sermons by Shen Chuan
Editor’s note: This article is based on two sermons
delivered by Elder Shen Chuan Chen during a Senior
Members’ Day service in Singapore, to a congregation of senior members and
their family members.
After some missteps in his
life of faith, Peter the impulsive fisherman matured—with the guidance of the
Holy Spirit—into a faithful apostle courageously bringing the gospel to the
ends of the earth. He became a pillar of the church, tirelessly strengthening
his brethren. His epistles, 1 and 2 Peter, are filled with the wisdom of an
elderly man, and set important standards to which believers of all ages should
adhere. “Living the rest of our time” is a phrase that comes from this elderly
THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TO LIFE
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves
also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from
sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the
lusts of men, but for the will of God. (1 Pet 4:1–2)
Everybody hopes for
comfortable and smooth-sailing lives. However, the complacency that may seep
into such lives could cloud our spiritual vision. Material affluence, status
and influence are common life goals. Yet, mindless pursuit and enjoyment of
such goals will gradually erode our spiritual wellbeing. God, therefore, gives
us some suffering as a test, to help us check the direction of our lives. Peter
advises us that having the right attitude towards such suffering is a useful
weapon. It helps us to remain watchful and separate ourselves from sin. After
learning to suffer for Christ, we will no longer live indulgently.
In the past, we lived like
Gentiles: pursuing the things of the world, eating, drinking, and making merry
(1 Pet 4:3). This might have seemed to be the ideal life, but Peter warns us
that this is foolishness. No one knows how much time we have in this world. As
in the parable of the ten virgins, will we be ready to take our place with the
Bridegroom when He arrives unexpectedly, or will we be caught unprepared (Mt
25:1–13)? Young or old, we must make the most of our remaining time by living
in obedience to the will of God.
For believers reaching their
silver years, what adjustments should they make in their daily and spiritual
lives to live the rest of their time well? What support can the church and
their families provide?
MAKING THE BEST OF YOUR SILVER
1. Make Homes Safer
we age, more health issues crop up and we tend to be less steady in our
movements. Hence, to ensure that we live the rest of our time in a reasonably
healthy state, we must modify our living environment—specifically, our
facilities at home. Interestingly, this element of physical safety can be found
in a construction-related biblical passage!
build a new house, then you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may
not bring guilt of bloodshed on your household if anyone falls from it.” (Deut
homes had flat roofs on which people could walk. Homeowners were thus
instructed to incorporate this safety feature: a parapet to prevent people from
falling. Similarly, our homes may have been built or decorated to our previous
tastes. However, if we have reached our silver years or have elderly parents and
relatives living with us, we should take note of what additional fixtures,
fittings or layout changes are needed to make the home senior-friendly. To
minimize the likelihood of accidental falls, it becomes necessary to make
modifications such as railings for the stairs and in bathrooms, better lit
rooms, night lights, and so on. In fact, even the type of accommodation may
need to be reviewed. While a house with two or three stories is ideal for a
large family, it may be more practical for elderly members to downsize to
smaller apartments or single-story homes if they are living on their own.
2. Make Services More Convenient
aging also means that we tire more easily and, with poorer eyesight, travelling
at night may not be as convenient as it was when we were younger. This makes
attending evening services challenging for elderly members. It would be a pity
if such members who are eager to attend services are hindered from doing so
because of physical frailty. A solution adopted by some of the churches in
Taiwan is to change some evening services to morning services. Undoubtedly,
when we adjust service times, there may be misconceptions about the nature of
the service, and the target audience. But these can be overcome.
schedule adjustment made in some Taiwanese churches is to hold the morning prayer service at a later time. In eastern Taiwan,
believers from the the A-Mei tribe used to hold their
morning prayer services at 4 a.m. Getting to church before daylight may be
manageable for the middle-aged, but could be unsafe for those in their
seventies or eighties. Therefore, the church decided to begin morning prayers
at 9 a.m. so that the elderly believers could participate. Later, some churches
in central Taiwan adopted this service time change, enabling more retirees to
come to worship the Lord.
services start a little later has also been useful in prolonging the time that
these retired members can enjoy fellowship with each other. In the church at Feng Lian, morning
prayer takes place from 9 to 9.30 a.m. Afterwards, these elderly members
enjoy catching up with each other over tea. This arrangement has lasted for
almost ten years now, indicating that there is a growing group of people who
want to draw close to God and to each other, encouraging each other to sustain
their faith as they grow old together.
Bible is full of exemplars who maintained their faith well into old age. In the
Old Testament, we see Jacob first as a man anxious to get as much as he could
out of secular life. However, in later life, he had little care for the matters
of the world (Gen 47:9, 28). His main priority was to draw close to
God—worshipping Him whilst leaning on the head of his staff, even as he was
close to his last breaths (Heb 11:21). In the New Testament, Luke tells us of
Anna the prophetess, who worshipped night and day, fasting and praying into her
old age (Lk 2:36–38).
we have exemplary believers today. There was an elderly sister in central
Taiwan who was part of the first generation of True Jesus Church believers.
Hailing from a village church, she had been baptized at a very young age. On
one of my visits, I found her sitting in bed reading her Bible. I asked her how
much she read each day. She replied, “Whenever I feel like reading the Bible, I
just read it.” Her frailty may have confined her to bed, but she did not allow
that to stop her from reading the Bible. Sometimes she read for so long that
her daughter-in-law would make her take a break, and take her out for a stroll.
This sister was ninety years old at that time. Despite her advanced years, she
still had such a great thirst for the word of God.
was another elderly Hakka believer who had been a teacher. After he retired, he
resolved to copy the Bible by hand. In fact, he had already copied the Bible at
least once previously.
all of these different activities—praying, singing hymns, reading the Bible,
copying out Bible passages—enables our elderly members to encourage one other
when they gather. Some believers may have previously been too busy with their
careers or families to focus on their faith. They may now feel a void in their
lives because they are retired or their children have grown up and left the
family homes. This is a good time for them to strengthen or rebuild their
faith. Therefore, churches should consider what sort of logistical adjustments
can be made—service times, transport arrangements, assigned workers—to
3. Make the Effort to Dress Up
there are also personal adjustments that an elderly member has to make in his
or her life. Some feel that, given their advanced years, they can live in any
way they want. So they do not bother to dress up before leaving the house or
take care of their personal hygiene. “Who’s going to bother looking at an old
person?” is a common excuse. But an elderly brother once commented, “Since I am
getting old, I need to dress nice and smart.” This brother was so particular
that he took three showers a day! In short, age should not be an excuse for untidy
dressing or neglecting personal hygiene. We go through the trouble of dressing
up in our best for a special occasion. Dressing up for services, especially for
Sabbath, reflects how we view coming to worship God. It is also a sign of
respect toward our brethren in the community of faith.
4. Learn to Let Go
fourth adjustment we can make is in household management. Specifically, we have
to learn to let go of the reins. When we were young, our parents led the way.
When we had families of our own, we were the heads of our households and made
the decisions for our families. But as we age, our physical and mental stamina
decrease. We do things more slowly and become more forgetful. This is the time
that we should start handing over the baton of family leadership. While we have
a lifetime of experience in many matters that our children and grandchildren
can benefit from, there are also many areas where they may know better. Hence,
we must also start to heed the advice of our children and their spouses, rather
than insist on deciding everything for ourselves.
can arise even if all parties have the best intentions and love for each other.
This is because, as human beings, our thought processes differ. As the senior
generation, we should be conscious that while our children honor and respect
us, they too have grown up and are capable of making good decisions. Therefore,
we should entrust all household matters to the next generation.
common source of conflict is the education of our grandchildren. We may
occasionally disagree with how our children are teaching the next generation,
but we must entrust our grandchildren to their parents. For example, when there
are contrasting ways of child discipline within a family, it will be confusing
to the child and will only end in conflict. When our children scold and punish
our grandchildren, we can comfort the latter afterwards but never interfere
during the disciplining process. Raising grandchildren is not the
responsibility of grandparents, because we no longer have the strength and
vitality to do so. Complement our children’s efforts, but do not contradict or
try to overrule them.
issue is sickness. Many elderly members keep quiet about their illnesses and
refuse to visit the doctor. We have to let our family know. For Christians,
there are only two paths to take when we are sick. First, pray. Whether it be a
major or minor illness: pray. But if the problem persists, we must seek medical
attention. Some elders choose to endure their ailments quietly because they do
not want to trouble their busy children. But when the untreated illness gets
worse, it will become a greater burden on the whole family. Therefore, the
moment we feel ill, pay attention. Do not dismiss it or hide it from our
children. Our children will help us to determine the next steps. While we may
feel we have more experience or we know our body best, do not forget that we
are no longer young.
CAN CHILDREN SUPPORT THEIR ELDERLY PARENTS
Those reaching their
retirement years in recent times (the Baby Boomer Generation) are generally
better educated and more affluent than their parents’ generation. Many of them
have savings, which, together with other changes in social attitudes, have led
to a lower expectation of children caring for their elderly parents. However,
for Christians, as a moral principle, it is important for us to provide for and
look after our parents. It is one of God’s commandments that we honor our
parents (Ex 20:12). In fact, this is a commandment so important that the apostle
Paul repeats it (Eph 6:2), and reminds us that those who do not care for their
own families are worse than non-believers (1 Tim 5:8).
The patriarch Jacob came to
Egypt when he was 130 years old and died at the age of 147 (Gen 47:9, 28).
Jacob lived out his final seventeen years in Egypt. Not coincidentally, Joseph
was seventeen years old when he was sold to Egypt. In other words, Jacob looked
after his son for seventeen years. When Jacob was old, Joseph “repaid” those
seventeen years. Young people should consider the length of time their parents
have spent providing for and taking care of them. This, then, is the time one
should spend caring for their parents. Although society has changed
drastically, we should heed biblical examples and ancient wisdom to show care
and concern for our parents.
Another way of honoring and
caring for our parents is to not bring them shame. In the Old Testament, an
example of children who brought great—if not the greatest—shame to their
parents is the two sons of Eli the high priest. Their egregious acts culminated
in the most humiliating time in Israelite history: when the ark of covenant,
symbol of the Lord God’s presence, was taken captive (1 Sam 4:19–22). A key
warning from the entire series of events is summarized in the name Ichabod, which means “the glory has departed from Israel.”
Eli was not a wicked man. After all, he had once received the revelation of
God—the Lord spoke with him. His family ought to have been a glorious family.
But in his old age, Eli’s sons caused his humiliation and the family’s
downfall. They held the offices of judge and prophet, but brought unprecedented
calamity upon the family and nation.
The lesson to our young
believers today is a reminder to keep our faith. This is the greatest hope of all
God-fearing parents. Such parents are greatly comforted when they see their
offspring serving faithfully in church. Conversely, children who draw further
and further away from the church cause great anxiety in their parents.
Therefore, let us maintain and keep our faith so that we do not see a repeat of
Ichabod in our lives.
The third aspect about
caring for our parents is our attitude towards them.
Hear, my children, the
instruction of a father,
And give attention to know
For I give you good doctrine:
Do not forsake my law.
When I was my father’s son,
Tender and the only one in the
sight of my mother,
He also taught me, and said to
“Let your heart retain my words;
Keep my commands, and live.” (Prov 4:1–4)
Times have changed since our
parents entered adulthood, so our ways of thinking will inevitably differ from
theirs. But differences should not be an excuse for disrespect. In ancient
societies, elders were held in great esteem as the source of deep wisdom drawn
from life experience. However, in the last thirty to fifty years, there has
been a dramatic decline in the status of the elderly. One reason is the rise of
computers, which has revolutionized our society. Children and young people
today are known as digital natives—they seem to understand technology and all
things digital almost instinctively. On the other hand, older people are far
less knowledgeable or comfortable in this arena. Such a digital divide has had
a massive impact on households. In the past, parents would be the ones guiding
children through their academic work. Today, young children impatiently tell
their elders off for being unable to handle their digital devices. This is a
simple example of how technology appears to have ushered in different values
However, our young people
must remember that, one day, they too will age and be
slower to grasp the prevailing technology. Apart from humility and considering
others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3), a critical attitude for the young and
technologically-proficient is to remember what is important. Advances in
science and technology can improve the standard of living. But these are only
gadgets and tools. Do not be so immersed in these that we forget the things
that are essential to life: our God, our faith and harmony in our homes. These
should be the areas that we invest our time and effort in because they truly improve
the quality of life.
LOOK FORWARD WITH HOPE
The silver-haired head is a crown
If it is found in the way of
righteousness. (Prov 16:31)
people fear aging and the inevitable aches and pains. But Christians need not
fear; in fact, we can look forward to the future with great anticipation for
two reasons. For one thing, after having worked for a few decades, most of us
would be at a comfortable part of our lives and careers. Retirement gives us
time to enjoy doing whatever, and going wherever, interests us. But the more
important thing to remember is that each day brings us closer to the grace of
God. We are blessed to be in the True Jesus Church community of faith as we
have the truth, the spirit of God, and a supportive family in Christ. Moreover,
when we place our hope in the Lord Jesus, it is a steadfast and glorious hope
because, while all may change, Jesus will remain the same. This is the true
reason why the silver-haired head is such a crown of glory.
ensure that elderly members are truly able to enjoy their days in comfort and
glory, adjustments are necessary. Individuals and their families need to make
home modifications to ensure physical safety. Churches can adjust schedules to
sustain worship activities for them. Elderly individuals can also recalibrate
their roles within their families to improve familial interactions. All these
enable us to praise the Lord and lift up our praying hands in His name, to
remember and meditate on God in the night as long as we live (Ps 63:4–6).
Meanwhile, our young must not despise the old. Heeding biblical principles of
conduct and, in particular, the teachings on interactions between the young and
old—found in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians—will enable all of
us to live the rest of our time well and to make these years glorious.