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Gray Hairs and the Persistence of God

Gray Hairs and the Persistence of God

Hello Church Family,

One of the things I love about Northpoint is the generational diversity we enjoy as a congregation. It thrills me to see so many young families with tiny children sharing life with folks in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. One such 70-something has been a particular blessing to me—his name is Dan Jackson—and I’ve asked Dan to bring us in on how God continues to grow and shape him, even during the so-called twilight years. Here’s what Dan writes:

Psalm 131:1 leaped off the page in my devotional time—“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” Why had this verse never grabbed my attention before? Perhaps I was not at the proper life-stage to appreciate or even agree with it. Until my mobility became so limited, I was all about the quest for new experiences, new places and nations, new learning and new discoveries. I saw myself declaring like 85-year-old Caleb, “Give me this mountain!” (Joshua 14:6-12).

My story for nearly sixty years was about preaching, speaking, and teaching. God gifted me in those areas, and I pastored some great churches, preached around the world, and led conferences, but now I’m crippled, unable to button buttons, zip zippers, or even fasten my seat belt. Embarrassed by my limitations in dress and other issues, I felt my gifts would fall into disuse. God has shown me differently and I continue to have opportunities to share. I’m not all I used to be, but I can, as Charles Swindoll says, “accept the mystery of hardship, suffering, or misfortune.” No longer do I have to understand or explain it. I simply accept it. My heart is no longer “lifted up” in pride, nor are my eyes “raised too high” with ambition. When I seek to plumb “the secret things that belong to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 29:29), I will do so diligently. Otherwise, I will “not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.”

Recently I spoke to Men of the Word at Northpoint, on “Stages of a Man’s Life,” looking through the lens of Daniel’s life. As a teenager (15-19) he was moved from his homeland into Nebuchadnezzar’s service in Babylon. The king sought to acculturate Daniel and other captives of Judean nobility in the literature and language of the Chaldeans, even changing their names and diets to reorient their cultural bearings. The new names honored false gods, the new diet included food offered to idols. Daniel and his friends faced clear-cut choices of obedience and faith. Against great social pressure they purposed to trust and please the One True God. That choice prepared them for future greatness in an alien culture. Daniel served into his 90s and his friends withstood at least one more moral challenge, refusing to bow before the king’s image. Choices of our youth mold our character and lay a foundation for the rest of our lives.

In midlife, Daniel confronted an old friend. He had now served the king for nearly 40 years and was dismayed by God’s judgment—for 7 years the king will be a mad man. Daniel spoke the truth in love, “You shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, … until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:32).

As a senior, Daniel was likely retired involuntarily. His call back into service was urgent since no one could interpret the mysterious words scrawled by a lone hand on Belshazzar’s wall. It was the final night of Babylon’s Empire. Daniel then served Cyrus and the Persian Empire with great distinction and faithfulness to God.

I retired as a senior, but it was an involuntary retirement. For nearly 60 years I’d served God and the church. My greatest pleasure was the work of ministry, so I came kicking and screaming into retirement. I knew it necessary when my body failed. I picked up a rental car in Colorado Springs to begin a church program there, and my hands couldn’t fasten the seat belt. My wife, Nelda, traveled with me to complete the remaining trips, but at the end I came home in a deep depression. I said all the right and “holy” words as health deteriorated, but deep down, a question nagged, “How could my individual story continue to relate to God’s bigger story? God is the author, director, producer, and star of His story, and I learned that my bit part was tiny. Yet, God has new roles for me and I’m learning they are significant. 

Isn’t it interesting that the Bible rarely extols the virtues of youth but often celebrates the wisdom that comes with age? “Gray hair is a crown of glory,” the Sage asserts, “it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31). Regardless of where God has us, or at what age we find ourselves, God is still working to conform us into the image of His beloved Son. And He still delights in using us for His glory and our good. In that realization there is peace and purpose. Thank you, Dan, for your inspirational words.

Resting in His sovereignty,

Pastor John