I believe I first heard this phrase from Beryl Quinn. And if anyone has proved this maxim it has been her. In recent years Beryl has undergone major surgeries, endured relentlessly severe headaches, and has fallen, resulting in broken bones and torn ligaments. In fact, she has been good for the medical industry!
When I reflect upon Beryl’s disposition in these trials, the words “grace” and “graciousness” come to mind. She has proven that indeed growing old is not for sissies; but, furthermore, she has displayed that the afflictions that accompany growing old can be a means of bringing glory to God. And the same can be said for many other senior saints of BBC.
In my Bible reading this morning I read the account in John 21 where Jesus confronts Peter with His threefold questioning concerning his love. Each time that Peter tells the Lord that he loves Him, the Lord responds with an assignment: “Feed my sheep” (vv. 15–17). In other words, if you love the Lord then you will love and care for His people. Subsequently Jesus prophesies, “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish” (v. 18). John then adds the comment: “This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God” (v. 19).
There is much in these words to be fruitfully pondered, particularly for those of us who are growing older. And one such observation is that Jesus was attesting that growing old (particularly for Christians) is not for sissies.
The picture is of Peter being carried helplessly (“you will stretch out your hands and another will gird (clothe) you and carry you, where you do not wish”), and yet according to John Peter would be going hopefully for he would bring glory to God in his death. This is the way to grow old unlike a sissy.
The Lord was saying that, as a younger man, Peter was able, to some degree, to call the shots. The words of Jesus, however, indicate that as Peter grew older he would no longer be so autonomous but would rather, quite literally, find himself in the hands of others. The word “gird” comes from the word for “belt.” It conveys the ideas both of being clothed as well as being “readied for action,” as in the archaic phrase, “gird your loins.” I think that both ideas are present here.
Peter had been used to independently readying himself for action in the world. But Jesus said that the day would come when another would determine his schedule; and in this case Peter would be scheduled by others for martyrdom. As an old man, Peter would be carried by others to his death. Rather than clothing himself to face the day with new prospects of success, he would be shrouded for his death. The prophecy came true. Tradition informs us that Peter was carried to a cross where he died a martyr.
Now, this appears very macabre. And the fact is that life, even for the Christian, is at times pretty ugly. Yet let’s not ignore John’s insight that Peter’s death was the means by which “he would glorify God.” Growing old is not for sissies, at least not for those who desire to be sanctified and hence for God to be glorified.
Peter no doubt had many great moments in his life and ministry. Consider his experience on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the healing of the paralysed man (Acts 3), the miraculous deliverance from prison (Acts 4), the opening of the door of faith for the Gentiles (Acts 10), and the deliverance from prison—again (Acts 12)! Yet I would venture the opinion that his greatest accomplishment was the manner in which he died.
Jesus prophesied that Peter would glorify Jesus in the manner in which he died. All of his experiences recorded in Acts were glorious, yet it seems that his prophesied submission to martyrdom—the submissive manner in which he would face death—was the greatest means of his glorifying God.
My father is now in a wheelchair. The man whom I can testify is the hardest worker I have known is now helplessly dependant on another to get around. I have seen my father completely wearied from his labours, but he was always able to get up the next day to “gird” himself to walk wherever he wished. Those days are gone. He now faces the biggest challenge of his life: glorifying God as he heads into an earthly future where he would not wish. If the Lord spares you, you too will face such a time. Will you resist it like a sissy or will you embrace it like a saint?
As much as we might claim to believe that our sufficiency is of the Lord nevertheless the ageing process brings us to the confession that we really cannot go it alone. And the sooner we realise this, the sooner we will stretch out our hands and embrace what otherwise we would not. When we do this with a Christ-centred, Christ-devoted disposition, then in our weakness, like aged Peter, we will glorify God.
The experience of Peter serves as a paradigm for the Christian life. As we grow older in Christ we are to be growing less independent and more dependent upon Him. For as Jesus testified, “without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Peter was learning to be more dependant but old age would be his final teacher. And so it is for all of us.
But this lesson is not merely for those who are silver-haired; it applies to all of us. After all, regardless of your age, you may face adversity that carries you where you do not wish. For example, I am reminded of Jonathan Edwards, who laboured faithfully as the pastor of a local church for 23 years. After over two decades of faithful and fruitful ministry—ministry from which the church to this very day is benefitting—Edwards was unceremoniously booted from the pastorate. But thankfully Edwards did not leave the manse like a sissy; rather he continued to serve the Lord as a saint. He gave the remaining years of his life to feeding another flock of sheep, a small group of believers from a tribe of Native Americans. He would not have wished to be disrespectfully treated by his congregation, but his submissiveness to the hands of God empowered him to stretch out his hands to those mistreating him, and in the end God was glorified by the salvation of souls elsewhere. He learned that growing old in the ministry is not for sissies—and he learned this to the glory of God.
So, whether it be ageing or adversity, let us be determined to persevere in dependant submission upon the one who ordains all things. Let us worshipfully stretch out our hands and glorify God.