Maintaining zeal Godward
Such issues came to mind as I read J.I. Packer's little book, Finishing Our Course With Joy, which is a book about getting older. Packer intends this book for older people, 75 and older. His encouragement is that older people should shun the worldly notion that aging and retirement is a time of inactivity. He suggests that being older is a time to stay active, to keep running the race set before us. He points out that seniors have things that younger people don't always have: opportunity, maturity, humility, and intensity. And by intensity, he means focus and concentration insofar as one is physically able. Packer, himself, at the age of 88 is still very sharp.
Packer encourages the older crowd to embrace zeal. He admits that the word isn't popular any more, but zeal is something Christians ought to live with. Packer gives his rationale for this:
Zeal for his kingdom is a character quality of God himself, as he has revealed himself (Isa. 9:7). So zeal for God's cause, his kingdom, and his glory, all of which the temple symbolized, is one element of the image of God in his incarnate Son -- the image in which, so we are told, Christians are to be renewed, and actually are being renewed, by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:20-24; Col. 3:10). Nowhere does Scripture suggest that this divine renewing process is programmed to go on hold as we age, however true it is that we can clog it up at any point with our own follies and wrong attitudes.
Maintaining zeal Godward as our bodies wear out is the special discipline to which we aging Christians are called.Living zeal
I am fortunate in that I know quite a few older women who are maintaining zeal Godward. There is a group of older woman at my church who gather twice a month to sew, making clothing for mission projects, or items for the crisis pregnancy centre. My mother-in-law, who is over 70, is still involved every summer with the youth day camps, as well as working with the women's ministry committee. Another woman, also about to move into her 70's, regularly serves in musical ministry as well as helping her husband with his ministry to the Caribbean farm workers who come here every year. Another senior woman organizes a dinner four times a year for singles who may not otherwise have someone to share a meal with on a Sunday. Singles of all ages attend, but most of them are older. Every month, the seniors have a gathering where they share fellowship for the morning followed by a meal. These people are not slowing down. They are zealous for God. These seniors encourage each other to press on. But I don't think they are the only ones who should be doing the encouraging.
Those of us who are younger also need to encourage the older people in our congregations. We need to build relationships with them beyond a handshake on a Sunday morning. We need to include them in areas of service where they can add their wisdom to the mix. We shouldn't always go to the young and eager teacher to lead that class or fill that need. We need to extend the invitation to the older generation as well. Perhaps they think they are expected to be inactive. Perhaps we should encourage them not to think that. It may be that all they need is to be asked to contribute. Older people have the benefit of life experience to go along with their theory. We talk a lot about the diversity in the church as it relates to race and gender; diversity should include older people, too. And insofar as they can be active, I think we should encourage them as much as we can.