Finishing Our Course With Joy

By Susie Hawkins

Finishing Our Course with JoyThe venerable J.I Packer has released yet another thought provoking and timely book, this time on aging.

Packer is an Anglican theologian, a professor at Regent College and one of evangelicals’ most influential figures. He is the author of over fifty books, one of them being the classic Knowing God. He has now taken on exhorting Christians over sixty (read “baby boomers”) to not waste their retirement years, but to invest in kingdom work more intensely than ever. In this short work, Packer intends to “plot the proper path of godly aging.” Shouldn’t we be intentional regarding how we navigate the aging process? We need a theological paradigm of aging and he delivers. (And let me assure our younger readers – you will be here much sooner than you imagine.)

Packer quotes I am mulling over:

And my contention is going to be that, so far as our bodily health allows, we should aim to be found running the last lap of the race of our Christian life, as we would say, flat out. The final sprint, so I urge, should be a sprint indeed. We often hear that life is a “marathon”, but not so the final lap!

Packer stresses that we must think past “our culture’s agenda for aging” when it comes to abandoning responsibilities in retirement. If not, this “will generate a burdensome sense that one’s life is no longer significant, but has become, quite simply, useless.”

I found myself re-reading his treatment of “ripeness” in the context of Ps. 92:12-14.

We know the difference between ripe and unripe fruit: the latter is sharp, acid, hard, without much flavor, and sets teeth on edge; the former is relatively soft and sweet, juicy, mellow, flavorful, leaving a pleasant aftertaste in the mouth.” He continues, “…spiritual ripeness should continue to increase as one gets older. The Bible’s view is that aging, under God and by grace, will bring wisdom, that is, an enlarged capacity for discerning, choosing and encouraging.” This sheds light on the Psalm 92 passage, that the righteous would “flourish like the palm tree,” “bear fruit in old age, …full of sap and green.

Packer identifies four factors making this the optimal time for older believers to push harder in their race than ever before.

  • Opportunity: “…most Christians who hit seventy still have before them at least a decade in which some form of active service for Christ remains practicable.”
  • Maturity: “It is a quality that is identifiable only in relationships, one that all pastoral ministry requires; and one that should…mark out Christian seniors, equipping them for ongoing usefulness…”
  • Humility: “Real spiritual growth is always growth downward…into profounder humility, which in healthy souls will become more and more apparent as they age.”
  • Intensity: “When one has a sure hope that thrills one’s heart, eager anticipation of it, delight in the prospect it opens up, and zeal in pursuing it are natural and should be applauded, not derided.” He points out the psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 71, asking God to continue using him despite “old age and gray hairs” (vs. 18), desiring to “declare Thy strengths to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come.”

J.I. Packer gives us a fuller understanding of what it means to “Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12.) May we do so!

Where are you on this marathon of faith? How do you practice to “number” your days in keeping with obedience to God’s call on your life?

Published November 24, 2014

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Susie Hawkins

Susie lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband OS Hawkins. She is the author of From One Ministry Wife to Another: Honest Conversations on Connections in Ministry. She has 2 daughters and 6 grandchildren, keeping her life full of craziness and joy.