Let my mouth be filled with thy praise and with thy honour all the day. Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. For mine enemies speak against me; and they that lay wait for my soul take counsel together, Psalm 71:8-10
"I do hope my Father will let the river of my life go flowing fully until the finish," F.B. Meyer said to a friend. Then the saintly British preacher added, "I don't want it to end in a swamp."
When I read that statement, I recalled hearing the late president of Moody Bible Institute, Dr William Culbertson, pray, "Lord, help us to end well!"
This psalm was written by a saint who wanted to end well, a man who realized that old age presented its own special dangers and demands even in the life of a believer. He knew that the mature years of life not only created problems, but also revealed them-problems that have been hidden in the heart of all during life. The writer had been blessed with a godly childhood and youth (vv. 5-6, 17), so he had an excellent foundation for old age; but he took nothing for granted.
Translators differ in their approach to this psalm. Some translate verses 9 and 18 as though the writer were already in his "declining years." But I feel that this psalm was written by a believer in middle age, contemplating his old age. Verse 18 can be translated, "Even when I am near to old age and being grayheaded." In other words, the psalmist was going through a "mid-life crisis" as he faced his retirement years. Many people have shared this same experience, so any encouragement he can give will certainly be appreciated! The crises of old age do not make us; they show what we are made of already.
You will note that three times in Psalm 71 the writer used the phrase "all the day" (vv. 8,15, 24). One thing we all have to do, young or old, is learn to live a day at a time, depending on Christ all the day. If we try to carry the mistakes of yesterday and the worries about tomorrow, we will only turn today into defeat. "As thy days, so shall thy strength be" (Deut. 33:25).
This phrase "all the day" divides the psalm into three stanzas; and in each of these stanzas, the writer shares a wonderful assurance about God to encourage us in our old age.
1. God will protect us (vv. 1-8)
Whether we like it or not, for most people, the "mature years" are years of growing helplessness. This does not mean that everybody suddenly falls apart! We are all "fearfully and wonderfully made," but we are all different. Some of God's "senior saints" are remarkably strong and seem to suffer no physical or mental decline. But, for the most part, each of us slowly begins to discover that the demands are greater than the supplies. A friend told me that he had reached "the metallic age." "I have silver in my hair, gold in my teeth, iron in my vitamin pills, and lead in my shoes!" As we grow older we have many fears; and we need a refuge in God. Will we have sufficient funds to pay our bills? Who will take care of us if we have a fall or become ill? Is it safe to live alone? Though some of our "enemies" are imaginary old age does bring with it some serious problems that cannot be avoided.
But the greatest concern of the writer was that he not be put to shame. He wanted to end well to the glory of God. I heard about one preacher who used to pray, "Lord, deliver me from becoming a mean old man!" A friend said to me, "As I grow into old age, I want to become mellow, not rotten."
The psalmist prayed that God would protect him and be to him a strong habitation, a rock, a fortress. This does not mean that the psalmist wanted to run and hide and escape life. Rather, he needed God as his "refuge and strength" (Ps. 46:1), so that he might be able to face life courageously and glorify God. "I am as a wonder unto many" (v. 7) suggests that others were watching him and marveling at what God did for him. His victories were an encouragement to others as well as a witness to the glory of God.
But the assurance of God's protection is not something that we automatically know and believe. The writer got an early start when it came to putting his trust in God. "By Thee I have been sustained from my birth; Thou art He who took me from my mother's womb" (v. 6, NASB). Like Timothy, the writer was privileged to be born into a home where God was honored and the Word trusted (2 Tim. 1:5).
We do not lay the foundations of our faith in our later years; we must lay them in childhood and youth. For some professing Christians, their "golden years" are really "leaden years" because they wasted their youth and did not lay solid foundations of faith. This does not mean that an older person who has missed his opportunities to live for Christ is automatically a failure. It is never too late to serve God. But the time to start sowing the seed for a "late harvest" of blessing is when we are in our younger years. The psalmist had a real burden to share this truth with the next generation (Ps. 71:18).
Because the psalmist continually resorted to the Lord (v.3), he enjoyed continual praise (v. 6). There is a tendency for older people to become critical and bitter and to spend a good deal of time complaining. But this psalm is saturated with praise (vv 6, 8, 14-16, 22). And this is not occasional and intermittent praise; it is continual praise! As we abide in Christ, trust Him, and depend on His grace, we always have something to sing about.
Devotional writer Oswald Chambers told of meeting a man he had known years ago, "a mighty man of God," who had become shallow, talkative, and dead spiritually. In 10 short years, the man had decayed and did not know it. "The fear of sloth and indulgence has come home with a huge fear" Chambers wrote, "and fairly driven me to God to keep me from forgetting what I owe Him." It is good medicine and therapy to praise God. It keeps us young!
As we enter our mature years, we need not fear because God will protect us. He will be our shelter in the storm, our fortress in the battle. As we continually abide in Him, He will strengthen us and enable us to praise Him; and that praise will keep us from criticizing and complaining. The wicked may accuse, threaten, and attack us, but God will surround and sustain us. He will not always prevent troubles, but He will protect us in troubles and eventually bring us out better than when we went in.
2. God will be with us (vv. 9-15)
Loneliness is a major problem in our "golden years" if we do not know Christ and trust Him. As we grow older, friends and family either move away or die; and sometimes we must relocate, and that means pulling up roots and being transplanted. Sometimes those who ought to care the most pay the least attention to us. Not everybody can afford to live in a busy retirement home where staff experts plan interesting meetings where residents can get to know new people.
The burden of the psalmist's prayer is that God would stay with him during his declining years. "Cast me not off," "Forsake me not," "Be not far from me" (vv. 9, 12). Many older people do feel like "castoffs." It is encouraging to see that some churches provide special ministries for the "golden agers," not only for those who are able to get around, but also for those who are confined. They make sure that their shut-ins get a phone call every day. They provide tapes of the Sunday services for those who cannot attend. In two of the churches I pastored, the young people visited the older members on a regular basis.
It is when we feel lonely and left out that we are most susceptible to the attacks of the enemy. We start to feel sorry for ourselves, and this only makes us critical of others. Self-pity is a terrible weapon in the hands of the adversary. We do not know who the specific enemies were that the psalmist had to oppose. They were certainly a discouraging crowd, "Saying, God hath forsaken him" (v. 11). They were also selfish, because they wanted him to die so they could get his possessions. We get the impression that they were spreading lies about the psalmist, trying to bring disgrace to his name.
He was too weak to fight them himself (v. 9), so he turned them over to the Lord. He knew that God would be with him no matter what his trials or battles might be. However, one of the problems of old age is impatience. The older we grow, the more difficult it is to wait. "Make haste for my help" is his prayer (v. 12). In other words, "Lord, help me-and do it now!"
In the previous stanza of this psalm, the writer declared that he would continually resort to God (v. 3) and continually praise Him (v. 6); and now he adds that he will continually hope in the Lord (v. 14). One of my Hebrew lexicons lists seven different words that are translated "hope" in our King James Version. The one used in verse 14 means a long and patient waiting in spite of delay and disappointment. It is a hope that is strengthened with bright expectation: we know that God is going to meet our needs and accomplish His purposes. The opposite of this "hope" is a feeling of fear and dread.
Keep in mind that "hope" in the Bible is not a self-produced feeling of encouragement that is imaginary, nor is it "wishful thinking" of the "hope-so" variety. A Christian's hope is built on the solid foundation of the character of God and the Word of God. It is this word that Job used when he said of God, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust [hope] in Him" (Job 13:15).
What is a believer's source of hope? It is God! We have hope because God has saved us (Rom. 5:1-2) and certainly He is not going to abandon us (Rom. 8:31-32). We have hope because of the Spirit who lives within us (Rom. 15:13) and because of the Word He has given us (Rom. 15:4). Jesus Christ is our hope (1 Tim. 1:1).
The result of this is "I will . . . yet praise Thee more and more (v. 14). Here is an optimistic outlook on life! Instead of finding more and more things to complain about, the psalmist found more and more blessings to give praise for!
I mentioned Dr. F.B. Meyer at the beginning of this chapter. One day he met a woman on the train, and he could see that she was depressed and burdened with care. She told him that her crippled daughter had died and this crisis had almost ruined her life. This mother had been accustomed to preparing a meal for her child before leaving for work each morning, and she anticipated the daughter's happy greeting at the end of the day.
Meyer said to her, "When you get home and put the key in the door, say aloud, 'Jesus, I know You are here.' As you light the fire, tell Him what happened during the day. At night, stretch out your hand in the darkness and say, 'Jesus, I know You are here!'"
The same woman met Meyer some weeks later, and he did not recognize her. Instead of lines of misery on her face, there was a smile of joy. "I did as you told me," she said, "and it has made all the difference in my life, and now I feel I know Him."
So far the two assurances we have discussed center on our needs and our feelings. If we are not careful, we will become very self-centered! That is why the psalmist added a third assurance.
3. God will use us to encourage others (vv. 16-24)
The emphasis in this section is on sharing our personal witness with others, especially those of the next generation (see v. 18). God does not bless us simply that we might enjoy His goodness. He blesses us that we may in turn be a blessing to others. "I will bless thee.., and thou shalt be a blessing" (Gen. 12:2). It is certainly wonderful to receive a blessing, but it is even more wonderful to be a blessing! This truth especially applies to the older saints. Some of them get the idea that, since they have retired from work, they can also retire from ministry. Some of my friends who pastor churches in the large "retirement cities" complain to me that too many able-bodied retirees will not serve the Lord in their local church. "We did our share," they explain. "Now let somebody else do the job." While it is true that the older officers sometimes need to make room for younger leadership, it is also true that age is no excuse or argument for careless Christian living. "Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age" (Ps. 92:13-14).
To begin with, we need to minister in our daily walk. "I will go in the strength of the Lord God" (Ps. 71:16a). We have no strength of our own; our power for living must come from Christ. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). The psalmist wanted to show God's strength to the next generation (v. 18) that the younger believers might learn to trust God.
Blessed is that church that has a group of senior saints whose walk honors the Lord. Age is no guarantee of maturity or wisdom. There are old fools as well as young fools! But when the "elders of the land" glorify God in their lives, this is a tremendous encouragement to any church. Paul encouraged Titus to show respect to godly "senior saints" and to let them help teach the younger ones in the church (Titus 2:1-5).
Older Christians should glorify God in their walk and also in their words. "I will make mention of Thy righteousness" (v. 16). Mature believers who have been through the difficult experiences of life can teach younger believers a great deal about the Christian life. Personally, I thank God for the older believers who have helped me in my life and ministry men and women who could pray, encourage, rebuke in love, and teach me more about God. Just watching their lives was a great encouragement!
Notice the emphasis on the righteousness of God (vv. 16, 19, 24). The longer we walk with God, the clearer we see His ways and understand His heart. A younger Christian is prone to question God and wonder if the Father really is doing the right thing. But a mature saint knows that the Judge of all the earth will do right (Gen. 18:2 5). There are no mistakes in His plans.
We encourage others by our walk and our witness. We also encourage others by the way we go through testing. I like the way the New Berkley Version translates Psalm 71:20-21: "Thou, who has made me experience troubles great and sore, wilt revive me again and wilt bring me up again from the depths of the earth. Thou wilt add to my stature, and comfort me again."
In spite of their knowledge and experience, the senior saints have their days of testing, and discouragement. Abraham faced his greatest test when he was well over 100 years of age! No matter how old we are, there are still new lessons to learn and new territory to conquer. We must never stop growing in spiritual stature.
These verses assure us that God is in control of all testing, and that He will revive us when we feel dead, resurrect us when we feel low, and renew and enlarge us in our spiritual life. Job was not a young man when he experienced that great affliction, and just think of how he has encouraged suffering saints down through the centuries! For most of us, getting older creates new problems and makes new demands on us. Yet each challenge is an opportunity for spiritual growth for encouragement and ourselves for others. Through our lives, younger believers can see the strength and power of the Lord.
The psalm ends on a high note of praise and song. The psalmist used his hands to praise God, for he played the harp. He used his lips to praise God as he sang joyfully of his redemption. All the day he was sharing with others what God had done for him. That certainly is better than sitting around and complaining!
Whatever happened to the enemies that he was so worried about?
He was concerned in verse 1 that he not be put to shame by failing the Lord, and thus give grounds to the enemy to attack. He prayed in verse 13 that the enemy might be confounded, and the answer to that prayer is recorded in verse 24: "For they [the enemy] are confounded, for they are brought unto shame, that seek my hurt."
The lesson is clear: occupy yourself with the Lord, and He will take care of your enemies. Fill your day with praise to the Lord and that praise will defeat your foes. Along with your praise, pray to Him for help; and be sure to give witness to those around you. This is a combination that is unbeatable!
You may not be going through a mid-life crisis, or even be in your retirement years. Perhaps you are a younger person. So much the better! Start now to make your "golden years" happy years. What you are going to be then you are becoming right now. The seed you are sowing now will give the harvest in later years. We know not how long we will live, or when the Lord will return; so we must prepare for the future. The best way to meet the Lord is by faithfully doing His will each day. Then you will always be ready!
It has well been said that the important thing is not so much that we add years to our life as life to our years. What shall it profit a man if he shall live a long life and be miserable, and make other people miserable! Determine now, by the grace of God, to "end well." Don't allow the river of your life to end in a swamp.
From Meet Yourself in the Psalms Copyright ©1983 Used By Permission