“When the Almond Tree Blossoms”

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken March 16, 1997

My grandmother is getting old. I think Grandma Eva is 88, but it is hard to keep track. She lives far away in a home in Pella, Iowa, the City of Refuge.

Last month I was awakened by the Spirit to pray for her in the middle of the night. I later learned why she needed my prayers. She had fallen out of bed and injured herself. Too weak to climb back into bed, she lay in the dark for an hour before crawling to the door to call for help.

Since then Grandma has suffered a stroke. She has lost some of her movement and some of her ability to reason. Since she can no longer take of her own needs she will not be allowed to return to her former home. That makes some of her nurses—and even her own children—seem to her like adversaries. This is frightening for her and distressing for everyone else.

It is hard to watch someone grow old. It must be even harder to grow old one’s self. The writer of Ecclesiastes composed a poem about aging. It is a beautiful poem, but melancholy.

Remember your Creator

in the days of your youth,

before the days of trouble come

and the years approach when you will say,

“I find no pleasure in them”—before the sun and the light

and the moon and the stars grow dark,

and the clouds return after the rain;

when the keepers of the house tremble,

and the strong men stoop,

when the grinders cease because they are few,

and those looking through the windows grow dim;

when the doors to the street are closed

and the sound of grinding fades;

when men rise up at the sound of birds,

but all their songs grow faint;

when men are afraid of heights

and of dangers in the streets;

when the almond tree blossoms

and the grasshopper drags himself along

and desire no longer is stirred.

Then man goes to his eternal home

and mourners go about the streets (Ecc. 12:1-5)

Everything the Bible describes so vividly has come to pass in my grandmother’s old age. She has few pleasures. Her hands are unsteady and her back is stooped. She has lost her teeth and her eyes have grown dim. She rises with the birds, or earlier, but she cannot hear them very well. If she goes out she is in danger of falling. Her hair is white, like the almond tree in springtime. The poet would say her desire no longer is stirred. She just tells me she doesn’t have any “pep.” Soon, soon she will go to her eternal rest and the mourners will gather in the streets.

As I have watched my grandmother grow old I have learned at least two lessons about the way God cares for the elderly. The first is that godly children are one of life’s greatest blessings. Proverbs states that children’s children are a crown to the aged (Prov. 17:6a), which is especially true when those children belong to the Lord. Actually, my grandmother has gone one generation better than the proverb. She is crowned with her children’s children’s children. Whenever she writes she asks how her great-grandchildren are doing. In my mind I can see her lifting their pictures from her desk and praising God for her reward.

The second blessing God has given my grandmother is Himself. My grandmother has a special friendship with God. She is a great woman of prayer. She prays for her church and her family by day and by night. So earnestly does she intercede for my own preaching that I almost wonder if my ministry could survive the loss of her prayers.

I am convinced that the most valuable work in the kingdom of God is done by women such as my grandmother. Often, the elderly have more time to devote to the life of prayer. They can spend less time doing and more time praying. Furthermore, older Christians have strong confidence in the power of prayer and long experience in the need for prayer. They also have a good idea what to pray about. It makes sense for the most valuable and difficult Christian work to be undertaken by those with the greatest spiritual maturity.

The fruit of a life of prayer is the closest intimacy with God. My grandmother has less of almost everything in her life—less food, less fellowship, less furniture. But she has more of God than ever. “You know,” she will say to me on the telephone, “it is as if God lives with me right here in this room, and I know he does.”

This Window on the World is meant to be an encouragement to the aged. The Bible is honest about the hardships of growing old. But it is also generous in the honor it gives to the elderly. The Lord blesses older saints, and the best blessing of all is the gift of Himself. If you are an old Christian, for the sake of the church, may I ask you to become a man or woman of prayer?

This Window is also a challenge to the young. The poem in Ecclesiastes is about old age, but it is mainly for the young. It reminds them to remember their Creator in the days of their youth. It is very difficult for an aged sinner to come to Christ in faith. An old mind finds it hard to understand the truth, and an old heart can be a hard heart. It would be much better for you to become a friend of Christ right now. Then there would be time for your relationship with God to grow into the kind of friendship my grandmother enjoys. After all, old friends make the best friends.

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