Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Growing Old for God's Glory

Leslie Basham: Anne Ortlund always claimed that she wanted to be like Jesus.

Anne Ortlund: I was reading Romans 8, and then I read in Hebrews also, that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us. I thought, “I haven't taken intercession seriously enough.” So in my notebook, I started writing the names of those I wanted to intercede for.

Leslie: And that list has been growing ever since. It's Wednesday, March 2 and this is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Our guest this week on Revive Our Hearts is my longtime friend, Anne Ortlund. She is not a stranger to our Revive Our Hearts listening audience. If you haven't heard the programs we've recorded with Anne in the past, you can go to ReviveOurHearts.com and pull up past radio programs and hear some wonderful material.

I'm in southern California this week visiting and having some meetings. I asked Anne if she could join me in the studio so we could talk about some of the things God is doing in her life and some of the things she is learning. I like listening to older people, picking their brains, and seeing what I can learn out of their life experience. Anne, thank you so much for being an example, a mentor, and a friend, and for sharing with our Revive Our Hearts listeners today.

Anne: Nancy, I am old. If you want to talk to somebody old, I qualify.

Nancy: I asked you a minute ago if it was okay to ask you how old, and you had no problem with that. You are 86 years old. I've asked the Lord to—our listeners have heard me say this before—since I was a little girl, my goal in life has been to be a godly, old lady. I've always had this image of what this godly old lady looks like. After I turned fifty, I wondered if I really meant that. I do.

I am so thankful that I have had older women in my life who have modeled that you really can be full of Christ in that older season. I've asked the Lord to let me serve Him with body, soul, strength, mind, and heart until I'm 85, at least. I don't know what His script is for me, but that is something that I have hoped for.

You have demonstrated that being older can be a really fruitful and joyful season of life. I want us to talk about that. I think growing old is a real fear that many women have. Let's just hit it. Is growing old something that you ever dreaded or were afraid of, or have you always looked forward to it?

Anne: I can't say that I thought about it either way. I didn't particularly look forward to it, but neither did I dread it. I've lived each season of my life in that season. But I did love the verse in Proverbs 31, where he says, “She laughs at days to come” because that proves that godly woman didn't fear old age (verse 25).

I must say that is interesting that you mentioned age 85, because I did the same thing, Nancy. I said that my prayer—again, this was not God's plan, this was my plan—that Ray and I would serve the Lord together until we were 85. Later on I revised that and said we'd find something new for God to give us to do. But the fact is that here I am one year past that, and it's the Lord in me, with Ray in heaven.

I love being this age. I love it. I never expected to. I want to squeeze all the juices out of it and get all the good stuff out of it that I can. It's a bittersweet thing. You discover that you've got arthritis, and there are places where you never thought you'd hurt. But the fact that Paul said, "I've learned in whatever state I’m in to be content" (Philippians 4:11). I have never been more content. I have never known what fun it would be to be old.

I didn’t know that people would look at you thinking I’ll be like that someday. They watch what you do and how you act. This is an age—especially in this time when we idolize youth and when we are fearful of getting old—this is a great time to ask the Lord to make you a model so that others won't fear it.

I love Proverbs 17:6a which says that “children's children are the crown of the age.” We've got such a big family. Before I tell you the size of the family, I’ve got to say, I’ve got a dear friend, Jenny, who has no family at all. She's older than I am. She's 96, as a matter of fact. Jenny is so happy that when she giggles on the phone, she squeaks. I talk to her a lot. She says that these are my best days, being 96.

She's had two Christian husbands. Both went to be with the Lord. She's never had any children. She really is alone. Her life is full of joy. “In thy presence, O Lord is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). That's where it comes from, not from age.

Nancy: I think a lot of people really dread the thought of being alone. We're speaking to some widows today who are saying they can't even relate to this being a joyful season or being contented. How do you find joy when you do have the arthritis, when there are the aches and pains, and when you really are alone?

Anne: Another big thing that can come along that seems like a true negative, and that is that the salary is probably cut down. Mine ended last month. Some of you listening are jobless. You're not my age, but you're in my boat. It is absolutely wonderful to remember how David said in Psalm 37, “I was young and now I’m old, yet I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (verse 25, NIV). 

I love that whatever the stage of life, God has promised to provide for His children. He doesn't promise to provide for those who are not His children. He's trying to get their attention so they'll learn to follow Him. It is a wonderful thing to see how God stretches the money, and how He surprises you with income that you didn’t think would be there. If he takes away something, still you know that it's going to be enough because He will not leave you hungry.

Even if He briefly leaves you hungry—this is a good thing. I was reading Deuteronomy 8 the other day. After the wilderness experience, God told the Israelites, first I let you be hungry, then I fed you with manna. Both are from Him.

I asked the president of World Vision at one time, who was a friend of mine, “Have you ever known a Christian to actually starve to death?” He said, “Nobody has ever asked me that question before. Let me scratch my head and think about that.” He said, “I've known Christians around the world who have gone hungry and have prayed to the Lord, and as a last resort, He fed them. I can't think of any Christian who died of starvation.”

I think that encouraged me that God's promise could be counted on. If our finances are low, which can happen in old age, He is still right there to let us trust Him and provide for what we need.

Nancy: Are you ever tempted to complain? You said you're contented in this season, but do you ever find yourself wanting to whine or murmur about some aspect of your situation as an older woman?

Anne: I do, and when I whine, I say, “O Lord, forgive me.” Because whining is sin. Any kind of discontent with what God has given is sin. I must say, I don't whine nearly as much as I used to. Life is not as easy as it used to be, so I think that's progress. Praise God.

You know what's really wonderful about getting old, that is, every day I am getting closer to seeing Jesus and to being in heaven having all these questions answered that we're so full of. What's it going to be like? We know it will be better by far. Every day, every moment I'm getting closer to that. I can hardly wait.

This earth is sin-cursed at best. It's not heaven. But heaven is coming, and I'm closer to it than probably you are, Nancy. That makes me just laugh for joy.

Nancy: As it should make all of us laugh for joy. If you're not living for that here and now, then as you get older, what do you have to live for? If you're living for here and now, rather than what is then and there, then as you get older is going to be a season of disappointment. But if you've been living for Christ, living for eternity, living for heaven, then as you're testifying, the older you get the closer you are to having that fulfilled.

Anne: That's right. You know what else I’ve discovered that's wonderful about old age? You learn to worship the Lord more deeply than you knew to do when you were young. I was thinking the other day about Genesis 47, when Joseph swore that he would send his father back to his original land after he was dead. When Joseph swore to him, it says that Israel—which was the new name for Jacob—he worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. His body was dying. His spirit was alive as ever.

I love the fact of worshiping on the top of your staff. I don't use a cane. I don't have a staff yet. Maybe I will someday, I don't know. But the worshiping gets sweeter and sweeter. I enjoy church more than I did before. I sing the words with more meaning than I used to. I pray more fervently. God is closer than He's ever been before to me. In a sense, I join Jacob in worshiping in leaning on the top of my staff.

Nancy: I think that's how you fulfill something that Ray challenged you and your family to do in a letter he wrote several years before he went to heaven that was discovered after his death. I was touched by one exhortation he gave in that letter. He said to the children and to the family, “As you mature, remain a happy person in Christ. Get even sweeter as you get older. Sour, old people are a pain.”

Anne: Which sounds so Ray.

Nancy: It does sound so Ray. It's so true. We've all known some old people who get grumbly and complaining and whiny and hard to live with, contentious as they get older. I've seen some of that, and I’ve thought, “Lord, I want to get sweeter. I want to be more loving, more merciful and gracious and compassionate.” How do you keep from becoming that sour, old person?

Anne: Well, in the early days when you're raising children, that's a help. If you raise children to love the Lord, and to honor their parents, they do that in their old age. My family is so precious to me. I have four children, and all four have wonderful spouses. I have 22 grandchildren, counting the spouses, and I have 23 great-grandchildren. Have you ever heard of anybody who had 23 great-grandchildren?

Nancy: I don't know that I have.

Anne: I haven't either. I'm the only one that I’ve found. But the fact is every single one of them loves Jesus, except the new babies. There are many of them in ministry, some are seminary professors, some are missionaries.

It really started with my father and mother. I was six when they accepted Jesus as their savior. I remember it very well. Our whole life changed. We had our first grace at the breakfast table the next morning. Then that next night, daddy started leading us in family devotions, which we had through the years, and the succeeding generations have had, which is more and more rare these days.

Mother and daddy have 122 descendants now, and every one of those 122 descendants, except the newborns, walk strongly with the Lord. I think about you, if you're listening and you're a young mom or even a young dad listening, you could be like my parents. You could be the first generation. If you weren’t raised in a Christian home, you can be the start of the line that brings your family up strongly to know Him. They will do the same, to those who will do the same, to those who will do the same.

Psalm 78 talks about that. The younger ones learning from the older ones, passing it to the children yet unborn, who in turn will tell their children. Psalm 78 was a theme passage of a family reunion we had not long ago. It's just a sweet thing to pass it along. It becomes a crown of old age as God so plans for it to be.

Nancy: You're doing that, not only through your natural family—your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—but you have spiritual children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. One of the things I love about you, Anne, is that you, in this season of life in your eighties as a widow, you have not stopped giving of yourself and serving to the needs of others.

It brings to mind that passage that I love in Psalm 92 that says, “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 still 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” (verses 12-15, ESV). 

Don't you love that passage?

Anne: Even if we get paralyzed. Even if our hands and feet don't work. As long as we can speak, we can declare that the Lord is righteous. We can go right on with that until we're dead.

Nancy: There's a sense that many older people have of feeling useless. “What is my purpose? Why is God keeping me here? What do I have to contribute?” You're just still bearing fruit and ministering into the lives of others. To whatever extent God gives you energy, you're just using that energy to be fruitful.

Anne: Another thing that the Lord has taught me a year and half ago, I was telling Him that I wanted to be more like Jesus. I was reading Romans 8, and then I read in Hebrews also, that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us. I thought, “I haven't taken intercession seriously enough.” So in my notebook—which is always close by—I started in my prayer section writing the names of those I wanted to intercede for.

  • I've got eleven now that are not Christians that I'm praying will come to know the Lord.
  • I have a list of marriages that are not doing well, I pray for each of them.
  • I pray for the sick.
  • I pray for our leaders in government. These are daily prayers.
  • I pray for missionaries and pastors.
  • I pray for the gals that I’ve discipled.
  • I pray for the ones that I want to disciple in the future.
  • I pray for the aged.
  • I pray for those who are discouraged. I have a list of those who have the feeling they're going downhill. Maybe they're young, but they have that feeling.

I have about 400 people now. I've discovered that it's too many to pray for in one day. So I pray for as many as I can, and then I stop at that point and begin with that point the next day. So I get through the list several times a week. Intercession bears a lot of fruit. I had no idea. It surprised me.

Nancy: I'm so thankful for a 90-year-old woman in my church who is widowed and sometimes wonders why God still has her here. She prays; she intercedes. She prays for me. I cannot imagine continuing without her prayers. I often remind her that God has left her here for a purpose, and if you can't do anything other than pray—she is very physically limited now—if you can't do anything other than that, that is a huge ministry, mission, and calling. Keep doing it as long as God gives you breath.

Anne: These are probably the most powerful days of her life.

Nancy: Yes, in God's economy and in the terms of the things that matter. Anne, as you look back at your life of years of walking with the Lord, do you have any regrets? Anything you'd like to go back and do differently?

Anne: I don't want to go back. No way, when I'm this close to heaven, do I want to turn around. Yes, I have so many regrets. That's part of mourning. You think of things that you said to Ray that you shouldn't have, or that you didn’t say that you should have. I think of the early days when we quarrelled. We really didn’t in the later days. But my goodness, it took ten Christmases of trimming that crazy Christmas tree before we could do it without yelling. He wanted to just throw stuff on, and I wanted to do it one piece at a time and make it perfect.

Nancy: So how did you end up after ten years? Which way did you do it?

Anne: Throwing it on. I discovered that it really does work better if you let the man lead, which I didn't know at first. I thought we probably had equal IQs, so we could just sit down at the bargaining table and hammer it out. Sometimes he'd win, and sometimes I’d win. That makes a lousy marriage.

So when I learned after a few painful years that you can't have two people riding the front of the horse. One's got to be first and the other behind. When I began to learn that our life smoothed out. But those are regrets that it took me so long to learn. It gave Ray a rise to a temper that he had to overcome. I would bug him.

Marriages ought to get better and better. When they're with Jesus, they really do. If any of you right now are having a rough patch in your marriage, don't quit. Everybody has rough times. You simply hand those over to the Lord and get through them. Then the better days come. The things that you regret, God washes away with the blood of Jesus Christ. It's so wonderful to know that He has forgotten them, and we can forget them too. We're safe.

Nancy: I love the verse that you quoted in the last program, Proverbs 4:18, which is a verse I will often share with others on their birthday. It's good for any season of life. But as we think about aging, I think this verse has particular meaning. It says, “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”

That is really kind of counter-intuitive. We think of the day waning and the light getting more and more dim as you get older. We've said our society values youth, not old age. We think of people as they get old as diminishing in their brightness of light in life. But this scripture talking about the inner man, the inner person, says that the path of the righteous is like the dawning of the day that shines brighter and brighter. More and more light. More and more life. More and more grace. Until full day.

Of course, that noon day is when we see Christ. So as we live for Him in this life, then our lives really can be—and I think you're demonstrating this beautifully—this ever brightening day, until the fullness of day when we see Christ.

Leslie: That's Anne Ortlund talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Old age isn't always a popular topic, but it's something we all need to think about. Are you prepared to glorify God in all seasons of life? Anne offers wisdom for women of all ages in her book, Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman. She shares personally and openly about episodes of challenge and growth in her life. You'll enjoy her stories.

She also offers wisdom on practical issues like schedules, priorities, relationships, and clothing. She shows you how to display feminine beauty in all these areas, following up each chapter with a chance for you to respond and reflect on areas of growth.

When you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, we'll send Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or donate by phone. The number is 1-800-569-5959.

What makes a woman beautiful. Our world is obsessed with that question, spending a fortune in cosmetics, surgery, and dieting products. Anne Ortlund will show you what true beauty is and how to get it, tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries. 

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