April 3, 1991
Do senior citizens have any valid reasons for attending college? Being with younger students might help someone feel young again, but many campuses would wonder at cane-carrying folks wandering down their halls. After all, why take classes after life-patterns are thoroughly set? And who is going to hire a person of retirement-age-plus even if they have learned a new skill?
Nevertheless, a white-haired, 89 year-old woman signed up for a class this semester at Bible College. She is studying the New Testament book of Acts and has not told me her motivation. (Acts is the historical account of the early church and how its members were scattered throughout the known world to announce the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.) She is a spunky lady. Maybe she has a mission field in mind!
Seriously, even the professors agree it is never foolish to pursue further spiritual education. Notice, I said “spiritual” education. For one thing, after many years of ups and downs in our walk with God, we older students are far more aware of the rationality behind learning and relearning His truth. We not only know how important it is to apply to our lives, but we are fully aware of how application becomes increasingly challenging with age.
At least one of the Old Testament kings started poorly and ended well but many of them did the opposite, starting well and finishing very badly. The biographies of these kings illustrate how vital it is for God’s people to keep on growing. Productive middle years do not have to end at retirement age. The greatest of God’s saints ministered to others until it was physically impossible or until death stopped them.
Also, from an older perspective, the goals for learning change. When I was young, I was interested in absorbing data, regurgitating it in a form that pleased the teacher, and passing exams... in one ear and out the other. That kind of learning does not produce excellence. It does not work with spiritual information either. It is even possible to know a great deal about God and His Word and still live in sin. The goal must be internalizing the material with a view to obedience and a vibrant spiritual life.
Secondly, it would have been nice to have been taught from my mother’s knee so I understand more than I do about Christian living. Yet even being brought up in a Christian home doesn’t guarantee a solid Christian life. I’m learning the difference is not in the timing of the education nor in when one starts to learn, but in the desire to use it to God’s glory.
My 89-year old friend doesn’t need to go back to work to use what she is learning. I rather suspect she is aiming for a more Christlike life because it pleases God, not for any other reason. She also realizes if she does not press on, it is so easy to slide backwards.
Besides having a responsibility to keep on growing in the Lord, older Christians have an obligation to pass on what they have learned. The psalmist said, “O God, You have taught me from my youth; and to this day I declare Your wondrous works. Now also when I am old and grey-headed, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.”
No one at Bible school laughs at us older students. Some are teased about carrying brief cases instead of back packs, but the younger Christians already understand that the grace of God is needed to make it to the grey-haired stage and still have a strong desire to keep on learning about Jesus. They also understand that not everyone finishes well. Here, any example of grace is never considered “too old” but welcomed as “fresh hope.”