She hath done what she could. –Mark 14:8
The little girl was staring up at Bertha and saying nothing. Bertha and Gary were newlyweds, just beginning in ministry, and Gary accepted any invitations coming his way–sing, preach, teach, counsel, whatever. Today, he had sung in the worship service, and now stood near the piano talking to the accompanist. A few feet away, her little girl was staring up at Bertha.
Finally she spoke.
She said, “Do you sing?”
Bertha: “No. I don’t sing.”
Silence. The child is processing that. Finally, she speaks again.
“Do you play the piano?”
“No. I don’t play the piano.”
More silence. The child is thinking. Then, she speaks and gives this family a memorable line we’ve used ever since.
“Don’t you do anything?!”
Those words, that question.
Don’t. You. Do. Anything?
Ministers’ wives are not the only ones who find themselves burdened with that expectation. Seniors in life’s red zone (ask any football fan) will have an ever-decreasing list of things they can do. The hearing goes, along with the eyesight, the taste, the energy. It’s called life, and it’s no fun. But it’s simply a phase, a transition.
Seniors often ask themselves, “What can I do? Can’t I do anything?”
We know God is getting us ready to shed this earthly shell in order to don our heavenly body as we move into our permanent quarters. Scripture teaches that; we believe it.
Meanwhile, we who are in this earthly tent do groan. That’s 2 Corinthians 5:2.
Do we ever!
Growing old is not for sissies, they keep saying. And they’re right.
I heard an old fellow say he is “rounding third and heading home.” Baseballs fans understand the terminology. Seniors get the metaphor.
So, we are left with this question.
“What can I do?”
The disciples watched the woman worshiping Jesus in a most unusual way.
Being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply.
But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good, but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
Do what you can. That’s all He asks.
The woman did not do what others could have done; she did what she could.
She did not do as much as you could have done; she did what she could.
She did not do what others expected; she did what she could.
What can you do? That’s all He expects.
Seniors vacillate between Caleb and Barzillai…
Two eighty-year-old men in the Old Testament pretty much sum up the two extremes.
Israel was taking Canaan and dividing up the land as they went. Old man Caleb had spotted a place he liked. He said to Joshua, “I was forty years old when Moses sent you and me with the others to spy out this land. I brought back word to him as it was in my heart. And now, behold, all these years later, the Lord has kept me alive, as He said. Here I am this day, eighty-five years old. And I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me. As my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now, therefore, give me this land….” (Joshua 24:6-12).
That’s how the octogenarian Caleb received Hebron for an inheritance and became a champion of old people ever since.
We all want to be like Caleb.
The problem is sometimes we’re more like Barzillai.
Barzillai was the Ben Cartwright of his day–fans of the old Bonanza western will remember–wealthy and influential. When Absalom led an insurrection to dethrone his father David, the king fled Jerusalem with his wives and household and lived for several weeks across the Jordan as guests of Barzillai. Finally, Absalom was dead and the rebellion was put down and David’s people were returning home.
As they approached the Jordan, David turned to Barzillai, and in the time-honored way of good people everywhere, said to him, “Now, come go home with me. I’d like to return your hospitality.”
Barzillai’s answer was classic.
How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am today eighty years old. Can I discern between the good and bad? Can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Can I hear any longer the voice of singing men and women? Why then should your servant be a further burden to my lord the king? Let me return home again, that I may die in my own city, near the grave of my father and mother. (2 Samuel 19:31-39).
We know the feeling, don’t we?
Food has lost its taste, he can’t hear a thing, the pleasures he can enjoy are fewer and fewer all the time. One of his greatest pleasures is just staying home. Know that feeling too, do you?
Now, before we leave this old gentleman, notice what he did. He suddenly had a bright idea. Seeing the young man Chimham standing there–was he a son or grandson or servant? we have no way of knowing–he said to David, “But here is your servant Chimham. Let him cross over with my lord the king and do for him what seems good to you.” David said, “Chimham shall cross over with me, and I will do for him what seems good to you.” (19:38-39)
For generations to come, descendants of Chimham lived in the Bethlehem region, doubtless on the estate David granted their ancestor. See Jeremiah 41:17.
Barzillai did what he could.
Sometimes we seniors feel energized, sometimes we feel like we’re almost gone. But we do what we can.
We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
My grandmother was eighty-seven and fading fast. My mother called from the family farm to tell me Grandma had been taken to the hospital in Birmingham and the family was gathering.
Bessie Lowery McKeever may have been the godliest person I ever knew. Widowed at age 40 while carrying her twelfth child, she lived another forty-seven years. Her life was hard but she was faithful to her Lord Jesus Christ. I have her Bible. It’s marked up and precious to me.
I entered the hospital room where some of her children had gathered. Two or three of her daughters were tending to her at the bed. When I entered, she recognized me and held up her hands. I walked to the bed, bent over to kiss her, and she kissed me. I said, “How are you, Grandma?” In a tiny voice, she said, “I’m almost gone.”
I said, “Grandma, I know you have a scripture on your heart today. What is it?”
From that frail body, with a weak voice, she said, “I can do…all things…through Christ who strengthens me…”
I almost laughed. Here she is almost wasted away, confined to this bed, unable to do anything. But she can do all things through Christ! I wanted to shout, “Hallelujah! What a victory we have in Christ.”
That promise from Philippians 4:13 does not mean we can do “anything.” I cannot play in the NFL or NBA. I cannot be a rocket scientist and cannot be President of the United States. But what I can do is whatever my Lord asks of me today.
And what He was asking of my wonderful Grandmother Bessie was that she lie back in His arms and let Him take her to Heaven.
She did that so beautifully.
My brother Ron and I preached her funeral a few days later. She is with the Lord Jesus at this moment. I will see her again. I can’t wait.
That’s the answer to the question “what can I do?” You can do whatever the Lord wants of you, nothing more and nothing less. And He will give you the strength to do it.
What’s keeping you from obeying?
Thank you, Ps Joe. I came to your site via Sermon Central, where I’ve long enjoyed your contributions. I always know when it’s one of yours, because it’s articulate, insightful, practical/relevant, challenging and encouraging.
Thank you for this particular message, too. I’m a Seniors Chaplain in Australia, and ministering to almost 150 residents, plus the same number of staff and, of course, their families. I’m always aiming to encourage these wonderful people that God is never done with them, and your words reinforce that message beautifully.
Ps Rick Joseph
Ah, Pastor Rick. How nice of you. Thank you. My wife and I are in front of the television each Thursday night (last night!) at 8 pm to watch “Doctor Blake Mysteries” from Australia. — I’m so glad you took a moment to drop a note. God bless you, friend. I’m praying for you today.
My son reminded me today that we are 30 years from 1990 and 30 years to 2050 you and I are somewhere in the middle of that rounding third and heading home. until we get home we preach the good news don’t we brother Joe thanks for all you do. time passes faster than a Weaver’s shuttle don’t you think!
Mike. You were the first of my “young men” to enter the ministry. The firstfruits of my ministry, we might say. I am beyond proud of you, my friend. Thank you for your ministry, and thank you for checking in from time to time. Praying for you today. — And yes, I had not thought of being halfway between 1990 and 2050. Wow. You and I will not see 2050, I assume, unless it’s looking over Heaven’s bannister. God is good.
I appreciate this article. The years of seasoning (76) are taking a toll on me, 56 years in ministry. My mind still thinks I’m able to answer the “bell”, but my hearing is so bad, I can’t even hear it ring.
Thankfully, I still have some opportunities to preach and teach. You are right that we can do all things through Christ to do the things He wants us to do.
Keep up the good work you are doing. Your articles are instructive, inspiring, corrective and helpful even to a senior citizen.
Thank you, friend. God bless you in every way.
Hello and blessings to you and your family ! I just found your site about an hour ago. I have read several of your heartfelt writings only to have them bring me to tears…Tears of joy mixed in with tears that flow when one senses the utter Love Our Father has for us!
As the years are quickly catching up on me, my body has many ailments that prevent me from doing so much of what I used to do…I have asked God to show me “what He wants me to do” and this writing sure has answered what my reply should and will be.
Many thanks for taking the time to do your site…to preach the words placed on your heart….and for loving God as much as you do! You shine that love, even through the internet!
May you be blessed ten times and more for all you’ve done over the years!
Rhonda, thank you. I responded to your sweet email and now feel lousy about what I said (which was that the letter might not have been personal; I get those a lot which seem to be for me but which were sent out to everyone with a blog). God bless you.