J. I. Packer, Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014). 100 pages
Packer divides older folk into the “younger olds” (65-75), the “medium olds” (76-85), and the “oldest olds” (85 plus). Our secular society views retirement as a time to “Relax. Slow down. Take it easy. Amuse yourself. Do only what you enjoy. . . . Practice self-indulgence.” (page 27). Packer rejects this view.
As we grow older, we face limitations, but we want to live to God’s glory and grow old gracefully in service to God and others. The Bible views aging as a time of increasing wisdom, discernment, and encouragement. “So far as our bodily health allows, we should aim to be found running the last lap of the race of our life, as we would say, flat out.” (21-22).
Packer rejects the view that our bodies keep us from the fullness of life. As we age our bodies limit what our souls would like to do. But it is wrong to think that our personal self (our soul) would be freer and happier separated from the body. God gave us bodies to live in for “experience, expression, and happiness.” Even though our bodies wear out, our zeal for serving God should not decline.
After serving Christ in our younger years, we must not withdraw from serving our Lord. “Spiritual gifts and ministry skills” do not “wither with age” rather ‘they atrophy with disuse.” (64). Seniors can continue learning, leading, and growing spiritually. We should “cultivate the maximum zeal for the closing phase of our earthly lives.” (72). Zeal is “priority, passion and effort in pursuing God’s cause.” (74).
Our zeal is fed by our hope of “an eternal enjoyment of God’s glory and beauty in ways that we cannot at present begin to conceive.” (1 Peter 1:3-9; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10). After we die, a new body awaits us. This hope is an invigorating and refreshing force as we age.
Seniors can offer service through opportunity, maturity, humility, and intensity. The “powers of the body, memory, creativity grow less. So their conscious focus on the hope of glory should grow sharper, and their meditation on it grow more joyful and sustained.” (96). Instead of retreating from service, seniors should welcome further service as extended health allows.
Packer, who includes himself in the oldest olds, challenges seniors to use their older age as a time of learning, leading, and service. He encourages them to continue to glorify God and finish their lives with joy. This easy-to-read book is a light of inspiration and encouragement in a time with its share of dark clouds of disappointments and discouragements.