December 31, 2019 • Life for Leaders
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we examined the story of Simeon, a man well on in years, whom God used to exalt the baby Jesus and prophesy to Jesus’s parents. I shared how this story reminds me that God uses people of all ages in his work, including both young and old.
Today’s passage from Luke 2 makes a similar point. Here we meet Anna, a woman who is identified, first of all, as a prophet (Luke 2:36). God speaks authoritatively through people who are inspired by his Spirit, both men and women (see Acts 2:17-18). Anna is referred to as “very old” (the Greek reads “advanced in age, in many days”). We learn that she was eighty-four years old—though the Greek could also mean that she lived as a widow for eighty-four years after her husband died, which would make her over one hundred! Now, I know quite a few people who are eighty-four or older and extremely active. I don’t think of them as “very old.” But in Anna’s day, life expectancy was shorter. A woman of eighty-four would have been considered very old.
Yet Anna was not too old to be engaged in God’s work. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, Anna came up to them, gave thanks to God, and “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Unfortunately, Luke doesn’t tell us what Anna said, but it surely was about Jesus and how he was going redeem Jerusalem as part of his messianic work.
Once again, we see that God is at work in people both young and old. If we reflect on the case of Anna, we understand that she was not in a season of life where she had many responsibilities, like caring for children or doing other work assigned to women in the first century. Anna was free to worship in the temple “night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37). Her age and life status gave her freedom that people don’t usually have earlier in life.
I know many people like Anna, people who are into their “third third” of life and who are using their age-related freedom in marvelous ways. One woman who retired from the financial services industry started a ministry to help immigrants to the United States. A man I know retired from his company and promptly started his own business. (Did you know that more new entrepreneurs in the United States are in the 55-64 age bracket than in the 20-34 age bracket?) In my experience as a pastor, so-called “retired” folk are often vital leaders in church, using their freedom and donating their expertise in ways that make a huge difference to a church and its mission.
The story of Anna encourages us to be open and available to God, no matter our age. It also reminds us to welcome the gifts of all of God’s people, whether they be young, old, or in the middle. Anna’s example speaks especially to those of us who have entered the “third third” of life. Let’s not let the dominant cultural narrative, which expects little of older folk, keep us from serving God and people in creative and transformative ways . . . like Anna.
Something to Think About:
How do you respond to the story of Anna in Luke 2?
Do you know people like Anna? Have any of them made a difference in your life?
How do you envision your third third of life? Do you see it as a time for creative and transformative work, a time for greater devotion to God? If so, why? If not, why not?
Something to Do:
No matter your age, no matter your life condition, be open to how God might use you today. Ask the Lord to be at work in and through you.
Gracious God, thank you for the story of Anna. Though we know little about her, she encourages us to be open to you in every season of life.
Today, I pray especially for those who are in the third third of life, that they (we!) will be open to you, seeking you, ready to be surprised by how you will use us for your purposes. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
A Christian Identity as God’s Kingdom Witnesses in Daily Life (Acts 2:1-41)
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.