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First Thoughts

Aging With Grace

When we read God’s Word, we see that the grace we need for all of these days, whether we’re in our early adult years or farther along in our life here on earth, is a gift from God. God is the giver of grace (James 5:6).

There is an old hymn that I love very much. It is named “He Giveth Again.” I want to tell you a little of the story of the hymn writer of this hymn, Annie Johnson Flint. Annie had been born on Christmas Eve, 1866, in Vineland, N.J., to parents Eldon and Jean Johnson, and they looked at her as their greatest earthly gift. Three years later, little Annie would lose her mother, who died as she gave birth to her baby sister. Her only remembrance of her mother’s face was after the birth of her sister; she saw her Mom lovingly holding her new child before her death. Mr. Johnson, also suffering from an incurable disease, willed the children to the Flint family, who would bring them up in the Baptist faith. Mr. Flint was an old Army comrade to Mr. Johnson, but he and his wife had children of their own, and it wasn’t a happy arrangement. They felt unwelcome and unwanted.

What did Annie learn in those years? Here are some of the lessons you can learn during serious medical challenges and suffering.

When you are facing health challenges, it is helpful to remind yourself of truth. God created Adam and Eve to live with Him in perfect peace. God didn’t create us to have the struggles with our health that are so very common. He said at the end of creating man, “it is very good.” Sin plunged all of humanity into lostness and brought about all the sickness in our world today. God told Adam that “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Sin is our real problem! Being a two-time cancer survivor, I hate cancer. But during dealing with health situations, we can be freed up to focus on the resurrecting power of Jesus instead of only thinking about the healing power of Jesus.  We are freed up to cry out to God with all our brothers for God’s intervention and to pray for them. Jesus approached the home of his friend, Lazarus, after he died, and he wept. His sister told Jesus, “If you had been here, he wouldn’t have died.” Jesus asked her a serious question we need to all keep in mind while going through health struggles, “do you believe this?” And he focused her thinking on eternity rather than the here and now.

We have the opportunity when going through those medical challenges to show that we are one who believes the truths of God’s word. We get the opportunity to live out Philippians 4:4-9 as we dwell on the things God wants us to dwell on.

Philippians 4:4–9

[4] Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. [5] Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; [6] do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. [7] And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

[8] Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [9] What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

  • Rejoice in the Lord, rather than complain or rehearse the problem (v. 4)
  • Submit to God who is near (v. 5)
  • Stop worrying and start praying (v. 6)
  • Think right, or dwell upon the positive (v. 7)
  • Do right by obeying God and serving others (v. 9)
  • Learn to be content (v. 11)
  • Dwell on the goodness of God, not on your circumstances each day. Cancer can return (mine did), but you must focus on the Lord and His provisions for you each day.

Here are some choices we have during these struggles:

  • You can choose zeal over apathy. Don’t let declining health slow you down spiritually, but cultivate maximum zeal for the closing phase of your earthly lives.
  • You can choose discipline over complacency. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul tells us that we’re in a race and that we need to keep on running.
  • Choose involvement over isolation. We don’t lose our gifts with growing age. We should keep on serving the Lord and loving others in our church.
  • And we get the opportunity to choose hope over despair. Paul knew the temptation to give up. In 2 Corinthians 4:16, he says that his “outer self is wasting away.” Paul kept his hope grounded in the Lord and in Chapter 5 he tells us that he was focused on his eternal home (5:1) his perfected body (5:3-5), the good courage comes from Jesus (5:6-9), and his eternal reward. (5:10-11)

God wasn’t finished with Annie. He made provision for them all their life, and when she finished school, she went to college to train as a teacher. Her adoptive parents had also died within just months of each other, but God provided a friend to minister to her and her sister. Once she was teaching school herself, she started struggling with her health as well. God always provides for our needs! From her life of hardship prior to her own death, she wrote the words to this hymn:

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater, He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;

To added afflictions, He addeth His mercy; to multiplied trials, He multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance, when our strength has failed ere the day is half done,

When we reach the end of our hoarded resources Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision, Our God ever yearns His resources to share;

Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing; The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure, His power no boundary known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

Listen to Pastor Steve and Pastor Ernie’s Midweek Class on Aging with Grace here

Steve Clifton is the Pastor of Care and Discipleship and has served First Baptist Church of Jacksonville since 1996 in a variety of pastoral positions. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Church Music Performance from Arkansas State University in 1983 and completed post-graduate work in the field of Christian Education. He became certified by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors in 2017 and earned a specialization in addictions counseling in 2021.

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