THE PRAYER OF AN OLD MAN (PS 71)

 

He can look back, see God’s faithfulness, and apply it to struggles peculiar to age. He grabs onto the anchor of hope, when the body does not respond like it used to, when he’s being used in different ways than when he was young. He revels in the riches and acknowledges that life is never without its hardships.

 

Two times the psalmist reviews God’s goodness in being his refuge, his safe place. But he still needs it: “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness. Be my rock of refuge to which I can always go” (3). Trust has prevailed, but anxieties still surface to rob his peace, so he goes to his Source. He returns to his beginning to draw strength: “From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb” (6).

 

He asks God not to forsake him or cast him off when he is old. It might suggest that he is experiencing that from people who may no longer consider him an asset. Old people fear being a liability to their loved ones. But he is fighting fiercer battles and cannot settle back and rest: “For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together. They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.’ Be not far from me, O God; come quickly, O my God, to help me’” (11, 12).

 

He does not allow the worries and the fight for his life to get an upper hand: “But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long… (14,15).

 

Then he realizes a predominant mandate of age: “When when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (18). The elderly have stories of God’s goodness and provision that can link the generations and pass on to grandchildren the unsurpassed ways of a faithful God. They understand well that suffering remains a portion of our life throughout, but it neither overwhelms or destroys us. They are valuable witnesses to those running their race. With a more sedentary life, they feel less useful than the active, with bodies and minds that slow them down. The younger must urge them to tell the stories that link us with the past, helping the youth to walk into their future.

 

This psalm combines reality and vulnerability: “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again” (20, 21). A positive outlook that does not address problems feels shallow and comfortless. We draw strength from this old man, as he gives us both grace and truth.
He closes by grabbing his guitar to celebrate the livelong steadfastness of God. No one but a senior could write a psalm like this. You might want to read the full psalm and thank God for elders in your life, and especially those with grace to testify to the unwavering love of the Father.

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