Two glad services are ours,
Both the Master loves to bless.
First we serve with all our powers —
Then with all our feebleness.
Nothing else the soul uplifts
Save to serve Him night and day,
Serve Him when He gives His gifts —
Serve Him when He takes away.
C. A. Fox
With my mother-in-law’s moving here plus my husband and I both reaching the half-century mark, I have been thinking a lot about aging and the decline of our strength and abilities. And though originally this post was just going to be about aging, I realized many of the principles also apply to those who are affected by illness or injury.
I discovered the above poem in Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank. L. Houghton preceding the last section of the book which told about Amy’s final years. After spending most of her adult life as a missionary in India, she suffered a fall which rendered her an invalid for twenty years. She remained in India. It is remarkable that these days most mission boards would send an invalid missionary home, yet Amy continued to have a ministry there.
In the early days after my TM diagnosis, though I wasn’t a complete invalid, in my “down” times I would think of the word “invalid,” meaning someone who is ill to the point of not being able to function, and change the accent to the second syllable to mean something that is not longer valid, or in other words, useless. Invalids can feel invalid. But they are not. God has a purpose for every person on the planet.
Our culture tends to glorify youth and vigor. But “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (I Corinthians 1:27) and to showcase His strength (II Corinthians 12:8-10).
Elisabeth Elliot wrote in A Lamp For My Feet:
But my limitations, placing me in a different category from… anyone else’s, become, in the sovereignty of God, gifts. For it is with the equipment that I have been given that I am to glorify God. It is this job, not that one, that He gave me.
For some, the limitations are not intellectual but physical. The same truth applies. Within the context of their suffering, with whatever strength they have, be it ever so small, they are to glorify God. The apostle Paul actually claimed that he “gloried” in infirmities, because it was there that the power of Christ was made known to him.
If we regard each limitation which we are conscious of today as a gift–that is, as one of the terms of our particular service to the Master–we won’t complain or pity or excuse ourselves. We will rather offer up those gifts as a sacrifice, with thanksgiving.
I used to think, “Lord, I could serve you so much better without these problems.” But it’s as if He were saying, “No, this is what I am using to shape your service for Me.” As life changes, either through illness or aging, we need not lament what we can’t do any more. We can seek God’s will for what to do now.
As I wrote earlier, sometimes God’s purpose for our decline is that other people might learn and grow by ministering to us. This is hard to accept, because we don’t want to trouble them, we don’t want to be an inconvenience, we don’t want to need that kind of help. But graciously accepting that kind of help can be an example and a blessing to others.
My mother-in-law and I were discussing some of the…indignities of aging and wondering why the Lord allowed people to have to go through those kinds of things. Of course, our bodies are affected by the effects of the Fall of man and the entrance of sin in the world, one of those effects being decline and death. But years ago I heard one preacher say that our bodies fall apart as we age to make us willing to let loose of them. We have such a strong instinct of self-preservation, of wanting to live to see our children grow up, then our grandchildren, etc. But God can use the gradual decline of our bodies and their functions in order to wean us away from this world, to remind us that this body is just a temporary tabernacle, and to set our minds on getting ready for heaven.
Titus 2:3-5 tells us that older women are to teach the younger a multitude of things. I don’t think this always has to be in a classroom setting. It can be, in our culture, but at the time it was written there probably were not such things as seminars and retreats for women. But by their example and specific opportunities to say a word or give a testimony or share something learned along the way of life, older women can both teach and model those characteristics mentioned in Titus.
Psalm 71:16-18 says, “I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only. O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.”
That’s our ultimate purpose: to show forth His strength and His power.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
3 Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.
5 For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:
6 That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
7 That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:
8 And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.