by Robert Brow - May 1999    (Web site - www.brow.on.ca)

"In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap" (Psalm 92:14).

One of the principles of modern missionary methods is that the good news should be introduced into a tribal culture without giving rules as to how the culture should change. The Holy Spirit will change whatever He chooses, in whatever way is needed for that culture, and in any sequence that He thinks is appropriate. A previous generation of missionaries told African people to stop honouring their ancestors, dispose of surplus wives one, and trained their ministers to adopt western music, wear dog collars, and conduct services with Anglican robes and English reserve. These rules were not gospel, and they dampened the creative growth of the church.

A similar principle applies in our work among young people. They also belong to a tribal structure. They don't need a previous generation's moralizing, political preferences, cultural norms, music, or lifestyle. The Holy Spirit will change them as he chooses in very unexpected creative directions. We must keep our heavy hands off, or lose them for ever.

The principle of avoiding the heavy hand of previous norms, rules, values, and expectations also applies as we enter old age. Gail Sheehy wrote an excellent book called Passages : Predictable Crises of Adult Life. 1976.  Retirement and old age are predictable crises. But Gail Sheehy was only able to talk about what we should do at each stage in our own strength.

Christian good news offers us the mighty power of the creative Spirit of God.  How do we draw on this power ? A simple answer is to ask and receive. "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13).

But there are qualifications. Old age is also a tribal situation. Other old people (and younger people) will tell me what I should settle down to being. I should stop trying to do. But, rather than thinking of resting from previous labours to do nothing, what I need is an open-ended freedom to create.

The freedom to create can come in two forms. I can choose to create a garden, a hobby, a club, a service to the community, and hundred other good things by my own wisdom and energy.  The deliberate choice to let the Holy Spirit inspire and motivate me is a quite different mindset. It does not take away my creative freedom, but it gives it the quality of inspiration. It is like the difference between the nice ordinary work of a hack artist and the painting which grabs us and we know has come by the inbreathing of the Spirit of God.

This requires refusing any previous stereotypes I have adopted for myself.

The Holy Spirit can never do what He has in mind if I accept the heavy hand of previous norms, rules, and expectations. I need to be open to anything in whatever form that he might have in mind. And that is no different and certainly no easier that at any other stage of life. And yet Jesus suggested that it should be very easy (Luke 11:13, John 16:12, 23-24, James 1:5-6, 3:17-18).

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