Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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A Biblical Perspective on Aging (Psalm 92)

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: If we feel afraid of getting older, Susan Hunt encourages us to adjust our perspective.

Susan Hunt: We think of aging as declining, but spiritually in aging we flourish because the more we grow, the more we flourish, the more we grow. And so we should be growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus all the way until our last breath. And so, therefore, the most beautiful flourishing, the most beautiful fruit will come at the end of life.

Nancy: This is Revive Our Hearts for March 24, 2021. I’m Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Have you ever wished you could just sit down and have a chat with someone who’s older and wiser than you, someone who could encourage you, help you make decisions, see things clearly? Well, do we have a program for you! You’re going to want to be a part of this conversation. In fact, why don’t you go ahead and pour yourself a cup of coffee, or, if you’re me, tea, and join us here at the Revive Our Hearts table.

Today Dannah Gresh is talking with two friends of Revive Our Hearts. One of them is a woman I’ve known and loved for many years, and I know that by the end of today’s program, you’re going to feel like these women are your friends, too. Let’s listen.

Dannah Gresh: We’re going to have a conversation with two women that I love dearly. One of them is probably familiar to you because she’s sort of been a very strong influence in the True Woman Movement. In fact, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has called her, “the grandmother of the True Woman Movement.”

She has been a speaker at our Revive Conference, and not just a speaker, but one of the most beloved speakers. She’s the author of a brand-new book that she co-wrote with a dear friend. The book is called Aging with Grace.

Please welcome Susan Hunt. Hello, Susan.

Susan: Hi, Dannah. I’m so glad to be with you.

Dannah: What a pleasure! I’ve been looking forward to this all week. I do feel like this is for Dannah. This time is for Dannah. I’m going to be gleaning wisdom and sitting on the edge of my seat—I already am.

Tell us, Susan, about your dear friend Sharon. Introduce her to the Revive Our Hearts’ audience.

Susan: I would love to do that. There’s nothing I love more than introducing one gospel friend to another gospel friend.

Sharon and I became friends almost thirty years ago. I was coordinator of Women’s Ministry for the Presbyterian Church in America, and Share came on to our committee. She was selected to represent her part of the country. And from early on, our hearts were knit together in our love for the Lord, love for His Word, His Church, and our desire to equip women to live for His glory.

And then we went through some deep waters that we’ll be talking about. It was such a sweet time and a hard time to walk through those things with her, to learn from her. And then for our friendship just to have continued all of these years. I love her so much, and I know you will, too.

Dannah: Well, hello, Sharon. I already do love you.

Sharon Betters: Aw, thank you, Dannah. I love being here. And Susan . . . it’s hard to describe the friendship that we have, but you mentioned her being “the grandmother of the True Woman Movement,” and I was one of those fortunate women to be there on the ground floor with Susan when she wrote Spiritual Mothering, and then True Women, and so many of other books that have had such an impact on me and I know many, many of your listeners.

Dannah: Well, they certainly have. We treasure her. She is a gift. I have a feeling that at the end of today, we’re going to treasure you in just the same way.

Let’s start with this question, because you’ve written a book Aging with Grace. That’s kind of a counter-cultural title. Why do you think our modern culture idolizes youth?

Susan: I think, for one thing, the media and all of that and all of the advertising. Everything we see just idolizes youth, devalues aging. But I think it’s probably our inclination, too, just because of our pride that we think we’re better if we’re younger. So that gets in the way of us really thinking biblically about aging.

Dannah: Yes. It sends the messages, the constant bombardment of messages of youthful beauty, messages of hair color, messages that we have more value when we’re young. And we start to believe those messages instead of the messages in God’s Word that say aging is a gift.

Sharon: I’d like to add to that. I was thinking about it, even since we wrote the book. When you look at the commercials, for instance, on older people, they portray older people as flourishing because they can hike mountains, and they ride kayaks, and they’re starting a new business. And all those things are wonderful, and certainly, I hope that as long as God gives me the strength, I can continue to be very active.

But we feel as though that’s a false narrative for what it means to age with grace, because there are so many who are not going to be able to do those things. They can’t do those things, and yet, Psalm 92 promises that we will flourish. We will flourish when we’re planted in the house of the Lord even when we have those kinds of limitations.

So that is definitely counter-intuitive. The definition of aging with grace is very different for the Christian than it is for someone who doesn’t know the Lord.

Dannah: Yes. So we’re going to look at that different definition today. In fact, you might want to open your Bible to Psalm 92.

While they’re doing that, Sharon, when did you first become, I guess, excited about the topic of aging with grace?

Sharon: I was in my early twenties. My husband was the pastor of a city church in Philadelphia. It was a tiny church that was dying on the vine, but we were going to come in and change the world and bring new life and all those things.

I taught a women’s Bible study because my pastor’s wife had always taught a Bible study. So I thought that must be my job as a pastor’s wife. And every week there were five elderly women. They were elderly to me, I don’t know if they would be elderly now, but to me, as a twenty-something, they were elderly.

They would sit at my dining room table and allow me to teach them. And to this day, I think they were such incredible, sweet women to let this twenty-something think that she had something to teach them.

Dannah: Yes. I have a few relationships like that where, I’m like, I was so good. That’s what I thought then. But I look back and think, They were so gracious.

Sharon: Very, very gracious. And it’s all part of God’s plan.

But in that same church, alongside of these women who would sometimes bring me roses or lilies of the valley, because they knew they were my favorite flowers, there were women, not many, but a few that were kind of snarky and bitter and they owned the church. And there wasn’t room for new ideas or younger people. And if you were going in to change their kitchen around or something like that, you were in the biggest trouble ever.

It seemed like they had lost sight of what the gospel was all about. And I felt like I was being faced with two roads: I could become those bitter old women that were life takers. Or I could become like these gracious women who just everyday lived out the gospel just because they loved Jesus.

Dannah: They were life givers.

Sharon: They were life givers to this young pastor’s wife. And they’re life giving today because they influenced me in that way that I knew I was going to have to make choices about growing old.

Dannah: You were in your twenties?

Sharon: I was. I was probably around twenty-two or twenty-three. Yes. My husband had only been a Christian for a year, and he was going to seminary and pastoring a church. So you can imagine . . .

Dannah: Wow! That was like the apostle Paul story right there.

Sharon: It was very challenging. He would have done well to have had some time in the desert the way the apostle Paul did.

Dannah: I’m inspired that you had that call so young in your life. I didn’t. It came a lot later for me.

Susan, let me ask you, when did you become passionate enough to write a book on the topic of aging with grace?

Susan: Well, I had been passionate about the idea of older women discipling younger women out of Titus 2 since the early nineties, when I wrote Spiritual Mothering. But I was not thinking in terms of biological old age so much because we saw that in light of all of us, no matter how old or how young, there’s someone behind us that we can show them the way. So even a twenty-year-old can be discipling teenagers.

Then Nancy asked me to speak at a True Woman conference and to do a workshop on aging. And when I got the email, I can just remember thinking, Well, I’ll do whatever Nancy asks me to do, but nobody will show up for that seminar. And I was shocked when the room was packed . . . and it was a big room. There women of all ages. I just never thought about there being that much interest in the topic.

And then the next conference, she asked me to do a plenary session. And, again, it was the same thing. There was such a reaction—such a sweet reaction—from women of all ages.

Dannah: You’re being gracious, Susan. So let me be honest. Something truly special happened that day. 

Susan (conference): The sooner we acknowledge our utter dependence upon Him, the sooner we know the power of His strength upon us. No wonder I used to get tired because I was trying to operate too much out of self-effort. I knew I should depend on the Lord, and I said I did, but I did not know it to the depth that I know now.

So let me encourage you: The world tells us to develop self-confidence, but the Bible says to put no confidence in the flesh. What we need is not self-confidence. We need Christ-confidence. Don’t fight against your weakness, and don’t deny your weakness. Let it bring a child-like dependence upon our strong Savior.

I love the prayer and the hymn “A Sacred Head Now Wounded.” It goes like this:

Make me Thine forever,
And should I fainting be
Lord, let me never, ever
Outlive my life for Thee.

That’s my prayer. But my comfort and my confidence is, even if I outlive my love for Jesus, I will never outlive His love for me.

He tells us in Isaiah 46, 

Listen to Me . . . you whom I have upheld since you were conceived and have carried since your birth . . . Even to old age and gray hairs, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you (vv. 3–4 NIV).

So how does it feel to be an old lady? It feels like a tired, very dependent, very happy little girl being carried in the arms of her Father. And she’s calling to her friends, “Look how good and strong my Daddy is!” And she knows that when she falls asleep in His arms, she’ll wake up at home.

Dannah: You know, it’s difficult to describe how every woman in that room, no matter her age, was just propelled into a desire to become a godly, old lady because of what you shared. And I suspect many of us are going to feel that as we end this program today.

Susan, take us to Psalm 92 and talk to us about what Sharon mentioned just a moment ago, what it means to be a flourishing woman. Of course, this passage in Psalm 92, it’s not a typical aging passage. Is it?

Susan: The last verses are a promise about aging, but the entire psalm leads up to that promise. When Sharon and I began talking about doing a book on aging, she had also been asked to speak at a conference on the topic. We just began talking and praying together and thinking, There’s so much interest in this. What is this telling us? What is God calling us to do? We knew that we needed to go deeper into: What does the Bible say about aging? What will it mean for us to think biblically as older women and to live covenantally as older women?

So the first place we went was Psalm 92 where the psalmist tells us at the end, 

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon; they are planted in the house of the Lord, They flourish in the courts of our God. They will bear fruit in old age, they are ever full of sap and green to declare that, “The Lord is upright. He is my Rock and there is no unrighteousness in Him. (vv. 12–16 NIV).

And so as we read that, and as we prayed over it and reflected over it, we began to see that we had to look at the entire psalm to see what leads to flourishing in old age. This is a remarkable promise. It is not what the world tells us happens in old age. It’s not what most of us expect in old age. But what leads to that? What is this the result of?

And so we looked into the entire psalm. We took a pretty deep dive into it in the book.

Dannah: Susan, I am really interested in the words. What stands out to me with what you read: They still bear fruit in old age. They are ever full of sap and green.

What does it mean to be a godly, sappy, green woman? What’s that mean?

Susan: The sap is the life blood of the tree. So it’s the nutrients that run through the tree. The concept here is what Jesus tells us in John 12, 

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit” (vv. 23–24).

So, of course, to flourish means to thrive, to bear fruit. And here, Jesus is telling us something that is so counterintuitive, because He’s saying we have to die to bear fruit. And of course, this is first of all referring to His death and glorification. But it’s also giving us the pattern for spiritual growth, for spiritual flourishing. And it is that we die to self, and we live unto Christ.

And that’s a progressive thing. It is our sanctification, our transformation. It is what Peter talked about when he said to “grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

So the concept is just so beautiful, and the more we really think about it, it’s such a contradiction to what the world tells us. We think of aging as declining, but spiritually in aging we flourish because the more we grow, the more we flourish, the more we grow. And so we should be growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus all the way until our last breath. And so, therefore, the most beautiful flourishing, the most beautiful fruit will come at the end of life. Isn’t that amazing?

Dannah: I love that! And, Susan, what’s coming to my mind right now, as a new grandmother, is: I always thought grandmothering was going to be so easy because, as a mother, you practice dying to self, every day, all day. Motherhood is a daily dying to self when you’re giving up what you want to do. It’s so gradual. In the beginning, it’s not as big, and then you have a second kid, a third kid, suddenly you are giving yourself.

And I thought, Grandparenting is going to be so easy! I had no idea the Lord was going to say, “We’re going to go into a deeper dive of dying to yourself so that you can serve these grandbabies, so that you can keep serving your children the way you have all these years, and now you have daughter-in-laws, son-in-laws. It’s a gradual, slow process.”

As you’re saying that, I was beginning to see the progression of the Lord allowing us to experience that dying to self as women. Sharon, what’s your thoughts on that?

Sharon: You’re absolutely right. We have fourteen grandchildren and one great-grandson and a great-granddaughter on the way. And you’re right—it does require dying to self. But the fruit that comes from dying to self is amazing.

I’m thinking of a woman who makes sure she has a day with her grandchild, even though sometimes she might have to fight for that day, she is determined that she is going to be involved in there. But she has one of the kindest, sweetest spirit and love for her daughter-in-law that I’ve ever seen in a grandmother. So there’s a partnership there.

But I love what Susan writes about in the book about the palm tree and the cedar tree.

Dannah: Tell us.

Sharon: The palm tree grows and grows and grows. It’s very tall. It’s very upright, very majestic. I think it’s so significant that the Lord uses these trees to show us what it means to be ever growing, evergreen. The older it gets, the sweeter it gets, and the more abundant its fruit.

So the older we grow, the sweeter we should be becoming.

Dannah: Well, that’s what we want. Right? We don’t want to become those bitter, grumpy old women you were talking about earlier. We want to be the sweet ones.

Sharon: Yes, that’s right. It seems as though this passage is promising that—that God is saying that when we’re planted in the house of the Lord.

They have very large leaves that can form a canopy. I think, like the cedar tree as well, and I think there’s a picture of becoming a sheltering tree for those who are coming behind us, for those who are in our world.

Every part of the tree is used—every single part. The bark makes ropes and baskets. The wood is used for furniture. The leaf bases and the fruit stalks can be fuel. The dates are the fruit used for delicious dishes. Nothing is wasted. And nothing in our lives is wasted.

I think that’s so important for us to remember, whether we’re twenty or forty or eighty, that, based on this passage, God is saying, “Everything in your life is for a purpose, and you can trust Me that it’s going to bear fruit, and it is not going to be wasted in My eternal perspective.”

Dannah: And what a counter-cultural thought that is when we are always looking for the time off, the resting time, the me-time, the self-care. I’m not saying that it’s not important to take care of yourself so that you can serve others, but sometimes we idolize those thoughts when what we really need to be doing is using every part of ourselves to be fruitful. I love that.

I’m intrigued by this phrase in Psalm 92: “They are planted in the house of the Lord.” What does that mean?

Susan: Isn’t that an amazing thought that we are planted in the house of the Lord? A tree does not plant itself. We are sovereignly planted in the in history, in the very place on the planet, in the local church and the family that God ordained for us to be, the place where He intends for us to flourish to help others flourish.

And that’s really just such an amazing concept to think about. I’m exactly where God intends me to be, going through the very circumstances He intends me to go through in order that I can flourish and also that I can help others flourish.

What we did in the book, in order to make it very practical and to see these principles lived out in life, we selected older women in Scripture. I would write a chapter on thinking biblically, and then Sharon writes a chapter on living covenantally, really exploring the life of one of these women. And so, as a woman who was planted in the house of the Lord, we selected Anna. Sharon wrote a beautiful chapter on Anna.

Dannah: Sharon, tell us about Anna.

Sharon: I love how the Scriptures, the writer of the Word tells us: Anna was very old. She was at least eighty-four, maybe 104. And something to remember when you’re reading the book of Luke is that Mary most likely was his source, because there were so many intimate details about the birth of Jesus that only Mary would know as a living witness. And it’s important to her that she tells us about Anna.

Anna was widowed after seven years of marriage. We don’t know if she had children or not, but we know that eventually she made her home the house of the Lord. She planted herself in the house of the Lord as a widow. The Bible tells us that she fasted and prayed—she worshipped and fasted and prayed day and night.

So we looked at this as a culmination of her life, that she gave herself to the house of the Lord and to God’s people. We started to imagine what that would have looked like because worship is not just being in church on Sunday morning and being with other people. It’s how we live our lives. The very way that we live our lives is a form of worship.

We pictured Anna being that little old lady in the church that every pastor wishes he had. She would be the one who would go up to that mom with a crying baby and maybe take the baby from her and soothe the baby. Or help a young wife to get past her aggravation because her husband isn’t loving her the way that she wants to be loved. Or praying for the leadership of the church. I imagined her night after night fervently praying for God’s grace to fall on the leadership.

What we do know that she prayed for more than anything else was the coming of the Messiah, that she was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. I think that drove her in her passion for God’s Word, for God’s people, for living biblically, living covenantally in a very scary time.

We know that she, at just the right moment, was in the right place at the right time, because the Bible tells us that when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, Simeon was was kind of scary in some of the words that he spoke to Mary—that there would be a sword in her soul. Imagine you’re there with your new baby—this is a new baby—imagine Mary holding that baby closer, thinking, Lord, this is not happy.

Dannah: Right. The last thing you want is an old man coming up to you and talking to you about a sword in your soul. Right?

Sharon: And yet the Bible tells us at that exact hour, Anna stepped up. She was there at that moment. And what a picture of being a helper, of completing, of being a partner in ministry with the male leadership of the church, so to speak. She proclaimed Him as the Messiah. What a joyful moment for Mary.

I think she probably went back to those conversations with the angel and thought, This is another piece of that puzzle. I think it was one of those things that she stored up in her heart. But it was important for her to tell us it was the exact right moment that Anna stepped into her life and comforted and encouraged her.

Dannah: Wow! I’m sensing two things: One is that God needs us to be women who are willing to be planted in the house of the Lord; and that God needs godly old women in the church.

In fact, my heart is growing with the desire for that. I haven’t asked you half the questions I want to. Will you come back tomorrow so that we can visit some more?

Susan: We would love to.

Sharon: Yes, we would.

Nancy: Wow! What a delightful conversation. We’ve just heard from three amazing women. That’s Dannah Gresh who’s been talking with Susan Hunt and Sharon Betters.

Susan and Sharon are the authors of Aging with Grace: Flourishing in an Anti-Aging Culture. I’d like to take just a moment to read to you an endorsement that I was honored to write for this book. Here’s what I said:

My childhood dream was to one day become a godly old lady. At the time, that goal didn’t seem particularly daunting. Now that I’m in my sixties, it sometimes feels like climbing Mt. Everest. Always a few steps ahead of me, Susan Hunt has encouraged and inspired me to press on in my journey. She has also been a spiritual grandmother to the True Woman ministry since it launched. She has given us all a vision of flourishing in old age for the glory of God and the good of His people.

In this book, Susan and Sharon Betters have teamed together to provide perspective, wisdom, and hope for women coming behind them. They call us to keep our eyes on Christ, the prize, and to persevere to the summit, dependent on His grace every step of the way.

Well I hope that inspires you to want a copy of this fabulous book. You can get a copy of Aging with Grace from the Revive Our Hearts’ Resource Center. Just visit our website, ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959 and ask to order a copy of the book.

I hope you’ll join us again tomorrow as we hear more of this conversation from Susan Hunt and Sharon Betters. They’re going to share how God works through our grief and how His presence is a light even in our darkest times. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts wants you to view aging as flourishing. This program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teacher

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

When Dannah Gresh was eight years old, she began praying that God would use her as a Bible teacher for “the nations.” When she sees the flags of many countries waving at a Revive Our Hearts event, it feels like an answer to her prayer.

Dannah is the founder of True Girl which provides tools for moms and grandmothers to disciple their 7–12 year-old girls. On Monday nights, you’ll find Dannah hosting them in her online Bible study. She has authored over twenty-eight books, including Ruth: Becoming a Girl of Loyalty, Lies Girls Believe, and a Bible study for adult women based on the book of Habakkuk. She and her husband, Bob, live on a hobby farm in central Pennsylvania.

About the Guests

Susan Hunt

Susan Hunt

Susan Hunt is the widow of Gene Hunt, the mother of three and grandmother of thirteen, and former Coordinator of Women’s Ministry for the Presbyterian Church in America. She has written several books for women, including Life-Giving Leadership co-authored with Karen Hodge, and Aging with Grace: Flourishing in an Anti-Aging Culture, co-authored with Sharon Betters. She loves time with her family, sitting on her porch with younger women, and tending the flowers her grandsons help her plant in her yard.

Sharon Betters

Sharon Betters

Sharon is a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, pastor’s wife, and cofounder of MARKINC Ministries, where she is the director of resource development. Sharon is the author of several books and is the writer of Daily Treasure, an online devotional. Susan Hunt and Sharon co-authored Aging with Grace, Flourishing in an Anti-Aging Culture.