Every age and stage of life has its own special trials and temptations. The young are called to flee youthful lusts (2 Tim. 2:22). The middle-aged are warned about the choking cares of this life (Mark 4:19).
Even seniors have their own age-specific temptations.
In Psalm 71, we find just such a senior who is cast down by life’s events: increasing outward and inward troubles (vv. 4, 10–11, 13) together with failing strength (v. 9). And yet he turns again and again to God.
This spiritual dynamic is encapsulated in verse 20, where the psalmist writes, “You have shown me great and sore troubles, but you shall quicken me again, and shall bring me up again from the depths of the earth.”
Let’s look at some of the great and sore troubles of old age, and how the Lord strengthens His elderly people.
Later years are often lonely years. Your parents have passed away. Many of your siblings have also exchanged time for eternity. Your own children have grown up and moved away. Friends don’t have enough strength to come and see you. Long, quiet, and empty days become weeks that accumulate into months. The Lord has shown you great and sore troubles.
How can He revive you again? How can He bring you out of the dark depths of friendlessness and loneliness?
God answers, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5), and you respond, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up” (Ps. 27:10).
You may lose all your loved ones, all your friends, all your strength, beauty, and usefulness. But you will never lose the love and interest of the Lord. He comes to you through Bible reading, listening to sermons, worship services, prayer meetings, and good books. He comes to you as you reach out over the phone to other needy souls (Ps. 71:14–18).
In the long, quiet hours of old age you will have many hours to think back over your life. You will start to go over your life—your work, your family, your service, your soul—and you will begin to feel the pain of remorse and even despair. And a little word will begin to grow in power and frequency: if. “If only. . . .” “If I had not. . . .” “If I had chosen this job. . . .”
“I only had one life, one marriage, one chance, one opportunity . . . and I blew it.” “If only. . . . ”
It’s natural to review our lives, and it’s normal to look back and wish some things had been different. The question is, what do you do with your regret?
Regret can go in two directions—it can lead to Judas’ suicidal remorse (Matt. 27:3–8) or it can lead to David’s humble repentance (Ps. 51) and the dying thief’s humble faith (Luke 23:42).
If when you review your life, God begins to show you great and sore troubles, and you are beginning to plunge into the pit of despair, then turn to the God who says, “I will remember your sins and iniquities no more.” Bring every wrong decision and wrong turn to the Lord for His covering with the blood of Christ. Turn to God as your only hope (Ps. 71:5, 14).
Maybe you’ve been dealt a hard hand in life. You look around and see that no one else has had it as hard as you. Maybe you’ve been the victim of another person’s evil. Maybe you’ve been abused and treated unjustly. Maybe you secretly feel that God has been too hard on you. His dealings have not been fair. “Why me?” you ask.
Bitterness toward God and others is simmering and threatening to spew out in a torrent of anger and hatred. You spend hours seething about your father, mother, brother, sister, neighbor, boss, business partner, friend. You will never, ever forgive. God has shown you sore and hard trouble, and you will show them the same if you have the chance. What can dissolve this hard and flinty heart? What can break this unforgiving spirit?
The righteousness of God can (vv. 15–16, 19, 24). God gives us what we do not deserve—a perfect righteousness. He forgives our sins through Christ and gives us the righteousness of Christ. Who can receive such full and free forgiveness without longing to share that same forgiveness with others?
Irene Howat wrote a book titled Pain My Constant Companion. But it’s not merely a book for you, is it? It’s a constant reality (90:10): arthritis, heart disease, cancer. God has shown you great and sore troubles and your strength is failing. But God’s strength isn’t. And you will go on in His strength and show His strength (71:16, 18). And eventually you have hope of a restoration of strength, indeed even a heightening of it in the resurrection such as you’ve never had before (v. 20).
Strengthen your spirit by looking back on your life and pondering how many painless days you’ve had (vv. 5–6, 17). Consider how God has never dealt with you as you deserve. Meditate on the sufferings of Christ. But above all look ahead to the imminent deliverance from all your pain, to the hope soon to arrive.
The devil can take advantage of your present weakness of body and mind. Here, the devil seems to have stirred up enemies against the aged believer (vv. 4, 10–11, 13). He’s coming in for one final, all-out attack. He never gives up.
Your fears are stirred: “What if I deny the Lord?” “What if I lose my mind and start cursing and blaspheming?” (v. 1). “What if the last agonies of life are too great for me to bear?” “What if I end in darkness and despair?” “What about my family and friends? My church? My nation?” These are great and sore troubles indeed.
But what great and glorious consolation also! God looked after me when I was unable to look after myself at the beginning of my life (vv. 5–6). And He will continue right to the end. He cares for me from the womb to the tomb. And as for my family and church and nation, though it looks like lots of dry bones, God can also bring them up again from the depths of the earth (v. 20). God will defeat all my enemies and even the one behind them all.
OLD AND YOUNG
Older believer, you have unique trials and troubles in your life. But you have unique comfort and encouragement, too. Bring all your loneliness, regret, bitterness, pain, and fear to the Lord. Bring your great and sore troubles to Him. He will revive you again and bring you up from the depths of the earth (v. 20).
Older unbeliever, you have the same trials and troubles as the believer. But you have neither comfort nor encouragement. You have no divine consolation. You have nothing with which to face life’s last trials or your last enemy. Yet while you draw breath, it is not too late to seek Him.
Young people, some of you will soon be old. Yes, that fresh, strong, vigorous body will soon begin to break down, weaken, and disintegrate. That sharp mind will soon be confused and befuddled. You will be in great distress. Don’t wait until then to seek the Lord. Seek His companionship now. Seek His forgiveness now. Seek His love and righteousness now. Seek His comfort now. Seek His peace now.
Young people, some of you will never be old. You will die in the prime of life. You will be summoned to eternity before you’ve had a chance to experience great and sore troubles on earth. But if you die without Christ, you will face great and sore troubles for all eternity, with no hope of change.
Make this psalm your own, no matter what your age or stage of life.