Godly Old People: The Cream of the Crop

I love to suggest Psalm 92:12-15 to senior saints. I tell them it’s easy to remember that psalm. After all, if you’re 92, you’re old!

The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree;

He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

Planted in the house of the Lord,

they shall flourish in the courts of our God.

They shall still bear fruit in old age;

They shall be full of sap and very green,

To declare that the Lord is upright,

He is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

It took me a while to get this figured out, but over the years, eventually this pastor began to notice something quite remarkable the living God does in people’s lives: the longer they serve Him, the more like Christ they become.

It’s enough to make us conclude that the process does not end with death, but continues right on into the next life where what the Bible calls “glorification”–the process of becoming Christlike–is fulfilled and completed.

From this passage (a remarkable four verses, don’t you think?), here is a four-fold description of God’s people who have walked faithfully with Him through the years.

1. Fruitful.

“They will still bear fruit in old age.”

Scripture recognizes two kinds of spiritual fruit: inner and outer. Inner fruit is character traits as we mature and grow within our minds and spirits, particularly in the manner of Galatians 5:22-23 (“the fruit of the Spirit”). Outer fruit is making a difference in the lives of other people, whether by leading them to Christ for salvation, teaching them, or feeding, clothing, assisting, encouraging (see Matthew 25:35-36).

Know any elder saints who are still growing in their Christlikeness and still making a difference in people’s lives? If you do–and if you are in a good lively church, I’m betting you know several–tell them they are a fulfillment of Scripture and a demonstration of God’s faithfulness.

And then, let that be a goal for yourself.

2. Youthful.

“They will be full of sap.” Some translations make this to say “fresh.” No problem there, but the Hebrew says “full of sap.” I do love that concept. Sap is the life-giving fluids coursing upward through the trees enabling them to grow, blossom, sprout leaves, and bear fruit.

God is promising that the Godly oldster will be fully alive and active. Youthful.

Sin dries us up, and shrivels our souls. The Holy Spirit livens us up and makes us blossom.

Get around a few children–and stay out of their way–and watch them for a bit. You will soon see that “youthful” means to be loving, laughing, and adventuresome.

Children enjoy loving each other, they love to laugh and have fun, and they like trying new stuff. Now, what do we oldsters do as we get hardened and brittle with age and stop growing in Christ? Love only the ones we’ve known for years and reject the new people, quit laughing and become cranky, and resist anything newer than 25 years earlier.

To enter the Kingdom, we become as little children (Luke 18:17). Once we enter, God starts a process of making us eternally like little children.

Far as I can tell, you and I have two means of attaining youthfulness as we age: we can slather on the makeup, join the gym, and go in for tummy tucks and chin lifts and such, or we can do it God’s way by letting Him handle the makeover.

One is fake, superficial, expensive, and temporary; the other is real, lasting, and precious. And it’s free.

3. Beautiful.

“They will be full of sap and very green.”

God enjoys making His people lovely. His concept of what is lovely, of course, differs considerably from the current trend at any given spot on earth, in any culture, at any moment. People want to make beauty a matter of skin smoothness, body proportions, and perfection of teeth, eyes, and hair. The God who made us knows those things are all temporary and, as the Word says, “perish with the using” (Colossians 2:22).

So the Father goes for a more lasting beauty. He calls it, “the hidden person of the heart, the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (I Peter 3:4).

At the end, I want to tell you about perhaps the most beautiful person God made–and I mean ever!–in the part of the world where I’ve lived and served.

4. Truthful.

“…to declare that the Lord is upright, He is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”

People make jokes about how old people can say anything you want and get by with it. They will simply put you down as an eccentric. There’s some truth to that. But that’s not what this is about.

Godly saints have a perspective on life–its brevity, its fragility, its possibilities–that youngsters do not have. Those who have served the Lord faithfully for generations (and that’s what this is about), know the Lord with an intimacy and His Word with a certainty that gives them a strength and authority when they speak.

When they speak of life and what matters most, you listen. You know in your heart of hearts that they know, they have lived this life, they’ve been there and done that. If you are smart, you will pay attention.

The godly oldster will tell you the truth. They will be plain-spoken because they know the time is short and there is no sense in weighing the truth down with glittering words; they will be unashamed because peer pressure for them is a thing of the distant past; and their words will be unadorned because they know the danger of camouflaging living truth with too many soft, pretty ribbons and bows.

“Well, honey, if you ask me,” the senior saint will sometime begin. Listen up, friend– you are about to get something money cannot buy.

Even in her advanced years–she lived to be more than a hundred years old–everyone called Nannie Kate Smith by her first name. She wins the Joe McKeever award as the most beautiful person I ever knew in my (now) 72 years on this planet.

Nannie Kate Smith. Formerly of Columbus, Mississippi, and longtime member of the First Baptist Church there. Now a permanent resident of Heaven.

Nannie Kate was already 70 or so when I became her pastor. Several afternoons a week, she drove to a local elementary school where an arrangement had been made for her to teach the Bible to the children. (The entire public school system was run by Christian people; the principal was one of our deacons; this, alas, is a thing of the past.)

Nannie Kate loved God and adored people. She was a fine student of the Word and was always busy, coming and going and serving people. Long widowed when I met her, her time belonged to God and anyone who needed her.

She used to tease me about a conversation we had one Wednesday night in the 1970s. I was teaching through Acts, and taking my own sweet time to do it. As I began that Wednesday night–“Turn in your Bible to Acts 21” or something–Nannie Kate spoke up. “Joe,” she said, “I do hope you’re going to finish this in my lifetime!”

The congregation broke up in laughter.

When it subsided, I said, “Well, Nannie Kate. That’s entirely up to you. How much time do I have?” She laughed harder than anyone.

I never saw a single photo of Nannie Kate from her youth, but by human standards she was no beauty. In fact, I imagine that she had been considered rather plain as a teenager and young adult. If so, she didn’t seem to know it. She was in love with God, in love with life, and in love with people.

I never knew a soul who loved better. Her mouth was filled with laughter and her heart with the joy of the Lord.

I’m tempted to say here that everyone who knew her loved her back, but I suspect that’s not true. In addition to being “youthful” and “fruitful” and “beautiful,” she was also “truthful.” She would tell you what was on her mind. Not everyone appreciates that.

The memory of this precious soul that will linger longest for all who knew her is her laughter. At her 100th birthday party, she was telling funny stories and relating jokes she had just heard. So remarkable.

“I joined this church the Sunday in 1921 that Dr. Franks became pastor,” she would tell me. She enrolled in what is now Mississippi University for Women as a new student.

Referring to Dr. Jesse Dee Franks who served the church 1921-1946 (I believe) and Dr. S. R. Woodson, who served 1947-1972, Nannie Kate would say: “I always thought of Dr. Franks as my father, Dr. Woodson as my brother, and you, Joe, as my son.”

When Shawn Parker came as her pastor (perhaps a couple of years before her home-going), I made her a birthday card that went something like this:

“Nannie Kate says Dr. Franks was her father.

Dr. Woodson was her brother.

Joe McKeever and Bobby Douglas were her sons.

Shawn Parker? He’s her love child.”

She loved it and showed it off to everyone she saw.

Over a half-century of ministry (this November makes it official), I have known hundreds of precious souls who have served God well and then left us, making Heaven far more interesting and attractive for this preacher. But ask any disciple of the Lord Jesus who knew Nannie Kate Smith and they will tell you: She was easily the most unforgettable sister in the Lord we ever knew.

2 thoughts on “Godly Old People: The Cream of the Crop

  1. I read all your writings with great interest and learn something from each article and I thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom. This article, as usual was filled with words to those who wish to learn; but in addition, the smile on my face was an appreciation for dear friends like Nannie Kate in our church who we are blessed to have. Life is so much easier when conversation is candid and when we don’t have to wonder what someone thinks. They are a treasure to cherish. I don’t know if it is their age or their character or both, but they have a way of being candid without ever offending. We need them and more like them here in God’s earthly kingdom. God Bless

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