When my father died recently the family asked if I would officiate over his funeral—a simple graveside service. In the days preceding I struggled to find the right words to share.
Of my two parents, I was much closer to my dad. We always had similar interests and I favored him in appearance, though I was a smaller and far less attractive version. He was a particularly robust man who enjoyed good health through most of his long life (94 years). Therefore, it was disturbing to see his rapid decline in the last two years of his life.
But it must have been especially distressing to him as he faced the threat of becoming dependent upon others. Doctors discovered an inoperable tumor in his brain and anticipated his need for around the clock assistance. He always felt uncomfortable receiving gifts from his children, and now they were gearing up to care for him.
I recalled the words of an old gospel song, Stand by Me. “When I’m growing old and feeble stand by me. When my life becomes a burden and I’m nearing chilly Jordan, O thou Lily of the valley, stand by me.” The thought of becoming a burden must have tortured my dad. Mercifully for him, however, God took him before hospice care could even be established. God delivered him from his fears. As David wrote in the Psalms, “I sought the LORD and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears” (Ps, 34:4).
Getting to Know God Better
Old age is a cruel enemy. It turned the father who once held me in his arms into a shriveled, broken old man. But old age has a redemptive purpose in our lives. As it robs us of our health and strength, it makes us more dependent upon God. As old age takes away our friends and loved ones, it forces us into a deeper friendship with our heavenly Father. As it sickens and slows us down, old age makes us more mindful of our own mortality. By its power to physically and mentally limit us, old age prepares us for eternity.
This reality makes sense out of something that’s always puzzled me about two biblical characters—Jacob and Paul. Jacob and Paul had face-to-face encounters with God that parallel each other. God visibly appeared to both of them. They were both inwardly transformed by the experience. And, strangely, both of them were physically impaired by the divine encounter. As Jacob “wrestled” with God, God deliberately dislocated his hip so that he walked with a limp the rest of his life (Gen. 32:24–32). Paul was blinded in his experience with God (Acts 9:3–9). And although God later restored Paul’s sight, there are indications from his letters that his vision remained poor (Acts 9:13–19; 2 Cor. 12:7–10; Gal. 4:13, 15; 6:11). But what was physically impairing to these men, also became a source of spiritual power. In fact, Paul confessed that he would gladly bear his physical weaknesses in order that the divine power of Christ would rest upon him. “For,” he wrote, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
This was also true of my father. As the effects of old age ravaged his body, he drew closer and closer to God. When he died He was ready to meet the Lord.
Some people reason, “Hey, if we’ve got to die, then why not remain in perfect health until the day of our death? Why do we have to go through such a humiliating and painful process as old age before death?” Here’s why. If we remained in our physical and mental prime up to the day of our death, we’d die as self-willed, arrogant, and unrepentant sinners. Death would then be a total disaster for us, for we’d be completely unprepared to meet God.
But God gives us “old age” in His mercy. The painful limitations of old age drive us into the loving arms of our heavenly Father. God allows this so that we will not be strangers to Him when we face eternity.
So if weakness and physical impairment comes into your life, don’t become embittered. Our physical weakness is a sign of God’s love and a means of our redemption. The more we are humanly weak, the more we become spiritually strong and fit for heaven.
Dear Father in heaven, please help me to welcome my weaknesses and limitations, and to cling to You for strength. Teach me that Your grace is sufficient for me for every situation and that when I am weak in myself then I am strong with Your power. Amen.