Lifelong Faith - Psalm 71
Sometimes young people and new converts wonder if their faith will last and endure over a lifetime. In this Psalm we find the prayer of a godly man who is now old. Psalm 71 ends the Psalms written by David and thus it is appropriate that the last psalm that David wrote is the one concerning the challenges of old age. “The psalm is a song of old age and is therefore for all who are old or will be, which is going to be true for most of us sooner or later” (Psalms 42-106, James Montgomery Boice, p. 593).“All we know, or need to know, is that he is old or aging, and has seen exceptional trouble (7) which shows no sign of abating. Against his failing strength he now sets a long memory of God’s faithfulness and a growing hope in His life-renewing power”(Psalms 1-72, Derek Kidner, p. 250). This psalm will handle four subjects: (1) Old age and its problems, (2) how the past looks from the perspective of old age, (3) the future in terms of what is yet to be done, (4) praise from one who has lived long enough to have observed God’s faithful ways.
Rock and Fortress: 71:1-3
Clearly the author is now an older man (71:9), he has trusted in God from his youth (71:5), yet even with years of experience and wisdom, the writer still desperately needs God. Even though we might expect or even demand that our “golden years” be problem free, here we learn that old age will bring its own trials. Decades after his first acts of faith, the Psalmist desires tocontinually come to God (71:3). The writer says, “In Thy righteousness deliver me” (71:2), “He can go to God continually as his secure defense and protection, and as we learn later, he has done so over a lifetime. In praying for God to keep him, then, the psalmist is merely asking God to be Himself, to be true to His own revelation” (Psalms 1-72, Donald Williams, p. 479).
Friend from Birth: 71:4-6
“Verses 5 and 6 show us that this cry for deliverance is based upon the character of God and the history of His dealings with the psalmist since birth” (Williams p. 479).
Notice that the writer, in his youth, had not placed his confidence in his strength, looks or prosperity, rather his trust had always been in God.
One reason the writer had so much confidence in God was because he took the time to review the entire history of his life and chose to see all the times that God had delivered him. We need to do this more often ourselves. As a result of such a memory, the writer was eager and willing to praise God continually. Even when he was old, David had vividly remembered how he had come to believe in God, trust Him, and serve Him. He was fully aware that God had been with him, even before childhood, reaching all the way back to the beginning of his existence.
A Marvel to Many: 71:7
The word marvel is hard to define because it can be taken either in a good or bad sense. In a negative sense it would mean something like, “Has anybody suffered as much as David?” In a good sense, it would mean that people marveled at how he had made it through all his trials. I prefer this sense of the word. I believe many Christians are a “marvel” to their unbelieving friends and neighbors. People marvel at the optimism, strength, courage, endurance, and joy of Christians. They may marvel at what we seem to be able to pack into our schedules. They may marvel at the number of quality friendships we have, or the happiness in our marriages and families.
Lessons Concerning Old Age
Weakness, the loss of former strength:
“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength fails” (71:9).
Especially if we have been extremely active, always involved, and often helping others, coming to terms with limited physical abilities will be a challenge. At this present moment we need to accept the fact that since we will need to ask people for help in the future, we need to let people into our lives now and we need to transfer the confidence or pride that we have in our physical abilities to confidence in God and His abilities.
The Troubles will not go away:
“For my enemies have spoken against me; and those who watch for my life have consulted together, saying, ‘God has forsaken him’” (71:10-11).
“The second problem of old age is that the difficulties we have faced throughout our lives do not go away but instead remain with us. And the trouble they cause is augmented because of our diminishing strength or capacities to deal with them” (Boice p. 594). This is something that might catch a number of people by surprise. Often when a person is young they daydream about their future and the time when they will be financially secure or at least when their present problems are no more, yet this psalm warns us. We will never reach a stage in our lives when all the problems, worries or adversaries will be gone. “The speaker might have expected mature age to bring exemption from such attacks, but such is not the case” (Boice p. 594).Therefore, I must continue to grow in my faith, because in old age I will still have problems, adversaries and worries, but now many of the distractions of youth will be gone. I will no longer be able to throw myself into a hobby or career or some other diversion, my strength and abilities will then be limited, and it will simply be me, my problem, and God.
“Pursue and seize him, for there is no one to deliver” (71:11).
“The third thing that bothered David is that as he grew older, he had fewer people to help him, to solve or help shoulder these burdens” (Boice p. 595). Even though godly people still existed, there is a difference now for many of David’s contemporaries are gone. Even though the younger generation may visit David from time to time it is still not the same as the support he had received from lifelong friends who are now gone.
“The reflections David gives us concerning old age are not so we will wring our hands and complain about how bad it is to grow old, but the to the contrary. David wants us to see that even old age is given to us by God, is one of His good gifts and should be used for His glory and the blessing and well-being of others. He gets into these points first by pausing to look back over his long life and reflect on what he has learned about God. We have spoken about the problems of old age, which are great. But one great advantage is in having a long experience of God’s presence, faithfulness, and blessing” (Boice pp. 595-596).
Looking Ahead: Teaching the Next Generation
“And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come” (71:18).
“I suppose there are some people who in their old age only look back to the past and are often quite unhappy as they do. They think of what they have had and lost or what they wish they could have had yet never did. The present does not mean much to them except as a basis for complaining about their multiplying aches and pains. David’s approach to old age was not like this. For not only did he look to the past to remember God’s goodness and faithfulness to him over the many long years of his life, he also looked to the future in terms of the work yet remaining to be done” (Boice p. 597).
There is a great work to be done, when older, and that is to tell of God’s faithfulness and your experiences of such to the present and younger generation. “The old person who has lived with God longer and has seen more of God’s faithfulness over more years of life than younger people, however much they may know” (Boice p. 597), is greatly needed among God’s people.
Someone has noted that the Church is always one generation away from total extinction; meaning that each generation has the awesome privilege of teaching the next, and David understood the importance of this task.
The Blessings of the Present/Praising God Now:
“And I still declare Thy wondrous deeds” (71:17).
The past is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and power, and he looks to the future of the important work that still needs to be done – especially by older people. While in the present he will continue to praise God, his lifelong faithful companion, deliverer, and friend.
This will Work Out Too:
“Thou, who hast shown me many troubles and distresses, wilt revive me again” (71:20).
The most significant word in the above line is the term “again”. Here is the aged saint, still in the fight, still surrounded by foes and problems and yet confidently knowing that His God will deliver again. There have been too many deliverances in the past to even question God’s ability now. It will all work out!