God needs people like you and I to get His work done on earth. In the Old Testament He set apart the Levites as a committed band to serve in the temple.
“Of all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the Tent of Meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary.” Numbers 8:19
The above phrase uses the Hebrew “nathan” twice to emphasise the fact that the Levites were “gifts” (nathan) to the community. Ministry begins when we are able to give our lives as a gift to our families, friends and peoples around us.
The word nathan also reminds us of the classic verse in Ephesians 4:8 which describes the five-fold ministry functions as gifts to the Body of Christ.
“When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”
Numbers 8:24-26 gives a specific ministry season for the Levitic ministry.
“This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the Tent of Meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work.”
This is a fantastic encouragement to all the twenty-five year olds amongst us. Imagine the awesome possibilities of pioneering and establishing a work of God for a twenty-five year period. Not just a short-term stint but two and a half decades of wild excitement, living on the edge of faith with the all providing Holy Spirit. Nothing is a greater pleasure or privilege.
Twenty-five is the year for taking responsibility and going for your Holy Spirit inspired dreams. Before twenty-five we can be mightily touched by God but are still in a period of training and preparation.
However, on reading the above passage, the fifty plus contingent may be getting slightly discouraged? What about me? Is it time to retire lamely to the old age Levites home?
Why did God in his wisdom set a fifty year cut off point?
I can think of at least two reasons.
1) Necessary Kenosis
At fifty years old one is at a spiritual, mental and experiential peak. You’ve built a work, you’ve made a name, you’ve paid the price. What next? There is an African proverb which says:
“A tree born in the shadow of a great Baobab dies a small bush.”
The smaller, growing trees need space and sunlight to fulfill their growth potential. You need to make space! Other personalities need to emerge to fashion new forms in the works of God. God encouraged such a necessary kenosis (emptying, diminishing, space making) in His Levitical model, but the principle – evidently in a non dogmatic form, is still relevent to us all today.
2) To avoid too great a cultural and generational distance being established in the temple
It is hard for older people who are naturally and wonderfully limited to their established paradigm of life and thinking to understand the new ways of the younger generation and the rapidly changing emerging cultures. Jesus is seen walking through the lampstands in Revelation 2:1, and God straddles time and culture with ease, constantly applying His eternal truth to the necessary paradigms and world views of each generation and culture. His Church is not a monolithic, one size fits all cheese cutter, but a supple, radiant, top model bride. He set up the Levitical model to avoid a cultural and generational bottle neck with the old hegemonies owning all the power. Again this truth can be applied to our situations today.
So is all this bad news for the over fifties? (By the way if you get wonderfully saved at fifty you can carry on till seventy-five!)
There will no doubt be pain and crisis, but these can also be the necessary birth pains to thrust you into a new season of life.
Let’s take a close look at an older minister, Simeon – our personal model, in Luke 2:25-35 to discover seven new wonderful ministry options that open up to this chosen and precious generation.
1) After twenty-five years of faithful service one possesses immense spiritual and personal capital
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”
Simeon, as an example for many mature men and women, had learnt to walk in righteousness. “Devout” has negative, passive overtones in today’s language, but the original Greek, eulabes, meant to grab hold of something good with a violent passion! While so many others aggressively grabbed for the useless idols of this world, Simeon had learned to hold on to the life of worship, prayer and meditation.
He had learned the patient wait of expectant faith. Younger men and women are necessarily and vitally impatient in their need to pioneer and build. A deeper waiting can be found in the soul of such Serene Disciples.
He was anointed by the Holy Spirit. He had revelation and great sensitivity to the heart of God as the verses in Luke mention at least three times how this old covenant man was covered in the presence of the Holy.
“Waiting for Consolation…” So many mature ministries have been so wounded by their years of building, battling and thankless toil. We are not like Beckett’s lonely tramps vainly “Waiting for Godot” but royal priests to whom Jesus himself gives a clear promise. Even as you read now, hear his personal promise from John 14:18
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
Jesus, ever-living to intercede for us, asks the Father to give us another Counsellor – Comforter – Consoler – Paraklete, to be with us for ever – the Spirit of truth.
3) Seeing Jesus beyond death and failure – a vision of resurrection
“It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”
Never die without a clear vision of Christ!
Although I grope for my glasses as my aged physical eyes can no longer read the Bible alone, my inner eyes see even more clearly the victory of the man-child.
4) Discerning of the next decisive step
“Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required…”
I have a question for you. Where is the Holy Spirit moving you to?
There is always a new beginning for the old baobabs! Do not let anything quench the Spirit’s fire in you. Awake the dream and respond in renewed youth to the heavenly Bridegroom’s touch.
Simeon was led to an anonymous poor couple presenting their fragile new-born. Despise not the kenosis and dare to embrace the seemingly insignificant moments and people who may, after all, contain the future seeds of hope.
5) Recognise, receive and bless the “little Christ” who appears humbly on your new journey
“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying…”
You have your own “sayings” and authority to bless the emerging generation. Make your arms available and open to encourage every new beginning that you encounter on this post fifty journey. There is nothing sadder and more damaging than the withheld embrace and bitter curse of the rejected and wounded Simeon.
6) Nune Dimittis – Be at peace with God, family and the world through a vision of God’s mission – Missio Dei
“…now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Maturity brings a growing inner sight of God’s triumphant purpose and passion in winning a world of people to Himself. Still active in sharing Jesus as a light to the nations, we find an even greater strength of intercessory prayer which flows from the inner revelation of God’s salvation reaching the nations through an ever-increasing global community of missionary pioneers. We have peace not just to be dismissed to heaven, but peace to be dismissed – even sent (apoluo), into a new season of powerful missional ministry.
7) Be one who carries cross centred truth and a prophetic blessing
“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Speaking out “destiny” is an awesome responsibility for those who have walked long years with the Master of all our destinies and who have learnt to passionately love and embrace the truth of His Word. Simeon could painfully discern the shadow of a cruel cross over the promised Messiah and, in the midst of all the exciting promises, he was not afraid to speak plainly of the sword – the cost of ministry.
May these seven ministry options encourage many to step into the new horizon of life that beckons you as you hair greys in wisdom and authority.
The best wine is yet to come!