June 8, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 2:36-38 (NRSV)
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
For more context, read all of Luke 2:25-38.
The stories of Simeon and Anna in Luke 2 remind us that God includes senior adults in his kingdom work. No matter your age, no matter your gender, no matter your position in life, no matter your socio-economic status, no matter your race or ethnicity, you matter to God and God’s plans. God has called you into relationship with him and into his service. If you offer yourself to God, he will use you and bless you in ways you can only begin to imagine.
New Initiative: Flourishing in the Third Third of Life
The De Pree Center has begun a new initiative called Flourishing in the Third Third of Life. As we read in Psalm 92:13-14, “[The righteous] flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap.” If you’d like to learn more about this initiative, the resources we offer, and how you can participate, visit our Third Third page on our website.
Today we press on in our Life for Leaders series: Following Jesus Today. (You can see all the devotions in this series here, if you wish.) Yesterday, I reflected on the vulnerability of the baby Jesus and some implications for our life and leadership. Today we look several verses later in Luke 2, seeing how God implicitly affirms the value of all ages as essential in his kingdom purposes.
The fact that God entered this world as a baby makes a powerful statement about the role of young people in God’s work in this world. This statement is reiterated during the ministry of Jesus, when he welcomes children and says that we must become like children if we’re going to enter the kingdom of God (Matt 18:3-5).
Ironically, the same chapter of Luke that features a baby places explicitly includes older people in co-starring roles. When Jesus’s parents brought him to the temple to be presented to the Lord, they encountered Simeon, a righteous man who would soon die of old age. Simeon offered public praise for Jesus and his saving mission (2:25-32). At this same time, Anna, who was known to be a prophet, approached. She also began to praise God openly because of the redemption that would come through Jesus. Luke makes it very clear that Anna was “of a great age” having lived to 84 years (which was truly exceptional in the first century; 2:36-37).
Luke could well have told this story without emphasizing the ages of Simeon and Anna. But by making sure we know how old they were, Luke shows that God’s work in this world includes those who are older as well as those who are younger.
Now, in the time of Jesus, older people were generally treated with considerable honor and respect. This continues to be true today in some cultures. But, by and large, American culture values youth rather than seniority. This is often true even in church. When we describe churches as “filled with gray hair,” we don’t mean this as a compliment. Rather, it’s a problem, a liability. Though I absolutely agree that we need to help churches to grow younger, I believe that “seasoned adults” like Simeon and Anna, are an essential part of the solution. (Of course I am biased because of the color of my own hair! But if you don’t believe me, check out the research and wisdom of my Fuller colleagues in the Fuller Youth Institute. In their landmark book Growing Young, they show how much senior adults can contribute to churches that are growing with younger people. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. )
I should mention here that the De Pree Center, where I work, is beginning a new initiative focused on serving people in the third third of life. We take seriously the biblical vision of the righteous flourishing “in old age” (Psalm 92:12-14). We are encouraged by the stories of Simeon and Anna to believe that God is doing and will do amazing things through third third folk, as well as through babies, children, teenagers, young adults, mature adults, and, well, you name it. (You can learn more about our third third initiative and sign up to receive third third resources here.)
No matter your age, no matter your gender, no matter your position in life, no matter your socio-economic status, no matter your race or ethnicity, you matter to God and God’s plan. God has called you into relationship with him and into his service. If you offer yourself to God, he will use you and bless you in ways you can only begin to imagine.
How do you think and feel about older adults (whether you are one yourself, or whether you have many years before you enter the third third of life)?
In what ways have you experienced the impact of third thirders? You might think of grandparents, mentors, church leaders, neighbors, etc.
If you are in the third third of life now, do you believe that God wants to do great things in you and through you? If so, why? If not, why not?
Talk with your small group or with a good friend about your thoughts and feelings related to aging. Consider ways you might become more aligned with the biblical vision of the third third of life.
Gracious God, thank you for giving us the stories of Simeon and Anna. Among other things, they help us to see how you value older adults and their participation in your kingdom.
Lord, as you know, most of us live in a culture that tends not to value senior adults. We might even think of them mainly as problems to be dealt with. Help us to see third third folk as you see them, to celebrate their giftedness, to draw upon their wisdom, to contribute to their flourishing.
And if we are in the third third of life, may we offer ourselves fully to you, knowing that you will bless us and use us for your kingdom purposes. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling Archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Fruitful in Old Age
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.