This is the fifth lesson in our series, The Disciplines of Life. We have noticed: Solitude, Discipleship, Dependability, Determination, Discernment, Decision and Duty thus far. As we have said, there are many disciplines that should be evident in the life of the Christian. In this lesson we want to look at the disciplines of Declining Days, Deformity, and Disability. As we have been emphasizing in this series, these are called “disciplines” because they are not acquired without deliberate effort. Discipline is “Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360). Please consider …
Declining Days (1Samuel 8)
1Samuel 8 tell us that when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel but they did not walk in his ways. Instead they turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice. As a result the elders of Israel got together and confronted Samuel. They said to him, “Look, you’re an old man, and your sons aren’t following in your footsteps. Here’s what we want you to do: Appoint a king to rule us, just like everybody else” (paraphrasing). As we think about Samuel’s situation we can think of several difficulties that can beset us as we get older. These difficulties require a disciplined mind to approach them with the proper attitude.
Difficulty #1: graciously granting responsibilities to younger people without feeling that you are no longer wanted or needed
In the local congregation, we know that we need to begin transitioning responsibilities to the younger folks. If the local church is to survive, we need to recognize that our young people are the church of the future, but
Difficulty #2: seeing your children no longer walking in the way of the Lord
How embarrassing it must have been for Samuel that his very sons whom he had appointed to positions of responsibility and leadership were now involved in dishonest gain, bribery and perverted justice. It can be very discouraging to Christian parents when their children no longer walk with God when they become of age. It causes them to question where they went wrong in carrying out the instruction to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. As discouraging as it is, parents cannot allow their own faith to be wrecked. They must continue to walk faithfully and to pray that their children might return to the Lord as well. Proverbs describes both the sorrow of the parent of the child who is disobedient and the joy of the parent of the child who is obedient (Proverbs 13:1; 23:24-250.
Difficulty #3: adaptation to demands of a new day
Samuel had succeeded Eli as judge in Israel. He followed in a long line of judges with an established routine of governing. But now the nation was demanding a new form of government and a new ruler. This left Samuel feeling, not only that he was losing his job, but also that they were rejected him as a person. Of course the Lord told him, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (v. 7).
So it can be with us today. Declining days may bring unemployment or forced retirement. A professional who has given many years to the profession, that he chose early in his career, may find that employment in that field is not possible, for whatever reason. The Christian must have the discipline to reject the despondency and despair that could come upon him. Reacting positively to the demands of a new day, he turns to a second career or accepts the reality of retirement and turns his attention to spiritual pursuits.
Difficulty #4: seeing the next generation turn from “the old paths”
Like Samuel, a Christian can give earnest, even tearful admonition (8:11-18; 12:6-17) to the oncoming generation. He can try to teach about the issues that have faced God’s people in the past. But still some will not want to bother studying “Issues That Divide Us.”
Rather than becoming sullen in such a situation, the challenge is to maintain the sweetness and sincerity of a Samuel. His response to those who he felt was rejecting him was, ‘Yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart … For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people. Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way” (12:20, 22, and 23). Christians today need to sound the same call made by Jeremiah, “Thus says the Lord: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
To Pray and To Teach is one of the “deepest disciplines of declining days.” Erdman makes an excellent point when he says, “In my opinion, Samuel did more for Israel in the days of retirement than in all the long years of active and conspicuous service. He prayed for all his people and their new king, in days that were darker and more difficult than any they had known under Samuel’s administration.”
It is not difficult to believe that Samuel was so busy with his administrative duties that he had not been able to give much time and effort to teaching. Now that he was no longer the leader, he could pray and he could teach. Thus began “the school of the prophets” (1Sam. 19:18-20; 2Ki. 2:15; 4:38; 6:1).
“The discipline of declining days that comes when days wane and strength subsides, when doors close and comforters depart, when others bear the heat and the burden of the day; then to grow old graciously and sweetly; to grant responsibilities to stronger, though less experienced, hands of our sons or others; to adapt oneself to the demands of a new day; and above all, to pray for others and to serve the Lord in whatever hidden ministry may be ours. This disciplines in spirit we are sweetness and strength to those who need us most” (Erdman, p. 53).
George Gordon Byron (i.e. “Lord Byron”) (born January 22, 1788, London, England—died April 19, 1824, Missolonghi, Greece) was a “British Romantic poet and satirist whose poetry and personality captured the imagination of Europe…. had been born with a clubfoot and early developed an extreme sensitivity to his lameness.” (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lord-Byron-poet).
Lord Byron’s response to his physical handicap is captured by Erdman (pp. 71-73) in a lengthy quotation from Margurite, Countess of Blessington’s, A Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron, pp. 143-144. Byron says that it was his feelings at this period that suggested the idea of a play that he wrote calling it The Deformed Transformed.
He said, “My poor mother, and after her my school-fellows by their taunts, had led me to consider my lameness as the greatest misfortune, and I have never been able to conquer this feeling. It requires great natural goodness of disposition, as well as reflection, to conquer the corroding bitterness that deformity engenders in the mind, and which, while preying on itself, sours one toward all the world.”
David’s desire to help the sons of Jonathan (1Sam. 20:14-16; 23:18; 2Sam. 21:7) and especially Mephibosheth (2Sam. 9:3-13) is positive Bible example of how we should respond to deformity.
Another positive example are the lepers sent by God (2Kings 7) to deliver the message that the enemy had fled, and that food had become available in abundance to the starving multitudes of Samaria, as he had promised through his servant Elisha.
“The inconspicuous have their inning, the incompetent make their contribution, the unsightly serve their God and fellow men, and the handicapped help open windows in heaven! (Erdman, p.75)
John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress presents a picture where Greatheart and his courageous companions were on their way to the City of The Great King where they met Mr. Feeble-mind. Mr. Feeble-mind was hesitant to accompany such accomplished pilgrims because he was week and feeble. “In the midst of their discussion, ‘Mr. Ready-to-halt came by with his crutches in his hands and was also going on a pilgrimage.’ To him spoke the weak Christian, ‘I was but now complaining that I had not a suitable companion, but thou art according to my wish”; To which Mr. Ready-to-halt replied with gracious spirit and offered him one of his crutches” (Erdman, p.76).
“Seeing in the shadow of blindness, singing in the sadness of sorrow, serving in the loneliness of lameness, strengthened in the grace that is sufficient; this is the discipline of deformity that makes sweet our spirit, and strengthens that of others.” (Erdman, p. 77)
Life can get us down if we focus on the negative. “So much of life seems utterly meaningless, even miserable, without rhyme or reason, right or wrong and justice, least of all. There is abundance everywhere of turmoil and trouble, tragedy and tears, inhumanity and injustice, sickness and sorrow, so that anyone without would could reason that the universe is entirely unreasonable, a miserable mess, a ghastly joke. There is so much that just ‘happens,’ no apparent plan nor purpose, only pathos, pain and perplexity, loneliness instead of love, handicaps instead of help, false hopes instead of far horizons, pain instead of pleasure, inactivity instead of activity, sobs instead of song, for walls instead of for freedoms, darkness instead of daylight, futility instead of fulfillment: these happen to all of us. This is life but not all of it” (Erdman, p. 151).
But, on the positive side … “There is the discipline of disability that brings singing for sighing, serving for sitting, gladness for gloom, assurance for ashes, melody for mourning, usefulness for uselessness, duty for dungeons.” (IBID)
Consider some Bible examples …
Joseph knew this discipline. He was the subject of the envy by elder brothers (Gen. 37). In Potiphar’s household, he was misrepresented and suffered a miscarriage of justice (Gen. 39). He was forgotten and forsaken in prison (Gen. 40).
However, brighter days came! The opening of prison doors (Gen. 41:1), service in high places (Gen. 41:43), blessed with a son (Manasseh) (Gen. 41:53) that made him forget all his toil, birth of another son (Ephraim)(Gen. 41:52) that reminded him of God’s allowing him to be fruitful in the land of his affliction, and finally, the bowing down of his brothers to him (42:6; 43:26; 44:14).
Job knew this discipline. He was happy, healthy, “a perfect and upright man” (Job 1:8). In a brief time there came loss of loved ones, wealth, and health, everything. His friends became “miserable comforters” blaming his misfortunes on his supposed sins. “…in the book of Job, God is teaching us an even dozen lessons: there can be sorrow without sin, darkness without disobedience, inequity without iniquity, mourning without merit, chaos without cause, judgment without justice. The innocent suffer because of the folly of the fathers, the greed of the grafters, the arrogance of the autocrats, the laxity of the laws, the inhumanity of the uninhibited, the treachery of the tyrants, the wickedness of war, the fatality of fortune, the godlessness of the ungodly” (p.153)
Jonah knew this discipline. Jonah’s problems came upon him because of his disobedience (1:3). As a result, he found himself in the “belly of hell” (2:2-9). Repentant, he returned to the Lord who delivered him (2:10). God calls him the second time (3:1). The discipline of Jonah was relatively brief, compared to Job’s.
The Apostle Paul knew this discipline. At Damascus’ gate he is called by Jesus (Acts 9:3-6; 26:12-20). He went from city to city preaching, suffered many things. But even after all this there was no respite (Acts 21:27-22:24; 23:23-26:32). Even so his attitude continued to be positive (Phil. 1:12). Incidents in his early ministry taught him this discipline: the plot against his life (Acts 9:22-25, the perversity of the sorcerer (13:6-12), the persecution at Antioch (13:44-49), the prison of Philippi (16:25-34). Then there was the imprisonment in Rome where he provided effective witness to the guard (Phil. 1:13), gave encouragement to believers (1:14), shed light on the deepest truth of the gospel (1:21), and was provided the opportunity to write the prison epistles.
Declining Days, Deformity, and Disability are disciplines that we may need to apply at various stages of our lives. With the help of God, we can respond appropriately with the discipline we have gained though focus on our Christian growth.
(Source: The Disciplines of Life by V. Raymond Erdman, pp. 45-53, 71-77, 151-157)