The Secret to Successful Aging

Bring it on.

When was the last time you really improved at something? That’s what a 63-year-old retired editor asked in a recent New York Times feature. Gerald Marzorati took up tennis late in life, and he learned a valuable lesson about aging well: Find something difficult to do, immerse yourself in it, then work to get better! Marzorati says you achieve better aging through practice.

God created our bodies to slow down with age and eventually wear out (Hebrews 9:27). But that does not mean He meant for us to get sick, feeble or senile in old age. As Marzorati learned by taking up tennis at age 55, we can definitely learn new things and grow mentally and physically when we embrace challenges late in life.

“There are quantifiable benefits often associated with taking up something like tennis and getting better at it,” Marzorati wrote. “Your brain, it’s thought, will be recast and strengthened” (April 29). He cited a study where 200 old people improved their memories after learning a complicated new skill.

Improving with age also contains an important spiritual lesson. True Christians must never stop growing. Anyone who stops growing isn’t really Christian because if you are attached to Christ, you will grow! (John 15:1-5).

Jesus said that to be saved, you must endure to the end (Matthew 24:13). That means you overcoming and growing throughout life, “being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). We must grow in the grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

Educator Herbert W. Armstrong set an excellent example of striving for growth and development. In 1981, at age 89, he talked about how much he had learned over the past year. In 1985, he completed his largest and most important book! “With the writing of the new book Mystery of the Ages,” he wrote, “God has helped me this year to do the best work of my 93 years of life!” (member and co-worker letter, Nov. 25, 1985). Shortly before he died, Mr. Armstrong said he had learned more in his last 10 years than in all the previous decades put together.

How did he do it? He credited two sources: God’s power, and sheer determination and self-drive. “Of course God expects us to do our own part,” he wrote. “He does for us what we can’t do for ourselves! But when you put both together—your own best and add what God can do that’s beyond what you can do—you’ve got a combination that pays off!” (Plain Truth, July 1975).

Mr. Armstrong drove himself forward! He took on difficult new challenges, yet totally depended on God’s awesome power. He claimed God’s promise in Isaiah 40:28-31: “[T]he everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary. … He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary … But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

In 1982 Mr. Armstrong wrote about a growing tragedy in Western society: people growing old before their time. He recalled driving by a retirement home and seeing its residents sitting on the verandas, just passing the time, with despondent looks on their faces. “Plainly, they had nothing to look forward to,” he wrote. “There was just a tired, uninterested, hopeless stare on their faces. They were just eking out an existence until finally death would deliver them from endless monotony. I had to wonder: Why should people believe in a myth that cheats millions out of one of the happiest times of life? Why should the millions believe a myth that makes them old before their time and robs them of usefulness, vigor, sparkling interest in life and real accomplishment?” (Worldwide News, Nov. 15, 1982).

Yes, even in old age, we can “produce fruit” and “remain vital and green” (Psalm 92:14; New Living Translation). Consider the biblical example of Caleb. He was 40 years old when Moses sent him to spy out the land of Canaan. Forty-five years later, he was still embracing challenges, driving himself forward, and trusting God. He said, “As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out, and to come in” (Joshua 14:11).

God kept Caleb strong and healthy. At age 85, Caleb was as ready for battle as when he was 40! Facing a group of giants, he said, “if so be the Lord will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the Lord said” (verse 12). What an attitude! Caleb didn’t retire, hand everything off to the younger generation and sit around. This senior citizen was enlisting for mountain warfare—hand-to-hand combat against giants! He had the same mind-set Mr. Armstrong had: As long as I’m alive, I’m young enough to face new challenges!

Like many other outstanding, dynamic elderly leaders for God, these men had two characteristics that you can have: self-drive, and strength that is renewed by your Creator!

If we are following God with our whole hearts, we’ll never retire from spiritual labor. We’ll seek out new challenges, and always work to improve and grow!