Moving Toward the Dawn

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Proverbs 4:18

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.

Proverbs 4:18, RSV

As morning is about to break, a traveler is trudging toward the east. It has been a long, dark night. Now the first glow on the horizon helps the sojourner glimpse the terrain ahead. The farther he goes, the brighter grows the sky. The way before him becomes more and more plain.

That is the Bible’s image for the path of a righteous man or woman, one who trusts in God, who belongs to Him, who walks in His ways. For them it’s like journeying east on a cloudless morning. The guidance they seek becomes more and more clear. The life they lead gets brighter and better.

What strikes me about that is the way it runs counter to many of our common sense notions. Who really believes that the older you get, the richer life is?

ALL DOWNHILL?

In one sense, moving toward old age represents a decline. Listen to these words from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes:

Remember also your creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw nigh when you say, “I have no pleasure in them.”

The preacher seems to say that the good days are the times when you’re young and the evil days come later. Those latter days can be described like this:

When the keepers of the house tremble and the strong men are bent and the grinders cease because they are few. Those that look through the windows are dimmed. The doors of the street are shut. When the sound of the grinding is low and one rises up at the voice of a bird and all the daughters of song are brought low. They are afraid also of what is high and terrors are in the way. The almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails because man goes to his eternal home and the mourners go about the streets.

Most interpreters see in those words a graphic description of physical decline. Weakness in the legs, stooping in the shoulders, loss of teeth, failing of vision – those are all in view. Older people cannot sleep well. They develop a host of new fears. They lose desire and zest for life until finally “the silver cord is snapped or the golden bowl is broken and the dust returns to the earth as it was and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” The preacher calls it all “vanity of vanities,” because after our youth, it’s all downhill.

Paul the apostle seems to say very much the same thing. “Our outward man is perishing.” That is, we who live are in the process of dying. The familiar hymn stanza puts it, “Change and decay in all around I see.” Yes, and quite markedly so in our own bodies. I know people who lament this, who pine for their lost youth, who wish fervently they could turn the clock back. For them to think that the way could get brighter and life could be better as the years hasten on seems preposterous.

But that’s only part of the problem, and not even the worst part. Without God and the knowledge of His grace, human life does tend to get more and more bleak. Along with outward decline comes an inward impoverishment. Evil tightens its hold upon people as they grow older. Various character flaws seem to be accentuated. Lord Chesterfield notes that in these gloomy words: “The heart never grows better by age; I fear rather worse; always harder. A young liar will be an old one; and a young knave will only be a greater knave as he grows older.”

You’ve seen that, perhaps in others, perhaps in your own experience. Vices you have cultivated begin to take firm root. Negative patterns of thought, speech, and behavior become more deeply ingrained. The possibility of significant change for the better diminishes with the years. We become confirmed in our bad habits, set in our loveless ways. People close to us may despair of ever seeing us change. Loneliness tends to increase also with the passing of time. Friends can become disaffected, move away, or simply drift from us in heart. In time we lose them, even the closest and dearest, in death. As those of our generation begin to pass on, we may feel like stragglers, survivors who no longer fit in.

Some people as they age experience a loss of meaning and a lessening of hope. Those in middle life suddenly become aware that half their years are probably spent. They haven’t yet realized some of their fondest dreams. Now the time seems to be shortening, the options narrowing. They give up on some of their expectations.

Sometimes men and women at that stage in life become quietly desperate. They may act in uncharacteristic, unpredictable ways. They may even destroy what has great value to them – their health, their work, their marriage. The inexorable march of time, the gradual limiting of their possibilities fills them with anxiety. For them to hear that life gets better and brighter as we move along makes no sense. It sounds like a cruel joke.

Many people who early in life were busy, active, and enthusiastic, who gave little thought to life’s real meaning and made scant preparation for the future, are now slowing down. They begin to ask hard questions and face troubling realities. They can find little left that gives their lives significance and less that nurtures hope. They speak of aging with cynicism, sometimes with bitterness.

BETTER WITH THE YEARS

How can anyone claim then that their path gets brighter and brighter, their life better and better as time goes on? Let me suggest a few ways in which we can. Some of this I can say from personal experience, since I myself am approaching the end of my sixth decade. Some comes from observing what happens as people I have known grow older. All of it bears out the truth of this great word, “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”

We’re thinking now of a life that is lived with God. That’s what makes all the difference. This righteous man or woman of whom the Bible speaks is one who knows the God of the covenant, who trusts in His promises, who seeks to obey His commands. For us today, it is one who believes in Jesus Christ as personal Savior and submits to His lordship. It’s someone who is coming to know God better and better through a reverent study of His Word. It’s a person who calls on God day by day in a growing life of prayer. It’s someone finding fellowship, support and avenues of service in a community of believers. It’s a person who is seeking, in all of life, to know the will of God and to do it.

Now when people live in that way, aging for them takes on a distinctive character. Along with the outward process of weakening and decay, there’s an inner dynamic that’s moving them in the opposite direction. Paul says, “Though our outward man perish, our inward man is being renewed day by day.” Isaiah speaks about those who wait on the Lord “renewing their strength,” even when youths faint and young men utterly fall. Some people advanced in age and very near physical death still seem vibrantly alive, don’t they?

Whereas the usual pattern is that people get crankier and more disagreeable, more rigid and critical as they grow older, others show a strangely different kind of movement. I’ve known people, perhaps you have too, who seem to mellow with the years. I think of my own grandmother. She was always a dear lady, but as she aged (she got to be 99) she seemed to get sweeter, more patient, less critical. Aware of her increasing limitations, she became a beautifully accepting person, deeply at peace.

I think of my uncle, living with us now. He’s almost 97. He seems to get more grateful all the time, more impressed at the wonder of being alive, more attentive to the preciousness of ordinary things. He teaches us a lot.

As we grow older in the Lord, we prize more and more the relationships we have with others. Some of us become more concerned about our family roots, about learning of past generations. As we realize that the time with our family members may be growing short, we want to invest ourselves more in strengthening those bonds of love. We want to be more regular in getting to see our loved ones whenever possible. We prize friendships more and celebrate them more often.

A SHARED HISTORY

Someone has said that old friends are the best friends. I suppose that means that the depth of a relationship develops over time. It’s made up of many, many shared experiences. We’ve been through a lot together. My wife and I sometimes talk about that in terms of our marriage. If one of us should die and the other remarry, we’re sure there could be a good marriage again with love and closeness, but it wouldn’t be the same. It could not include within it the years of shared history, of victories and defeats, of laughter and tears, of all we endured and enjoyed. That’s one of the things that makes a marriage or a friendship grow richer with age. We’ve shared with each other a great deal of living.

And that is true supremely in our life with God. If we’ve been privileged by His grace to know the Lord early in our lives, we have a whole lifetime of fellowship with Him to look back on as we grow older. Our failings and wanderings, of course, are painful to remember. But when we think of how the Lord has led us, forgiven us, borne with us, picked us up again and again, made Himself real to us as our strength and our portion, memory brings us a grateful gladness. God has been with us all the way. He has directed us in our decisions, sustained us in our hours of weakness, delivered us from so much that could have blighted our lives. Yes, and in our times of brokenness and deep sorrow, He has walked at our side and been our comfort.

As the years go by, our physical vision may grow dim, but in other ways we are given new sight. We have a fresh perspective, for example, on what is truly important, what has lasting value. The unseen realities of God’s kingdom take on shape and color for us. We are sensing the reality of the coming age. I’ve known older people who had that vision to a remarkable degree. My grandmother in her latter years always seemed to be living in heaven as much as on earth. She was tasting already the sweetness of what was yet to be.

Friends, I’m not trying to glorify old age or gloss over its difficulties. The best of God’s people, as they grow old, sometimes get ornery and stubborn. They find it hard to relinquish responsibility to those who are younger. They sometimes feel unwanted, forgotten, and neglected. They have difficulty adapting to change or dealing with uncertainty. And various ills of body and mind can make their experience at times very hard to bear.

But along with all of that, upholding us through it, giving us a sense of humor about it, is the faithful, sustaining presence of the Lord. We find ourselves saying like that aging man in Psalm 71, “I will hope continually and will praise thee yet more and more.” And in the midst of it all, our way gets brighter and our life gets better. The path of the just is as the shining light that shines more and more until full day. Energy may decline, but anticipation soars. After all, we’re getting nearer and nearer home!

PRAYER:Father, for life in all its stages, we give You thanks today, for youth with all its bright possibilities, for middle life with its responsibilities, and then for the golden years as we grow older. And especially we praise You today that as we move along through life in fellowship with You, things do get brighter and better. May every person who shares the broadcast so trust in Christ, so walk with You, that life may be sweeter as the years go by. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.