“And your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
In the shadow of some recent deaths in Christendom such as theologian John Hick and prisoner-turned-prison reformer, Chuck Colson, some seasoned saints have been writing about what God has in store for those who are facing the second half of their life’s ministries.
One book, published just last year, is by Billie Graham entitled Nearing Home. In this short treatise that’s part memoir, part sermon, the 93-year old evangelist reminds all of us that God is always working in our life and inviting us to be on mission.
He recalls how God uses many senior saints in the Bible for his purpose. Abram, for instance, was an older gentleman when God called him to be father of the nations, not to mention that he and Sarah were pushing 100 when they finally gave birth to Isaac.
Barzillai (2 Samuel 17) also found a calling in old age, providing food for the then-exiled King David during David’s most vulnerable hour. He prepared enough food for David and his entourage, but admitted that he didn’t have strength to return to Jerusalem when David was ready to reclaim the throne. Barzillai’s loyalty and honor remained in serving the King even when it meant not getting anything in return.
“For those of us nearing home,” writes Graham, “our steps may indeed be slow, but they need not be without purpose.”
God still expects us to pray, share His Word, encourage others, and teach upcoming generations no matter our age and ability. God has a calling upon our life despite our body’s fragility and weaknesses.
In another memoir, seasoned professor and UMC bishop, William Willimon talks about a different type of end-of-life experience. In Bishop, Willimon gives advice and encouragement–and plenty of challenges–to the declining denomination that has nurtured his faith.
As bishop of the North Alabama United Methodist Conference for nearly eight years, he gained the experience–and failures–necessary to critique why so many churches, like people, are aging all too quickly and nearing the end of life.
Willimon argues that “churches decline when they withdraw from obedience to Jesus as seen in [the Great Commission in] Matthew 28.”
And, although Willimon has little hope for smaller churches that cease to grow, he believes that God is not finished with these little churches yet. In fact, the time is ripe for churches to capture the vision of Jesus’ command to “Go and make disciples” in a world hungry for Good News.
Like Billie Graham, William Willimon sees the purpose of aging saints and seasoned Christians as, first and foremost, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not here to be pampered, Willimon writes, but to share Jesus with others even if it means suffering ridicule and the accusation that the Message of Jesus Christ is irrelevant.
“Jesus came preaching,” and we should do no less.
The Spirit of Pentecost resonates within these two books. God gave us Christians the power to share a Good Word in a world filled with too much bad news.
It was on the day of Pentecost that Peter preached a sermon using the prophet Joel as a foundational text. He quoted Joel when he preached that,”In the last days…your sons and daughters shall prophecy…young men will see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
Willimon and Graham have spent a lifetime in the ministry, and their encouragement is filled with the promise of Joel: We are still called to prophesy, preach, envision, and dream regardless of gender or age.
The only thing hindering the Spirit’s work in us and through us is not the culture in which we live, but our fear and unwillingness to put purpose to our steps and Good News in our speech.