This post is part of the weekly series on effective prayer.
When I was a child, I remember thinking that people over 30 were… well… old.
Actually, I couldn’t envision what my life would be like past 30.
Ok, to be honest, I had a hard time with it all the way until, say, 29.
Now that I am past that 30 mark, I’ve come to realize how important it is to work with God on shaping your heart while you’re young because it will make a difference when you are old. Once you are old, it is extremely difficult to change. I have learned critical lessons such as this from very valuable elderly members of the church.
Long experience has taught me that the elderly are vital to the work of the church. They are often forgotten, but they shouldn’t be. They have so much to teach us!
I’m pretty sure that most congregations have elderly members. Some are shut-in, confined to nursing homes, barely making it to morning services, and a few are still as feisty as 20-somethings. Whatever their situation, they are a part of our work. They have jobs too. They need respect, care and… yes… prayer.
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
Titus 2.1-5, ESV
These members have jobs, but they are faced with challenges. They are different challenges than our young teens, but they are challenges specific to their season in life.
They are dealing with strongly ingrained habits. My father has been a hospice nurse for years. As a result of his job, I have had the opportunity to observe and learn about elderly people for a good portion of my life. Once people get old, it is extremely difficult for them to change. Bitterness, irritability, depression only grow stronger with age. Likewise, a cheerful heart can grow more endearing with age.
They are faced with more loss. Imagine if all of your friends and siblings were dying off around you right now. It’s a horrible prospect, and yet, it’s something we will face if we reach the autumn season of our lives. Death is a part of life we must accept, but it is never easy to do so. As we grow older, we deal with death far more often.
They are faced with less functionality. Great pain. Physical dysfunction. Memory trouble. Pain makes you irritable. Dysfunction makes you embarrassed. Memory problems make you insecure. The elderly deal with many, if not all of these issues.
They are faced with greater dependency. I can’t imagine going from being a successful, independent individual to one who requires assistance with the most simple tasks. It can be depressing.
So, what do we pray for on their behalf?
Pray for them to continue reading the Word. I know I say this in almost every post, but I haven’t found anything more helpful than a daily dose of God’s message to us. It has the power to ground us when we are drifting or being ripped up by the roots. The elderly often deal with shattering changes—dependency, revoked driver’s licenses, removal from their homes and the like. They need God’s strong presence to keep them from sinking into depression.
Pray for them to keep working. It’s easy when you’re in great discomfort to stop working. Paul doesn’t tell Titus to let the older men and women kick back on comfy seats and sleep the rest of their life away. No way! They have a job to do and it’s just as important as anybody else in the church. If they are shut-in or laid up, they can still send cards of encouragement. They can still use the telephone and call people. They can still work on renewing their own mind. Pray that the elderly members will keep working for the Lord. We need their wisdom and experience. You might even nudge them towards one of these activities, if they are feeling discouraged or depressed. Giving encouragement is the best cure for discouragement! One Christian who had a huge impact on my life was Cecil MacFarland, and elderly Christian man and close family friend. He had a good sense of humor and a strong love for the Lord. He taught home bible classes from Genesis through Revelation. He would come to our home every Saturday evening, have dinner with us and then teach us about the Bible. I owe a great deal of my biblical knowledge to his classes. He didn’t allow age to stop him from working for the Lord. He was faithful until the end.
Pray for the elderly to stay faithful to the end. They can make a huge impact on others.
Pray for them to remember God. When I was in college, there was a member of the church who had Alzheimers. She was in a very nice Alzheimer’s care facility, but her memory seemed to get worse each time I saw her. Our visits were simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring.
It was heart-wrenching to see her mind deteriorate. She would repeat the same stories twice (or more) in a visit. Each time I came to see her, I had to reintroduce myself. And yet, I discovered the most amazing thing during those visits: she had not forgotten God.
In spite of all the tragedy that had befallen her, in spite of her memory loss, in spite of her frustration, she still talked about the faithfulness of God. She couldn’t remember who I was and she could barely remember her daughter, but she remembered the Creator.
It spoke volumes about her inner self. She had cultivated a relationship with God long before she was afflicted with Alzheimers.
Pray that the elderly in your congregation will always remember the Lord, especially His faithful and unchanging nature.
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”
Ecclesiastes 12.1, ESV
While you pray for these individuals this week, take time out to reach out to at least one elderly member in your congregation. Send them a card, take them to lunch, and/or go visit them. Let them know that you have been praying for them specifically. Reach out and encourage!