My birthday was coming up. A rather significant one. There was nothing I could do to stop it happening! I could wring my hands or stamp my feet; pout or fume, pray for hours, even call an all-night prayer meeting with sympathetic friends to stave it off—it would do no good. It would happen anyway. As Jesus said 2,000 years ago, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (or subtract one!) (Matt. 6:27).
A few years ago I was speaking at a women’s event and my hostess had left me a basket of fruit in my room and a little note card with a greeting and a verse of Scripture. After reading the note and the verse I went to look in the mirror. Better get a better publicity picture, I thought! The verse was Psalm 71:18. It said: “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.”
After sitting on the edge of my bed and meditating on the idea, I realized this was more than a kind note from the committee wishing to encourage an aging warrior who looked a little the worse for wear. This was a word from God!
Carefully I read the verse again and noted the one that came before it. “Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.” I remembered my youth and my conversion at college in the UK. The wonder of discovering Jesus—or rather of Jesus discovering me—flooded over me. Pictures danced in my mind—of my friend’s shocked faces as I struggled to explain whose I was and whom I now served. My friends, most of whom found it impossible to reconcile the new Jill with the old familiar one, left me.
I thought about my rich heritage, having heard John Stott and C. S. Lewis (a professor at Cambridge the same period I attended college there.) I thought of my amazing opportunity to attend the famous Keswick convention and listed to celebrated British preachers, and I played back the memories of being taken along to hear a young and vibrant Reverend Billy Graham preach at the renowned Harringay Crusade in London.
I thought of meeting and marrying the love of my life and fellow “declarer of His might and power” and how we left the business world and worked on staff at a youth mission together. I remember roaming the streets of the UK and talking to kids who had never heard that Jesus was alive and had the power to change their lives as He had changed ours. And I thanked God all over again for my heritage of life and service. Yes, the verses from Psalm 71 walked off the pages and into my life that day years ago, making themselves at home. I took out my Bible and marked the place, so I would know where it was when I needed to remember it.
We—Stuart and I—I had just been in countries where freedom for the church was curtailed. Sitting on the floor in a hot humid upper room with thirty pastors’ wives, teaching the book of Philippians—the words of an aged man in a prison 2,000 years ago, restricted, yet declaring His power and might to the next generation of believers—I watched the careful attention and eager note taking. Some of those women are younger than my own children, I thought. In fact two of them were the age of our eldest grandchildren! These servants of Jesus were the next generation who would need to carry the torch to their children and grandchildren after them. They had no heritage like I had. They had few biblical helps, teachers or Bibles. Things were just plain difficult. Yet there was so much joy and laughter. Worship was whispered, prayer intense; hunger for the Word of God evident. Don’t stop, they asked me wordlessly after an hour and a half teaching session. What joy to be there! What privilege.
They knew about my birthday and had prepared a special cake. There was little commotion downstairs and suddenly all the Bibles disappeared and a table appeared with my birthday cake on it decorated with my name. I was gently nudged into the center of a circle of women and a cake knife was put in my hand poised over the cake. My new friends gathered round and offered a hearty rendering of something that sounded vaguely like “Happy Birthday to You.” We celebrated. A little time passed and all was peaceful again and they said they were ready to finish Philippians 2. The cake disappeared—in case it was needed again. I will not soon forget that birthday!
The time came for me to return to the hotel, and a sweet young woman came to me shyly, struggling with her English. She said, “This last Sunday we honored our elderly people. And we gave them a verse of Scripture to encourage them. I want to encourage you too. Please come back someday. This verse if for you from the Lord.”
I knew without looking where she had turned in her Bible, before she read, “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.” I cried. She cried.
We are told in the Word of God that our allotted lifespan is “threescore years and ten” (Psalm 909:10, KJV), so in one week’s time I would have completed my allotted span and joined my husband in “Overtime”! Later, I asked a friend who is a soccer coach to tell me what he said to his players if they tied a game and found themselves in overtime. Without hesitation he said, “If my players find themselves in overtime I tell them: ‘Take risks and go for the goal. Give it all you’ve got. Never give up!’” I realized: that’s what Stuart and I are doing. We are busier than ever, taking risks, going for the goal, giving it all we’ve got. We are sharing the wisdom God has so graciously granted us through the years. Hey, it’s okay—in fact; it’s a grand place to be! Hurry up and join us—the next generation is waiting!
Just Between Us Magazine