In my thirties and forties, I remember encouraging others to start preparing for their retirement, not just financially, but mentally and spiritually. Everyone ages, but not everyone ages with grace. You can’t expect to reach sixty or seventy or eighty, and become magically gracious, kind, loving and wise, if you never practiced any of these throughout your life. I find myself revisiting this now.
As someone who served as a chaplain in a retirement community for twelve years, I’m well aware of the trials of aging in this life. I’ve sat with many as they have one by one lost physical abilities, the ability to see, hear, walk, control bodily functions, and the ability to remember even cherished loved ones. And now I’m confronting my sixtieth birthday, the dividing line in my mind between middle age and being a “senior.” I’m aware that the path behind me is longer than the path ahead. While the final outcome is inevitable, the journey to that outcome may take many turns–some desirous, others not so desirous.
A friend and mentor who died from Parkinson once told me how part of the progress of the disease was that issues he had dealt with in the past were resurfacing as if he had never dealt with them. How depressing. To think that I spent all of this time working on myself, trying to grow spiritually and personally, only to have it all wiped away as I age. Why spend the time in the first place?
But amidst all the voices that would lead me to look to the future with discouragement, Psalm 138 reminds me that God is good and worthy of praise; God is present and will continue to be present. God has helped me in the past and will continue to help me in the future.
A hymn of praise and thanksgiving by an individual, Psalm 138 begins with words of praise, “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart, before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy image and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” (1-2a) The psalmist recalls how God helped him in a time of distress, “On the day I called, you answered me, my strength of soul you increased.” (3)
We don’t know the nature of the writer’s troubles–just that God answered and gave him strength. It was common to conclude a lament with a vow to offer thanks. At times these thanks were expressed as a separate hymn such as this one. How much more powerful are our words of thanks when they follow an incident of being rescued, stronger than generic words of thanksgiving.
Because of this experience, the writer is able to look to the future with confidence. “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.” (7)
Not only that, the writer knows that come what may, God will help him fulfill his purpose, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” (8a) Like God’s word that never fails to do what it is meant to do, if we are truly trying to do God’s will, then we will achieve that.
One of my concerns is that I may leave this life without having done what God wants me to do. This passage reassures me that it is enough to seek God’s will in my life; God will provide the rest.
Throughout my life, I’ve had difficulties and heartaches, but my life has also been blessed. The blessings outnumber the hardships. Through it all God has been present. Why would God abandon me now?
And so I look to the future with confidence, knowing that, “The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.” (8a)
As you look to the future, does it look bleak or full of promise? What might you do to change that?