When it comes to Christian service, one of the hardest things can be knowing when to retire. For some, retirement from Christian service comes with retirement from regular employment. In the somewhat famous imagery of John Piper, they give themselves to collecting seashells on the beach and leave all forms of ministry to the next generation. Others tend to hold onto their influence for as long as possible, often longer than is good for the church. They don’t want to hand over and end up serving in areas long past the time when their effectiveness in particular ministry engagement has waned.
The Old Testament priests never really had this problem. It was resolved for them. According to Numbers 8:23–26, the Levites were to serve in temple ministry from the age of 25 until they turned fifty. At fifty, “they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more.” Of course, they did not retire to collect seashells. “He may assist his brothers to fulfil responsibilities at the tent of meeting, but he must not do the work” (CSB). While the Lord commanded a formal retirement age (as young as fifty!), he nevertheless expected the more seasoned Levites to assist the younger generation in temple ministry.
Psalm 92, which is titled “a song for the Sabbath” picks up on this principle, but applies it more broadly than the Levites. After praising the Lord for his character (vv. 1–9) and thanking him for his strength (vv. 10–11), the psalmist writes,
The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
Notice carefully: All those who “are planted in the house of the LORD” will “still bear fruit in old age.” There is an expectation that God’s people will remain connected to his house and therefore remain fruitful even in their senior years. In a real sense, there is no retirement from ministry.
Christians should always be thinking multigenerationally. That is, we should always be thinking how we can train the next generation and prepare it for fruitfulness. It is an indictment when a church dies after just a generation or two. When that happens, someone has failed to do what God has called them to do. At the same time, equipping the next generation in no way absolves us from bearing fruit well into our senior years.
Whether you are relatively young or more advanced in years, this psalm should help you to prepare for lifelong fruitfulness. The way to ensure such fruitfulness is to be “planted in the house of the LORD.” As you remain connected to his people, opportunities for fruitfulness will present themselves, and you should do all you can to seize those opportunities.
Perhaps you are not in “formal” Christian ministry and therefore think that you have little, if anything, to offer in terms of fruitfulness in your advanced years. Let this psalm speak to you. Let it remind us all that we need fruitful older saints to model what faithful Christianity looks like, to model what faithful church membership looks like, to model what faithful marriage looks like, and to model what faithful parenting (or grandparenting) looks like.
Older Christian, do not think that your time for fruitfulness has past and expect it only from younger Christians. Younger Christian, be thankful for the legacy of older Christians, from whom you have much to learn. Let all of us remain committed to being planted in the house of the Lord so that we might bear fruit in old age.