Based on sermons by Shen Chuan Chen—Taichung, Taiwan
Editor’s note: This article is based on two sermons delivered by Elder Shen Chuan Chen during a Senior Members’ Day service in Singapore, to a congregation of senior members and their family members.
After some missteps in his
life of faith, Peter the impulsive fisherman matured—with the guidance of the
Holy Spirit—into a faithful apostle courageously bringing the gospel to the
ends of the earth. He became a pillar of the church, tirelessly strengthening
his brethren. His epistles, 1 and
THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TO LIFE
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves
also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from
sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the
lusts of men, but for the will of God. (
Everybody hopes for comfortable and smooth-sailing lives. However, the complacency that may seep into such lives could cloud our spiritual vision. Material affluence, status and influence are common life goals. Yet, mindless pursuit and enjoyment of such goals will gradually erode our spiritual wellbeing. God, therefore, gives us some suffering as a test, to help us check the direction of our lives. Peter advises us that having the right attitude towards such suffering is a useful weapon. It helps us to remain watchful and separate ourselves from sin. After learning to suffer for Christ, we will no longer live indulgently.
In the past, we lived like
Gentiles: pursuing the things of the world, eating, drinking, and making merry
For believers reaching their silver years, what adjustments should they make in their daily and spiritual lives to live the rest of their time well? What support can the church and their families provide?
MAKING THE BEST OF YOUR SILVER YEARS
1. Make Homes Safer
As we age, more health issues crop up and we tend to be less steady in our movements. Hence, to ensure that we live the rest of our time in a reasonably healthy state, we must modify our living environment—specifically, our facilities at home. Interestingly, this element of physical safety can be found in a construction-related biblical passage!
“When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring guilt of bloodshed on your household if anyone falls from it.” (Deut 22:8)
Israelite homes had flat roofs on which people could walk. Homeowners were thus instructed to incorporate this safety feature: a parapet to prevent people from falling. Similarly, our homes may have been built or decorated to our previous tastes. However, if we have reached our silver years or have elderly parents and relatives living with us, we should take note of what additional fixtures, fittings or layout changes are needed to make the home senior-friendly. To minimize the likelihood of accidental falls, it becomes necessary to make modifications such as railings for the stairs and in bathrooms, better lit rooms, night lights, and so on. In fact, even the type of accommodation may need to be reviewed. While a house with two or three stories is ideal for a large family, it may be more practical for elderly members to downsize to smaller apartments or single-story homes if they are living on their own.
2. Make Services More Convenient
Secondly, aging also means that we tire more easily and, with poorer eyesight, travelling at night may not be as convenient as it was when we were younger. This makes attending evening services challenging for elderly members. It would be a pity if such members who are eager to attend services are hindered from doing so because of physical frailty. A solution adopted by some of the churches in Taiwan is to change some evening services to morning services. Undoubtedly, when we adjust service times, there may be misconceptions about the nature of the service, and the target audience. But these can be overcome.
Another schedule adjustment made in some Taiwanese churches is to hold the morning prayer service at a later time. In eastern Taiwan, believers from the the A-Mei tribe used to hold their morning prayer services at 4 a.m. Getting to church before daylight may be manageable for the middle-aged, but could be unsafe for those in their seventies or eighties. Therefore, the church decided to begin morning prayers at 9 a.m. so that the elderly believers could participate. Later, some churches in central Taiwan adopted this service time change, enabling more retirees to come to worship the Lord.
Having services start a little later has also been useful in prolonging the time that these retired members can enjoy fellowship with each other. In the church at Feng Lian, morning prayer takes place from 9 to 9.30 a.m. Afterwards, these elderly members enjoy catching up with each other over tea. This arrangement has lasted for almost ten years now, indicating that there is a growing group of people who want to draw close to God and to each other, encouraging each other to sustain their faith as they grow old together.
The Bible is full of exemplars who maintained their faith well into old age. In the Old Testament, we see Jacob first as a man anxious to get as much as he could out of secular life. However, in later life, he had little care for the matters of the world (Gen 47:9, 28). His main priority was to draw close to God—worshipping Him whilst leaning on the head of his staff, even as he was close to his last breaths (Heb 11:21). In the New Testament, Luke tells us of Anna the prophetess, who worshipped night and day, fasting and praying into her old age (Lk 2:36–38).
Similarly, we have exemplary believers today. There was an elderly sister in central Taiwan who was part of the first generation of True Jesus Church believers. Hailing from a village church, she had been baptized at a very young age. On one of my visits, I found her sitting in bed reading her Bible. I asked her how much she read each day. She replied, “Whenever I feel like reading the Bible, I just read it.” Her frailty may have confined her to bed, but she did not allow that to stop her from reading the Bible. Sometimes she read for so long that her daughter-in-law would make her take a break, and take her out for a stroll. This sister was ninety years old at that time. Despite her advanced years, she still had such a great thirst for the word of God.
There was another elderly Hakka believer who had been a teacher. After he retired, he resolved to copy the Bible by hand. In fact, he had already copied the Bible at least once previously.
Doing all of these different activities—praying, singing hymns, reading the Bible, copying out Bible passages—enables our elderly members to encourage one other when they gather. Some believers may have previously been too busy with their careers or families to focus on their faith. They may now feel a void in their lives because they are retired or their children have grown up and left the family homes. This is a good time for them to strengthen or rebuild their faith. Therefore, churches should consider what sort of logistical adjustments can be made—service times, transport arrangements, assigned workers—to facilitate this.
3. Make the Effort to Dress Up
Thirdly, there are also personal adjustments that an elderly member has to make in his or her life. Some feel that, given their advanced years, they can live in any way they want. So they do not bother to dress up before leaving the house or take care of their personal hygiene. “Who’s going to bother looking at an old person?” is a common excuse. But an elderly brother once commented, “Since I am getting old, I need to dress nice and smart.” This brother was so particular that he took three showers a day! In short, age should not be an excuse for untidy dressing or neglecting personal hygiene. We go through the trouble of dressing up in our best for a special occasion. Dressing up for services, especially for Sabbath, reflects how we view coming to worship God. It is also a sign of respect toward our brethren in the community of faith.
4. Learn to Let Go
A fourth adjustment we can make is in household management. Specifically, we have to learn to let go of the reins. When we were young, our parents led the way. When we had families of our own, we were the heads of our households and made the decisions for our families. But as we age, our physical and mental stamina decrease. We do things more slowly and become more forgetful. This is the time that we should start handing over the baton of family leadership. While we have a lifetime of experience in many matters that our children and grandchildren can benefit from, there are also many areas where they may know better. Hence, we must also start to heed the advice of our children and their spouses, rather than insist on deciding everything for ourselves.
Conflicts can arise even if all parties have the best intentions and love for each other. This is because, as human beings, our thought processes differ. As the senior generation, we should be conscious that while our children honor and respect us, they too have grown up and are capable of making good decisions. Therefore, we should entrust all household matters to the next generation.
A common source of conflict is the education of our grandchildren. We may occasionally disagree with how our children are teaching the next generation, but we must entrust our grandchildren to their parents. For example, when there are contrasting ways of child discipline within a family, it will be confusing to the child and will only end in conflict. When our children scold and punish our grandchildren, we can comfort the latter afterwards but never interfere during the disciplining process. Raising grandchildren is not the responsibility of grandparents, because we no longer have the strength and vitality to do so. Complement our children’s efforts, but do not contradict or try to overrule them.
Another issue is sickness. Many elderly members keep quiet about their illnesses and refuse to visit the doctor. We have to let our family know. For Christians, there are only two paths to take when we are sick. First, pray. Whether it be a major or minor illness: pray. But if the problem persists, we must seek medical attention. Some elders choose to endure their ailments quietly because they do not want to trouble their busy children. But when the untreated illness gets worse, it will become a greater burden on the whole family. Therefore, the moment we feel ill, pay attention. Do not dismiss it or hide it from our children. Our children will help us to determine the next steps. While we may feel we have more experience or we know our body best, do not forget that we are no longer young.
HOW CAN CHILDREN SUPPORT THEIR ELDERLY PARENTS
Those reaching their
retirement years in recent times (the Baby Boomer Generation) are generally
better educated and more affluent than their parents’ generation. Many of them
have savings, which, together with other changes in social attitudes, have led
to a lower expectation of children caring for their elderly parents. However,
for Christians, as a moral principle, it is important for us to provide for and
look after our parents. It is one of God’s commandments that we honor our
parents (Ex 20:12). In fact, this is a commandment so important that the apostle
Paul repeats it (Eph 6:2), and reminds us that those who do not care for their
own families are worse than non-believers (
The patriarch Jacob came to Egypt when he was 130 years old and died at the age of 147 (Gen 47:9, 28). Jacob lived out his final seventeen years in Egypt. Not coincidentally, Joseph was seventeen years old when he was sold to Egypt. In other words, Jacob looked after his son for seventeen years. When Jacob was old, Joseph “repaid” those seventeen years. Young people should consider the length of time their parents have spent providing for and taking care of them. This, then, is the time one should spend caring for their parents. Although society has changed drastically, we should heed biblical examples and ancient wisdom to show care and concern for our parents.
Another way of honoring and
caring for our parents is to not bring them shame. In the Old Testament, an
example of children who brought great—if not the greatest—shame to their
parents is the two sons of Eli the high priest. Their egregious acts culminated
in the most humiliating time in Israelite history: when the ark of covenant,
symbol of the Lord God’s presence, was taken captive (
The lesson to our young believers today is a reminder to keep our faith. This is the greatest hope of all God-fearing parents. Such parents are greatly comforted when they see their offspring serving faithfully in church. Conversely, children who draw further and further away from the church cause great anxiety in their parents. Therefore, let us maintain and keep our faith so that we do not see a repeat of Ichabod in our lives.
The third aspect about caring for our parents is our attitude towards them.
Hear, my children, the instruction of a father,
And give attention to know understanding;
For I give you good doctrine:
Do not forsake my law.
When I was my father’s son,
Tender and the only one in the sight of my mother,
He also taught me, and said to me:
“Let your heart retain my words;
Keep my commands, and live.” (Prov 4:1–4)
Times have changed since our parents entered adulthood, so our ways of thinking will inevitably differ from theirs. But differences should not be an excuse for disrespect. In ancient societies, elders were held in great esteem as the source of deep wisdom drawn from life experience. However, in the last thirty to fifty years, there has been a dramatic decline in the status of the elderly. One reason is the rise of computers, which has revolutionized our society. Children and young people today are known as digital natives—they seem to understand technology and all things digital almost instinctively. On the other hand, older people are far less knowledgeable or comfortable in this arena. Such a digital divide has had a massive impact on households. In the past, parents would be the ones guiding children through their academic work. Today, young children impatiently tell their elders off for being unable to handle their digital devices. This is a simple example of how technology appears to have ushered in different values and culture.
However, our young people must remember that, one day, they too will age and be slower to grasp the prevailing technology. Apart from humility and considering others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3), a critical attitude for the young and technologically-proficient is to remember what is important. Advances in science and technology can improve the standard of living. But these are only gadgets and tools. Do not be so immersed in these that we forget the things that are essential to life: our God, our faith and harmony in our homes. These should be the areas that we invest our time and effort in because they truly improve the quality of life.
LOOK FORWARD WITH HOPE
The silver-haired head is a crown of glory,
If it is found in the way of righteousness. (Prov 16:31)
Some people fear aging and the inevitable aches and pains. But Christians need not fear; in fact, we can look forward to the future with great anticipation for two reasons. For one thing, after having worked for a few decades, most of us would be at a comfortable part of our lives and careers. Retirement gives us time to enjoy doing whatever, and going wherever, interests us. But the more important thing to remember is that each day brings us closer to the grace of God. We are blessed to be in the True Jesus Church community of faith as we have the truth, the spirit of God, and a supportive family in Christ. Moreover, when we place our hope in the Lord Jesus, it is a steadfast and glorious hope because, while all may change, Jesus will remain the same. This is the true reason why the silver-haired head is such a crown of glory.
To ensure that elderly members are truly able to enjoy their days in comfort and glory, adjustments are necessary. Individuals and their families need to make home modifications to ensure physical safety. Churches can adjust schedules to sustain worship activities for them. Elderly individuals can also recalibrate their roles within their families to improve familial interactions. All these enable us to praise the Lord and lift up our praying hands in His name, to remember and meditate on God in the night as long as we live (Ps 63:4–6). Meanwhile, our young must not despise the old. Heeding biblical principles of conduct and, in particular, the teachings on interactions between the young and old—found in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians—will enable all of us to live the rest of our time well and to make these years glorious.