A senior citizen began her poetic letter to an old friend with these words:
Just a line to say I'm living, that I'm not among the dead;
Though I'm getting more forgetful, and mixed up in my head,
I got used to my arthritis, to my dentures I'm resigned;
I can manage my bifocals, but I sure do miss my mind.
Of course, such self-deprecating humor shows the writer actually possesses a very sharp wit (as do most aging adults) and is not in the least mentally diminished.
Yet, the writer of Psalm 71 is not enjoying life as his biological clock winds down. We know he's elderly because he talks about waning strength and gray hair (vv. 9,18). Things aren't easy. Otherwise, why would he ask for rescue and deliverance (vv. 2-4), or feel peril from his adversaries (vv. 10-13), or indicate his troubles are many and bitter—that he is in "the depths of the earth" (v. 20)? The longest shadows are cast at the ending of the day.
A Lifetime of Experience
"In You, O LORD, I seek refuge; may I never be put to shame. Deliver me in Your righteousness and help me escape; incline Your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge to enter continually; You have given commandment to save me; for You are my rock and my stronghold. Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unjust and cruel man" (vv. 1-4).
What does the psalmist do with the adversities pressing against him in old age? What do you do with yours?
Based upon a lifetime of experience, the psalmist testifies to the predictability of God's care for him: "On You I have supported myself from the womb; You took me out of my mother's womb. My praise will continually be about You" (v. 6).
When did you begin relying on the Lord? Are you still doing so?
Throughout adolescence, a time of rebellion for many, the Psalmist had continued to turn his heart toward God: "O God, You have taught me from my youth; and until now I have proclaimed Your wondrous works" (v. 17).
You will notice that David's name is not attached to this psalm. But the language (God as rock and fortress), as well as the testimony, seem to be his. When David was a teenager, God described him "as a man after his own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14). His early years were filled with friends, successes, victories and good times. The bear, the lion and Goliath were all conquerable. Nothing could stop him.
But then another person, Saul, made choices which penetrated David's cocoon of personal well-being, and ultimately, David himself made sinful decisions that greatly damaged himself, his family and those who believed in him.
Who hasn't had both of these things happen by the time of reaching old age? Many have suffered wrongs they did not deserve, but they have also been responsible for some of their own sorrow.
This side of eternity, we do not know how many times David faced trouble. Every time we hear him pray, he is either just entering, in the midst of or emerging from a deep assault on his soul. This psalm of old age is no different—life has not gotten easier.
A Deeper Confidence
But age does bring a different perspective. In his dire moments of need, David no longer looks for a place of refuge; he has found it: "In you, LORD, I have taken [past tense] refuge" (v. 1, NIV).
In his younger years, when he fled into the wilderness from Saul's court, he wandered—never knowing the location of his next place of refuge. Now he knows exactly where to hole up and hide out: "Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go" (v. 3, MEV).
Psalm 71 reads as a familiar litany for David: He knows there will always be those opposing him, who think they have him trapped. He is now old and his strength is gone (v. 9), while his enemies are conspiring and saying that God himself has forsaken him (vv. 10-11).
But David knows better. The God he has served does not abandon him or trade him in for someone else. God's "I love you" is not a tease, nor is it here today and gone tomorrow.
A Positive Outlook
Verses 14-18 reflect the mature experience of someone who has walked with God for years—summarized eloquently by the opening phrase, "But as for me, I will always have hope."
As an old man, the psalmist takes a final look ahead. He's not bitter or grouchy. His remaining years may be few—but another generation is coming. He wants his life to be the laboratory, the model in which God demonstrates His power for the benefit of the children and grandchildren streaming in behind him (v. 18).
At the end of life's day, will you be found praising God (vv. 19-24)? Many would rather talk about all their bad breaks and bum deals. David had more than his share of those, but he didn't dwell on them. Instead, he looked to God for a better future (vv. 20-21).
Therefore, it's time to pick up the harp and worship. Sing of His faithfulness (v. 22), of His redemption (v. 23) and of His righteous acts "all day long" (v. 24).
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