We pulled up to the little country church and I saw their car before we parked. My heart leaped at the thought of seeing those whose wisdom and loving hearts had captured mine. Illness, age, and other commitments had kept them away for many months and I had wondered if they would ever again make the long drive to attend the little country church they loved so much, but here they were with open arms and I felt blessed.
Oh what sweet fellowship as we eat donuts and drink coffee. Then we gather to worship and sing ageless hymns of praise and encouragement – hymns which bring a message, like those who love them, that is only sweetened with time. I am blessed and humbled as I add my voiceless prayer to that of precious saints who bow before the throne of grace in need and whose powerful prayers, meant only for the one to whom they are addressed, bless those who hear them none-the-less. He approaches the podium carefully, but his eyes twinkle as he jokes about not looking for anything over which to stumble when he was young and now stumbling over things he’s looking out for. He speaks of the blessings of age and the blessings of growing weak and needy. He says his body is in no worse condition than that which his sinful nature has always been and his voice breaks as he quotes Paul in Romans 7:15, “For that which I do, I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” He seems saintly in my eyes and yet he says “this has always been the state of my heart and so often I despise myself and my sin.” I am encouraged by his confession while I am pricked with bitter sorrow over the sinful state of my own heart. He reminds of us grace that covers our sin and the gift of grace that draws our hearts to our precious Lord. He reminds us that we would not even desire to know God if God did not give us that desire. He tells us as decades begin to take their toll, he leans even more on the strength of his Lord and I see strength in that deep love – it overflows to his wife and others who are dear to him – this strong love overflows to us all.
He may stumble over his words a bit and he may not remember every point of the message he hoped to make, but as he reads the passage from 1 Samuel and speaks of the lion and the bear that David faced before he faced Goliath, I think I understand his point. The Lord allowed David to face the lion and the bear so David would know where his strength lay. Then when he faced the giant, he could say with confidence, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts,…”
He ends his sermon with this passage saying that although he could preach a whole series on these powerful words there is no need – we can read them and know they are powerful. He steps down slowly, this dear saint who now faces the giant of age and the degeneration of years that many of us may someday face, but he stands with gratitude and confidence because he knows His strength is made perfect in weakness.
I think of my own obstacles – that lion and bear that have threatened to rob me of hope and joy. I know those obstacles were conquered – not in my strength – but only through His strength. I have never considered that perhaps those obstacles were given to me to prepare me to face another giant and I ponder that thought. Perhaps in God’s mercy they were the giant that simply prepared me for those daily trials that we all face and opened my eyes to my own weaknesses and limitations. But whether there are still giants to conquer or whether it is an avalanche of many smaller stones that threaten to over-whelm me, of this I am confident; His strength is made perfect in my weakness, and I leave rejoicing that I travel in good company.
“Even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” Isaiah 46:4