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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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St Paul's, Efford
Tony's Reflection 23
Some of us grow old gracefully. Others of us take a while to come to terms with it.
I passed all of my milestone birthdays, from the 10th to the 50th, with a sense of excitement and positivity, looking forward to what life might bring next.
My next birthday will be my 60th. I am still trying to come to terms with being that old. I haven't quite got there yet. I still take undue delight in passing younger cyclists, going up hills. I ask for extra light, rather than admitting I need reading glasses. Last month, I experimented with Jean’s colouring shampoo and turned some of my hair pink. Jean has only just stopped laughing at me for that one.
The Bible has no ambivalence about getting older. It sees old age as a sign of God's blessing. Take, for example, the final verse of Psalm 91:
"With long life I will satisfy him."
Having a long life is seen as a beautiful gift from God. The normal pattern is that God gives it as a blessing to those who have trusted him and learned to dwell "in the secret place". There is something more in this verse, though, than just living for many years. It's not just about the biology of being alive for a long time.
The promise from God is that we will be "satisfied" with long life.
The English word "satisfied" is a dangerous one in this setting. It can give the idea of being "satisfactory", or "just about good enough". When I worked in the NHS and in education, if you had an inspection and were deemed "satisfactory", then you were "acceptable enough to get by", but quite a long way off being "good". "Satisfactory" is something just about OK.
That is not the image God wants us to get from this verse. To catch the spirit of it, I'd like you to remember something. Can you bring to mind the last time you had a truly exceptional meal, in good company?
Recall that wonderful feeling of being pleasantly full inside. You can still savour the tastes of the food and drink. You soak in the warmth of the friendship and charm of those you have shared the meal with. All is well with the world and you are content in body, mind and soul.
You are "satisfied".
The Bible describes someone who is old as being "full" of days. Just as you are satisfied and full after a good meal, so this person is satisfied and content from the many days they have had.
What does it take to be able to look back over the years we have had, with this kind of satisfaction?
It could be almost any of life's happy events, which we relish. But if it is merely a question of feeling self-satisfied over our achievements in life, or even considering how lucky we have been, then we have missed the point.
This promise is for the person who has "dwelt in the secret place".
It is for someone who has known what it is to shelter under the warmth and safety of God's mighty wing. (Psalm 91:4)
It is for you who have known the angels “lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone." (Psalm 91:12)
It is for the one who has “trodden down the lion and the snake” through the strength and courage that God gives. (Psalm 91:13)
We can look back, satisfied and content, because over the years we see God has protected us. He has been faithful and we can see his hand on us, as we have gone on life's journey.
That is what will make us truly satisfied with long life.
Is this verse just for those of us who are old? Is it only for those who are… past 60?
It definitely does have something to say to those of us who are advanced in years. It says that God wants the many days we have lived to be a source of satisfaction and contentment as we look back over them. It says he wants us to see length of life as a gift from Him.
If you are younger and do not consider yourself "old" quite yet, it has something to say to you, too.
It invites you to find satisfaction and contentment looking back over the years you have had as you see God's hand on you and in you.
It encourages all of us to make today the yesterday we can look back on with satisfaction, tomorrow.
How can we do that? By placing ourselves today into the keeping and care of the God who loves us.