, the only thing that really matters.
No one knows what tomorrow brings, and we are always entering new and unknown stages of life. God may call us to finish before we had planned, but God is gracious. In fact, the psalmist gives us a prayer and a path to follow:
O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. (Ps. 71:17–18)
Some may be tempted to think that the call to finish well is only relevant to men and women in their eighties or nineties, but the preparation actually begins much earlier. Godly character and habits that are developed over many years are the patterns that emerge in old age and that influence younger believers in unforgettable ways. The need for faithfulness in the second half of life is too important to wait until it is too late. So, the plea is simple: show us how to begin now to finish well.
Rev. Wiley Lowry is minister of pastoral care at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss., and adjunct professor at Belhaven University.