If you’ve ever been in one Cracker Barrel restaurant, which is especially popular in the south, you have been in them all. Why? Because basically, they are all the same. For example, as you walk outside to the entrance door you pass a line of rocking chairs, a barrel table with a checkerboard, and some advertisements. Depending on the weather one or more of the rockers will be occupied, not by teenagers, young adults etc. but by older persons. Why the presentation of rocking chairs? I think I’ve figured it out. The majority of customers, at least when I’ve visited are in the retirement age zone. What “old man” hasn’t dreamed of one day hanging up his gloves and work boots and rocking into the sunset?
In the last 50 years, our country has enjoyed the increase in life expectancy. I once read that when the U.S. Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, the average life expectancy in our country was 35. This no doubt contributed to the minimum age required to be a president or vice president was 35 (And still is today). It is estimated that the average life expectancy today is 79.
While aging is taking on new features and blessings, it is also taking on a whole new set of physical health issues. It is beyond the scope of this writing to delve into all the physical and mental health issues; especially which come after 80. I want to note one point which I have observed through the years and especially in recent years. It’s what I call the “Rocking Chair Trap.” I was first made aware of it in my twenties as a young preacher in St. Petersburg, Florida. Our attendance would swell in the winter, sometimes doubling, as the “Snow Birds” would come south for the winter to escape the cold and snow in the north.
As a young and somewhat naïve preacher, I was excited in my first winter as the brethren from up north started to arrive. To me, it meant new “part-time” workers and helpers. But I soon learned as I had conversations with our visitors, most of them made it known they had been active for years back home but now they were “taking a break” or retiring. And during the passing years, I have seen what I call the “Rocking Chair Trap” all across the brotherhood. Christians who were once involved, and many of them in leadership roles, “retire to their rocking chairs”—it’s the “Now let George do it” attitude.
THE BIBLE AND RETIREMENT
I have only been able to find one passage in the Bible which refers to what we call “retirement.” It is an Old Testament reference to the Levites who were in charge if the Tabernacle. “This is what pertains to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and above one may enter to perform service in the work of the tabernacle of meeting; and at the age of years they must cease performing this work, and shall work no more.” (Numbers 8:23-26). While we may wish we could retire at 50, the Scriptures, especially under the New Covenant, do not command or sanction our stopping our service in the Body of Christ.
The apostle Paul wrote in his old age and last days of his life. “For I already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
The Bible contains numerous accounts of people used by God in their older years; people past 50, 60, etc. There are also many references to aging and old age:
- Abraham was 75 years old when called him to be the father of a great nation (Genesis 12:4), and was 100 when he became the father of Isaac (Genesis 25:8).
- Moses was 80 years old and hiding on the backside of the mountain when God called him to go to Egypt on a rescue mission. Moses served until he died at 120 (Deuteronomy 34:7).
- Isaiah 46:4: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and will rescue you.”
- Job 12:12: Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” Job 32:7, “I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’”
- Leviticus 19:32: “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.”
- Psalm 71:18: “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.”
- Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
- Psalm 90:10: “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”
- Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days that we may gain wisdom.” Psalm 91:16, “With long life, I will satisfy Him and show Him my salvation.”
- I Timothy 5:1,2: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters.”
Junior: “Grandpa, how old is God?”
Grandpa: “Old enough to tell us what to do.”
It is obvious from Scripture that God is telling us about old age. Telling us about the challenges, blessings, and responsibilities. It’s the principles of “to whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48). There is no doubt that with age comes numerous challenges. Our physical strength and mental alertness slow down; aches and pains seek to control our attitudes and activities. We tend to try and hide in the shadows or retreat to a rocking chair. We need to transpose Jobs’ words from “Though He slays me, yet will I trust Him,” to “though He allows old age to take hold of me, yet will I serve Him” (Job 13:15).
There are many things a Christian can do in the sunset years to contribute to the ministry of the local congregation, community, and mission field. I still remember her. Sister Kate Cash. She was in her late 60s confined to her bed for most of the 24 hours. The first time I visited her was in the summer. Her front door was open and covered by a screen door. I knocked and told her who I was; she invited me to her bedroom where she was surrounded by cards, bulletins, several Bibles, a devotional book, and her phone. She smiled and ask “How are you doing Bub?” I replied with the same questions. She replied that she and the Lord were taking care of kingdom business. She was sending cards of various kinds, making phones calls, and praying for a large number of people. I have never forgotten the sight of her “pulpit.” It wasn’t a rocking chair but a place of faithful activity, love, and outreach.
God being our Helper we must never fall into the rocking chair trap; remembering physically it may keep us busy but it will take us nowhere. We have more tools now to reach out than ever before. How about YOU? If you are reading this it is proof that you can do something, one thing today to reach out to someone. Why not pray right now….