The 3 key ‘growing older’ lessons from the life of St Paul you won’t want to miss

Growing old in the best way can be a challenge – amid the changing circumstances, pressures and difficulties that can often go with it. This can be true for us. And it was also true of the Apostle Paul and has much to teach us.

Paul is one of the few people in the New Testament whose life journey we can trace. Through the record of Acts and Paul’s letters we can examine the life of someone who had journeyed with Christ and was growing older in Christ.

What we discover is, in his advancing years, Paul did three things we would be wise to take on board – all of which spring out of his letter to the church in Philippi.

1. Paul met changing circumstances head-on

Change is often a challenge as we make the transition from fulltime work into and through the retirement years. It may involve a new home, lower income, fresh responsibilities, the loss of old relationships and status. And also adjusting to a life that allegedly offers more time and greater choice.

Paul, too, had to respond to huge changes as his life progressed.

We meet him first as a zealous young Pharisee, standing by impassively at the stoning of Stephen. Then he met Jesus and his world was turned upside down.

What followed involved a variety of experiences as he travelled: violent opposition, shipwreck, imprisonment, disappointments and, surely, times of loneliness. But nothing shattered Paul’s resolve to follow his Lord by preaching the gospel, teaching young believers and praying for them day and night.

What was Paul’s secret to keep going no matter how dramatically his situation changed? It was this. He didn’t ask ‘God what are you doing to me?’ Instead, he responded with the question ‘God what are you doing in this situation?’

He expressed it to the church at Philippi like this; ‘I will rejoice, for I know through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as is my eager expectation and hope…’ Philippians 1.18 – 20.

To do the same, you will need to call upon the determination to trust that God is all-powerful, and truly cares about you. And, even if the present looks bleak, he is inviting you to play a part in building his kingdom in some way.

Note that Paul acknowledges the importance of others’ prayers and the help of the Holy Spirit. We need these too as we journey through life’s changes and the challenges they can bring.

2. Paul cultivated the right attitude

How do you find yourself responding when difficulties come into your life and things do not go your way? Paul knew he must practise what he preached.

And what he preached was the need for the kind of attitude Jesus had. He wrote of the way Jesus ‘made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.’ Philippians 2.8

More than that, at the time Paul was writing to the Philippian Christians, he knew death was not far from him. Perhaps you too are facing a major crisis that threatens your future.

Paul’s response was to submit himself to God, saying ‘If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but is more necessary for you that I remain in the body’. Philippians 2. 22 – 24

Now there’s an amazing attitude to be emulated – one of not seeking our own way but being humble seeking to serve others.

3. Paul resolved to do everything without complaining

Grumbling can all too easily become our default response to life. It can happen without us realising as we face situations and circumstances not of our choosing. Sadly, the accumulation of long years of experience doesn’t make complaining or arguing any less likely.

Paul’s words to the church in Philippi were not specifically aimed at its older members but they were included in his exhortation to ‘Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights…’ Philippians 2.14 -15

In our later years we are not called so much to be perfect as to be different. And Paul’s own experience is a shining example as to what that could look like for all of us.

These thoughts were inspired by insights from Rob Merchant, Director of Dispersed Learning at St Mellitus College, Chelmsford.

Are there other ways in which the life or words of St Paul are a guide to you in your days after fulltime work? Please share them here or with the AfterWorkNet Facebook Group. Thank you.

Celia Bowring
Celia isn’t retired yet – although she’s recently moved from office-based to working from home. She writes the CARE Prayer Diary along with many other resources. Celia also chairs Pray for Schools. And loves being a hands-on grandmother!

 

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years"

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife