They will still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green. (Psalm 92:14)
A godly old person is a work of art, something worth beholding.
Not me, buster. Never in a hundred years.
I’m by that the way I am when a woman says, “Guess how old I am.” Laverne did that to me a few weeks ago. I served as her pastor decades ago, and probably had a general idea of her age. But I said, “Do I look to you like I’ve lost my mind? There is no way I’m going to guess your age. Not in a hundred years would I attempt it.”
Then she told me her age. I was stunned. I would have missed–underguessing–by two decades or more.
Old, someone has said, is twenty years older than yourself. As a rule, that’s probably pretty accurate. But no longer for me. I turned 71 this week, and know that I’m edging pretty close to the dividing line. No amount of walking-on-the-levee or doing-pushups-in-front-of-the-television or pumping those small weights slows down the passage of time for one minute. The years come and then they go, leaving their mark, taking their toll.
And that’s just fine. It’s how God set up the world.
But there is good news.
God has made promises to His children who walk with Him faithfully into those senior years. Psalm 92:14 contains three such promises. However, before looking at them, let us remind ourselves of something vital.
What God has not promised is that you and I will get to be among those old people.
Growing old is a privilege. It means we are blessed with long life. Scripture sees this as a blessing from Heaven. However, no one is guaranteed a certain number of years.
Growing old is a privilege denied to a great many. Over these 50 years in the ministry, I have conducted funerals for people of all ages, from infancy up. Some we buried in young adulthood, as they left their little children behind, never to see them grow up and marry and have babies of their own. They would have given everything they owned to have the privilege you and I are being given, to grow old. To be called seniors.
Many of us do something really strange in this regard: We don’t want to die/ however, we do not want to get old.
Think of the contradiction. We want to continue living and not die, but we don’t want to get old in the process. We want it both ways.
I suggest we all embrace our seniorhood. Accept those lines in the face and the grey in the hair and when necessary, the stoop to the shoulders. It’s a small price we pay for being allowed to continue breathing–living and serving, loving and giving.
For those who will serve God through their years and continue into the latter years, God gives three promises:
1. You Will Be Fruitful. They will still bear fruit in their old age.
a) As far as I can tell, Scripture speaks of two kinds of fruit for believers: the inner fruit of the Spirit which is Christlikeness and outer fruit in the lives of other people as we encourage them, minister to them, witness to them, edify them in the Lord.
The first kind–the inner Christlikeness–is described in Galatians 5:22-23 as: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control.
The second kind–making a difference in the lives of other people–is what the Lord had in mind when He said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit. So shall you prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).
b) Notice the promise is that you will “still bear fruit” in old age. This presupposes the person was actively serving God and making a difference in the lives of others in his or her younger years.
He/she will go right on doing what they’ve been doing all those earlier years. No letup. No abatement.
2. You Will Be Youthful. They will be full of sap.
In the Tyndale Commentaries, Derek Kidner writes: “It is not the greeness of perpetual youth, but the freshness of age without sterility, like that of Moses whose ‘eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated’ (Deuteronomy 34:7).
It’s clear the psalmist is using a tree metaphor in this psalm. Earlier, he said, “The righteous will flourish like the palm tree; he will grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (92:12).
The cedars of Lebanon were massive and durable. Even today, the national flag of that country is adorned by the image of one of its historic cedar trees.
We’re told that palm trees grow from the inside out, in contrast to the typical way most trees add outer rings.
The two images suggest that God’s faithful people will grow into mighty towers of influence, with the growth occurring from the inside.
They will be full of sap. I’m not sure why I love this line so much. We sometimes speak of zesty people as “full of vinegar” or “full of themselves.” This expression is translated in some Scriptural versions as “vigorous” or “fresh.”
The life of a tree is in its sap. Cut off the flow of sap in the springtime and the tree dies.
God is promising that the believer who has served Him through the decades and continues in his faithfulness will be alive and alert, youthful and zestful.
What qualities do you think of as youthful? See if they work for you: Joyful. Alive. Interested. Curious. Happy. Energetic. Ambitious. Outgoing. Growing. Inquisitive. Teachable.
They all work for me. This is the kind of person the Holy Spirit is making us as we walk in the Spirit through the years. We grow more and more young.
Pablo Picasso said, “It takes a long time to become young.” Playwright Garson Kanin liked that line so much, he made it the title of a delightful book on aging, written a generation ago.
He satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed…. (Psalm 103:5)
3. You Will Be Beautiful. They will be…very green.
If the faithful disciple of the Lord is a “tree planted by the water,” the image of Psalm 1, then the godly elderly disciple is an evergreen. “…its leaf does not wither and whatsoever it does shall prosper.”
Scholars are not quite sure what to do with believers who are described as “very green.” In our culture, “green” means many things. Those who are “going green” are into conservation and recycling and responsible stewarding of earth’s resources. A person new on the job and still learning the ropes is said to be green.
So what did the psalmist have in mind for believers to be called “very green”? Some translations say: “Flourishing” and “sturdy.”
May I suggest the word “beautiful”? The idea is that year round, the leaves on this tree are bright and lovely and healthy, not dried and fallen to the ground.
There is a beauty to a godly old person which–if I may be allowed to say–is not true of the same people when they were godly younger people.
Mildred Phillips and Nannie Kate Smith were in my congregation in Columbus, Mississippi, where I served from 1974 into 1986. Mildred was born in 1895 and Nannie Kate perhaps 10 years later. Now, both are in Heaven and are having the time of their lives. So, we’re okay to talk about them behind their backs.
I’m about to say something I would never ever had said to their faces.
Neither was a raving beauty.
In old church publications where members were photographed in the 1930s-1940s, both women were prominent. They were godly women who delighted in serving the Lord. They were active in the First Baptist Church and became pillars for decades.
Neither of the two women ever gave a pastor a moment’s problem. They were sweet-spirited with wonderful senses of humor. They could be counted on for prayer, for generosity, for godly wisdom, for service.
The strangest thing: the older they got the more beautiful they became.
There was a light in their souls which shone through their eyes. Their voices were sweet, their hearts were light, they delighted in laughter and they gave great hugs. People flocked to them and loved to be in their presence.
Any pastor would give a year of his life to have even one of those women in his church; I had them both.
I was no longer her pastor when Mildred–we called her Aunt Millie–went to Heaven. But I was there to help Nannie Kate celebrate her 100th birthday at a local retirement center where she was living. That day, she told jokes and kept everyone in stitches.
I’ve heard it said that the devil has no sweet old people. I’ve never checked to see if that’s true, but it’s probably right. His old people carry shriveled souls, barren lives, brittle minds, fossilized imaginations, and negative spirits.
In a book by this title, Eugene Peterson quotes the philosopher Nietzsche on the value of “a long obedience in the same direction.”
That’s the secret. That’s how God pulls this off and turns a regular, run-of-the-mill believer into something to behold, a godly character worthy of the highest praise.
“Lord, make us like Jesus. Make us fruitful, youthful, beautiful. For Thee. For Thy glory. Amen.”