A Biblical Apologetics for Contemplative Prayer

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,   1Pet. 3:15

 

As a way of giving account for the spiritual emphasis that we encourage at Imago Dei, we offer a Scriptural apologetics for the practice of contemplative prayer* and for the spiritual direction that such prayer implies.  These meditations will hopefully serve to secure our confidence that we are truly pursuing Jesus’ intent for us, according to Scripture.

* Note: Contemplative prayer is simply an aspect of  prayer that explores the more receptive side of our relationship with God.  It describes the more passive posture that we sometimes assume in prayer.

 

PART 1:  SEEKING GOD’S FACE

Contemplative prayer traces the deep desires of the heart that lead to God as the ultimate object of our longing.    It is the response of our hearts to the invitation we often hear throughout Scripture to “seek God’s face.” (1Ch 16:11, 2Ch 7:14, Ps, 24:6, Hos. 5:15)   David describes something of the profound longing of love that inspires contemplative prayer when he writes, “My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek”  (Ps. 27:8).  Such prayer awakens in us the desire to seek not only the knowledge of God, but a growing intimacy with the person of Christ (Jn 5:39).

A. W. Tozer once spoke of the curious logic whereby many Christians assume that “once they have found God, they no longer need to seek Him.”   And yet to seek intimacy with God is the very reason for which we were given life.  As Paul explains to the Athenians

From one man God made every nation, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that we would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.

(Acts 17:26-28)

Not only does the Lord encourage such seeking, He also delights in our response.  As the book of Proverbs declares, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me”  (Prov. 8:17).  Other Scriptures, as well, gives us assurance that if we seek God we will surely find Him (Dt. 4:29, Jer. 29:13).  Jesus invites us to prioritize this quest (Mt. 7:7) and affirms His friend Mary who chooses intimacy with Him over the distracting busy-ness of life. What Jesus says to her He says to us as well, “only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better” (Lk. 10:42).

Seeking God then is an intentional form of prayer whereby we exalt our relationship with God over all other relationships that define our lives.   Such seeking inevitably implies the conversion of our wills, as well as the purifying of our desires as we choose, in all areas of life, to exchange our self-orientation for the precious pearl of new life in Christ (Mt. 13:45).

To seek and find God’s face then is our chief vocation.  It is our glory.  As the book of Proverbs states, “it is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings (and queens)”  (Prov. 25:2).  Because of the many veils that remain over our hearts God seems more hidden to us than He really is.  But as our hearts are unveiled, our own glory as Abba’s children is revealed as we more perfectly reflect God’s image (2Cor. 3:16).  This is the relationship of intimate love and closeness that God most desires with us.  From the mysterious place of His seeming absence the Lord bids us to come near saying, “Who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?”  (Jer. 30:21).  He also assures us that, as we draw near to Him, He will also draw near to us (Jam. 4:8).

Contemplation, then, is a form of prayer that intentionally cultivates the discipline of seeking and finding God.  It takes place in an environment of minimal distraction where the heart is most free to discover and respond to its profound longing for unity with God.  The desire to seek the Lord’s “face,” as well as the ongoing conversion of our hearts in purifying this desire, are what inspire the practice of Christian contemplative prayer.

The motivation as well as the objectives of contemplative prayer make it different in intent from other types of prayer that we are also called to—notably prayers of intercession and petition.  It represents spiritual growth in the area of increasing given-ness to God (Rom. 12:1).  In this it has much in common with the disposition of prayer that most defined Jesus’ life—He who “made Himself nothing” (Phil. 2:7) in order to remain perfectly united with His Father.

 

 

PART 2:  SEEKING LOVE

Contemplative prayer represents the natural progression of love towards greater intimacy with God.  As John of the Cross taught, “it is the nature of love to desire unity with the object of its love.”  This is why Scripture so often uses the image of marriage as the most appropriate metaphor for the love relationship that God desires with us (Hos. 1-3, Isa. 54:5, Eph. 5:31-32, Rev. 19:7).  From the deep yearning that such prayer evokes, our own hearts cry out as well for unity with our “Abba” (Gal. 4:6)   What we seek is nothing short of the intimacy of marital hope whereby “the two shall become one.”

Contemplative prayer is a receptive posture that submits, in love, to the advances of God.  It is an expression of utter trust such as David describes in Psalm 131 where he “stills and quiets his soul” in order to rest more fully in the embrace of God.   This “resting in love” also represents our most basic sense of “home.” It anticipates the spiritual rest that the writer of Hebrews encourages when he writes,

There remains then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest. (Heb. 4:9-10)

To rest from our own “work” in prayer expresses faith that the Holy Spirit is truly active in this relationship.  And from this place of stillness, we come to a more precise knowledge and experience of the Spirit’s movements within us.  In the immediacy of our experience, we come to know, that  “He is Lord”  ( Ps. 46:10).

Over and over, the Psalms speak of our deep longing for intimacy with God, often equating it with the essential need of the body for food or water (Ps. 42:1-2, Mat. 5:6).  It is a longing that grows in intensity the more we taste that the Lord is good.  Psalm 84, for instance, celebrates the passion of love when it speaks of the heart and flesh crying out for God, and of the soul yearning, even fainting, for the courts of the Lord (Ps. 84:2).  Receptive prayer heightens and concentrates these deep longings for unity with God. To seek the fruit of contemplative prayer then is an expression of our desire to be more consistently open and available to God.  In this, contemplative prayer is simply a response to Jesus’ command to “remain in His love” (Jn 15:9).

As our experience of God’s love grows, so does our resolve to never leave again.  Like Ulysses lashing himself to the mast of his ship so that he would not be lured to the shore by the Sirens, we too seek to position ourselves as close as possible to the Fount from which we draw our life.  Like the branch that remains fruitful in the vine (Jn 15:5), we learn to “remain in His love” through the disposition that contemplative prayer teaches.

 

PART 3:  SEEKING GOD’S WILL

Contemplative prayer is one of the ways we respond to the Spirit’s invitation to surrender more fully to God, in whom we live, move and have our being (Acts 17:28).  It is the life that Jesus envisioned for us when He prayed to His Father, “May they be one with us, just as you and I are one” (Jn 17:21)  For Jesus, the pronoun “I” was always understood as “We.”  He did not suffer the illusions of autonomy and of separation as we do.

Our Lord’s deepest desire is that we too should live according to the same relationship of loving obedience that He enjoys with the Father—a life lived in the immediacy of God’s will (Jn 5:19, 12:49-50).  Contemplative prayer, then, seeks to live more in tandem with the conformity that Christ modeled for us (Rom 8:29).  As we grow in this disposition, our desires become more congruent with the Father’s will in all that we are and do.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord anticipates the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost by which He will impart to us the immediacy of His will.  Referring to this gift as the “new covenant” He says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”  (Jer. 31:33).  The prophet Ezekiel also speaks of this initiative from God when he writes,

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

(Eze. 36:26-27)

Again, a similar conversion of the heart is echoed in Eze. 11:19 when the Lord says,

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

In contrast to our hearts of stone, which are insensitive to the movements of God, the heart of flesh represents conversion towards a life that is more attentive to the Lord’s promptings.  As we submit to these movements, we reflect more accurately the particular image of God that each of us is meant to be (2Cor. 3:18).  Contemplative prayer then is the crucible in which we place ourselves for the conversion of our hearts towards greater conformity with God’s creativity in our lives.

God’s will, now imparted to us directly, is no longer a set of marching orders that comes from outside us, but more a movement of the Spirit, written on our hearts, that we are to follow out of a growing love for He who moves us.  The onus of our obedience has shifted from adherence to the external and prescribed laws of the Old Testament to a growing sensitivity and submission to the immediate promptings of God’s life within us.  It requires not so much the discipline of self-will, leading to obedience, as the loving and continual submission of the self to its Creator.  It is God Himself who promises to move our hearts in accordance with His will—to place in us the desire to obey all that He is doing in and through us.

The apostle Paul as well speaks of a movement of Spirit that takes place within us in accordance with the will of God.  In his letter to the Romans, he writes of the prayer that is active in our hearts as a result of the Holy Spirit’s presence within us.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. and God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  (Rom 8:26-27 RSV)

Such is the God-breathed prayer that contemplative prayer attends to.  It surrenders to the initiative of the Spirit, exchanging the self-willed life for one that more fittingly has its origins in God.  As Jesus tells Nicodemeus, in order to partake in the kingdom of heaven we must be born “from above,” (i.e. according to the immediate will of our Creator), rather than “from below” (i.e. according to our own best intentions)  (Jn 3:6, Jn 1:12-13).

Through contemplative prayer we sacrifice our autonomy on the altar of God’s will (Rom. 12:1).  As the clay submits to the Potter, so we allow ourselves to be refashioned according to the higher ways of God (Jer. 18:4).  No longer drinking from our own cisterns, we draw life instead from the living water of Christ (Jer. 2:13). Such is the trusting disposition of love and submission that contemplative prayer fosters in us.

 

PART 4:   SEEKING A MORE HUMBLE OBEDIENCE

Contemplative prayer humbles us and makes us more disposed to yield our lives to God.  It is a posture of self-offering through which we imitate the humility of Christ who perfected His own obedience (Heb. 5:8) to the Father’s will by making Himself nothing (Phil. 2:7).   Growing in our dependence on God, we come to trust and anticipate the goodness of His ways rather than following those of our own understanding, or of our best intentions (Prov. 3:5-6).

Such prayer invites us to increasingly surrender ourselves, out of love, to whatever God is calling us to be.  It is the posture of clay that trusts the Potter’s hand without having to second-guess God’s purposes (Isa. 45:9).  It is the disposition that God affirms in Mary when she offers herself unequivocally to the Lord’s initiative saying, “Let it be unto me, according to Your word”  (Luke 1:38).  It is the union that Jesus encourages when He invites us to exchange the heavy burden of our autonomous life for His much lighter yoke (Mt. 11:30).

Contemplative prayer seeks humble obedience to the Divine will that is always acting upon us.  As the apostle Peter teaches us, God has given “his very great and precious promises, so that through them we may participate in the divine nature” (2Pet. 1:4).  As we defer to God’s initiative in our lives, our hearts align more closely with the Spirit whose very purpose is to call us to conformity with Christ (Rom 8:29).

Paul too exhorts us to seek the more immediate will of God in our lives saying, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”  (Gal. 5:25).  It implies a growing attentiveness to the Spirit’s movement—the very fruit that contemplative prayer fosters in us.  Such prayer encourages the humility of silence and stillness.  We learn to rest from our own works (Heb. 4:10) in order to be more attentive, and obedient, to God’s initiative.

To seek the Lord’s preference for our lives is also what Paul encourages when he tells us to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph. 5:10).  We welcome, as our own, whatever God’s desire for us might be.  Such was the disposition that Jesus modeled for us throughout His life, most notably in the garden of Gethsemane (Mat. 26:39).    It requires the same humble disposition by which John the Baptist recognized that “He (Christ) must increase and I must decrease (Jn. 3:30).

Jesus taught on many occasions that, in order to find our lives, we must first lose them (Mt. 10:39).  Paul, as well, teaches that it is only to the degree that we have died to ourselves that Christ’s resurrection can become the Source of our new life (Rom. 6:4).  Presenting himself as an example of this new creation, he proclaims that, “the life I live is not my own, it is Christ who lives in me”  (Gal. 2:20).  He has exchanged the old man for the new (Col. 3:9-10)

Contemplative prayer then is our response to the Spirit’s invitation to live more humbly in tandem with God’s will.  It fosters growth not only in our attentiveness to the movements of the Holy Spirit, but also in our trust of God and of His mysterious ways as the ongoing Creator of our lives.   Jesus alludes to the humility that such prayer will require of us when He says, “Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

From the increasing state of given-ness that contemplative prayer encourages—a life more yoked with the humility of Jesus—we also come to enjoy a foretaste of the “glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).  For as Paul writes elsewhere, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2Cor. 3:17).   Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light.  This is what we discover as we “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts” (Col. 3:15).   Only then can we bear authentic witness to the truth of Paul’s words that “the mind controlled by the Spirit is peace and life.”  (Rom. 8:6)

Highway to Heaven

And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way.    Isa. 35:8

Imagine a multitude of people walking along a raised path in the wilderness.  They are crowded together, having to move carefully as there are ditches on either side of the high way.  Most of the people seem to be walking resolutely towards some destination.  You notice a marked difference though between those at the front of the line and those at the end, who are just beginning to join the throng.  A significant transformation has taken place in the souls of those who have travelled longer on this path.  It becomes evident, in light of this conversion, that the destination of this journey is not necessarily to a place but to an increasing state of freedom—a freedom associated with holiness.

Those at the front of the line seem to shine with a winsome glow that inspires and motivates the people behind them.  Every now and then, those behind catch a glimpse of the virtue that the saints ahead of them are enjoying, causing a noticeable ripple of enthusiasm through the crowd.  But regardless where people are positioned on this path, they seem satisfied and grateful to be there.  The motivation that those ahead of them provide is not so much one of envy but one of anticipation that serves to quicken their step.

You notice, as well, that there are people wandering in the fields and rocky areas on either side of the raised highway, some alone and others in small groups.  These people seem lost and oblivious to the parade that is taking place right beside them.  But you also notice some who are walking among them with much more of a sense of purpose.  They are those who have sacrificed their place in line in order to go search for these lost souls.  You watch as one of them approaches a group of wanderers and begins speaking to them.  You can tell by the way she keeps pointing towards the highway that she is inviting them  to come and join her in the journey.  Some do, but many don’t.  Instead, they keep  wandering in the field, their eyes looking far into the distance for whatever they are searching for.

There is a high hill nearby, off to the side of the road.  You climb it, and you can now see the whole multitude at a glance.  You notice that there is a bulge of people in the middle of the throng while the numbers seem to thin out at both the front and rear of the line.  The ones in the middle are carrying items with them that will serve the whole community on their journey—tents, food, water, as well as musical instruments, books for teaching, liturgical vestments and other articles that express something of their common destination.  Every night they set up their tents and serve the many people who gather for a common meal.  It is an opportune time as well to share stories and to remind one another of the hope that inspires their trek.

At the rear of the line you see some people who are obviously new at this pilgrimage.  Though they seem to begin each day with an inordinate amount of enthusiasm they soon start complaining about tiredness, blisters and the heat of the noon-day sun.  But there are others among them, people with the same glow as those in the front of the line.  They have purposely fallen back in the line, choosing instead to walk among the new pilgrims, encouraging them and reminding them of where they are going.  They are keeping an eye out as well for stragglers who might get left behind.

Curiously, there is something similar happening at the front of the line.  You see people who had previously been glowing with the winsome radiance of purpose who are now sitting down, seemingly dejected on the side of the road.  Their glow has faded as they seem confused about their way, disheartened by the challenges that the process of conversion continues to impose on them.  Others from the front line leave the highway to sit with these people.  They are talking with them, gently bringing both understanding and encouragement to these discouraged souls.  As you notice the glow slowly return to these people, you remember Moses and Elijah’s conversation with Jesus at the transfiguration.  Finally they get up and rejoin the crowd, grateful to those who cared enough to notice them.

As you strain to see how far the front line extends you are startled by what you notice.  The people at the very front seem to be mysteriously disappearing.  Their souls, which were getting brighter and brighter with each step, are now becoming increasingly  transparent so that they blend into the bright light of the sun.  They are becoming one with the light that has been following them their whole journey so that they seem to disappear as they reflect the very holiness they have been seeking.  The brightness of these souls attracts the attention of the pilgrims behind them.  Suddenly, these same people who just a moment ago were dragging their steps, are now throwing themselves forward, making a renewed offering of themselves to whatever lies ahead for them on this journey.  They do this so joyfully that it reminds you of your own deep desires for holiness.  That you too have been called to walk on this highway.

You have been watching long enough.  It is time now for you too to join this pilgrimage.  You step down from the hilltop and run towards the highway.  The people see you approaching and turn to welcome you.  With a song of praise in your heart, you realize how blessed you are to be on this road.  You too will soon reflect the light that now surrounds you.  You thank God for this hope, and for the love you feel for all those who walk with you on this pilgrimage.  And with great joy, you go forth.

Lost & Found

“Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:8-10

It is not uncommon us, even as Christians, to lose our sense of God.  As the hymn suggests, we are “prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love.”  For countless and often trivial reasons, we choose to no longer remain in His love.  But as Jesus’ teaches in this parable, there is cause for celebration in heaven each time we repent of this.  The woman finds her lost coin, she calls her friends and neighbours, they share her joy, and all ends well.

But let us back the story up a bit.  To the part just before the lost coin is found, when that happy outcome is not yet certain.  It is easy to imagine the concern that precipitates the frantic search for this precious item.  If heaven rejoices when the coin has been found, does it not also suggest that it shares the worry over what, for the moment, appears to be lost?

Is there concern in God’s heart when we stray—that we might not return?  The French poet Charles Péguy (1873-1914) thinks so. He believes there is a genuine, heart-felt fear on God’s part whenever His children have been away for too long.  In his epic poem, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, Péguy surmises that it was the lost sheep who first introduced such fear in the Shepherd’s heart.  He writes,

By his very going away,
and because he was going to miss the evening call
the lost sheep aroused fear from the very heart of God,
and thus he caused hope itself to spring forth.
Because of this lost sheep, Jesus experienced fear in love.

Our “missing the evening call” is surely a cause for concern in heaven.  There is, after all, the real risk that the exercise of our God-given freedom might become a snare for us.  We could succumb to the arrogant words of the Israelites which Jeremiah records, “We are free to roam; we will come to you no more’?”  (Jer. 2:31).  If not for God’s grace, we too could be swallowed up by the very idols we create.  What, for instance, might the fate of the prodigal son have been if, rather than ending up in a pig’s pen, he had instead prospered from his own initiatives?

As we ignore the continued appeals of the Holy Spirit to return to God, there is always a possibility that our faith might be shipwrecked (1Tim. 1:19).  It is not, after all, just for idle speculation that the book of Proverbs warns us that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12).

As a wise preacher once noted, there are as many Scriptures that assure us of the security of our salvation as there are that caution us not to take the Lord’s grace for granted.  In other words, God has valid enough reasons to be concerned for us when we wander too far on our own.

The three parables of lostness—the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son—all speak of the rejoicing that takes place in celebration of the return of that which was lost.  But they also hint at the very real parental concern that remains in God’s heart until the precious item has been recovered.

Trusting God With Our Inadequacies

To the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

Rom. 4:5

In her biography, Before the Living God, the Carmelite Abbess Ruth Burrows writes about the pilgrimage of trust that she and her fellow sisters have long been on.  She sees the development of our growing trust in God as the principle agenda of the spiritual life, something that we can only enjoy to the degree that we have put to rest the anxious “work” of trying to manage our relationship with God.  She writes,

I want to show people that what really matters is utter trust in God; that this trust cannot be there until we have lost all self-trust and are rooted in poverty; that we must be willing to go to God with empty hands.  The whole meaning of our existence and the one consuming desire of the heart of God is that we should trust God enough to let ourselves be loved.

Trusting God’s love for us means doing so also in the context of our sense of personal inadequacy, especially with regards to the spiritual life.  To fret over our failures, or to presume that these disqualify us in any way, is to usurp God’s prerogative to love us even in our poverty.

As a young nun observing her fellow sisters, Burrows remembers the many so-called spiritual acts that, in her estimation, betrayed more of a lack of trust among those who had otherwise committed their lives so wholly to God.  She writes,

Looking at my dear friends, living for God, I saw in fact that something was yet wanting in them. They had not yet come to perfect trust. They felt they were spiritual failures because this or that had not happened to them.  They felt they had missed out on something because their experience carried none of the features  they assumed a truly authentic spiritual life should yield.

It is the nagging sense that we are never spiritual enough that reveals our lack of trust in God.  As we chase the spiritual life like a carrot at the end of a stick we never get to truly rest in God’s present love for us.  Concerning her friends Burrows adds,

They knew they were loved by God and yet there was an indefinable anxiety which inhibited their total surrender to that love.  I saw these dear people, self-giving, generous, full of love for God and yet still anxious, still hesitant before the last step which would release them from themselves and open them to God’s love.

Far from criticizing the weakness of human faith, Burrows writes with the compassion of a co-captive who is just beginning to feel the bindings of her own fears giving way.  She longs to instill this hope in others as well.  She writes,

I long to convince them that, here and now, in their present ‘unsatisfactory’ state, in their so-called ‘failure’, God desires to give himself to them; that this state of poverty is precisely what he wants and that it represents his way into them. He has laboured with love for a long time to open up this way for them.  Will they now block it?  If they do, they are turning from the straight path of poverty, and choosing instead the winding road of spiritual riches.

Burrows clearly understands the sufficiency of Jesus’ word, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt. 5:3).   She is convinced, as we should be, that if God blesses our poverty, His promises are in no way hindered by our failure to deserve them.

Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on their God.

Isa. 50:10

No Just Another Old Person

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an elder desires a noble task.
1Tim. 3:1

The Dene (pronounced Den-nay) are a Northern Canadian aboriginal tribe who govern themselves by a council of wise men.  As is typical in many aboriginal societies, the male elders are chosen by the women.  I once had the occasion to speak with a Dene woman about the process of selecting elders in their communities.  I asked what I assumed was an intelligent question, “On what basis do you decide who’s an elder among you?”  She answered me with a puzzled look,  “You just know.  Some people are elders while others are just old people.”  It struck me as an important distinction to make for my own life, as I too grow older.  Will others see me as an elder in God’s kingdom, or as just another old person?

In a recent publication by Regent College* a number of students and faculty were asked to reflect on the topic of aging well.  In one article, professor Maxine Hancock speaks of the characteristics she has observed in people who age well, especially in debilitating circumstances.  She writes,

I have had the privilege of watching people whose long habits of spiritual discipline and personal devotion taught them to accept infirmity with patience, and care with gratitude.  Even those who experienced dementia retained a core identity grounded in Christ; they met death at peace and unafraid.

Often, when I meet with younger people for spiritual direction, I will ask them what type of old person they want to be.  I try to encourage them to start preparing now for the characteristics they wish to see in their future selves.  As Eugene Peterson notes, it is a “long obedience in the same direction” that ultimately forms the character of old age.

What are the character traits that God is presently investing in you for your old age?  What is it that you are being obedient to today that will bear fruit for the person you will soon enough be? How, in your old age, might all that you have learned from a life of seeking and finding God contribute to the fabric of the Christian community around you?  In other words, what type of elder will you be?  Or will you be just another old person?

In the same publication, Dr. James Houston reflects on the life-long relational qualities that contribute to the making of an elder.  He writes,

An elder is someone who, all his or her life, has been committed to relational values such as friendship and family.  As elders grow old, they continue to foster communal values and strong relationships.  In the Old Testament, the elder is the one who facilitates the maturing of personal relationships within the community

This relational emphasis is also echoed by Regent graduate Linda Seale who sees mentoring as one the chief tasks we should anticipate and equip ourselves for as we age.  She writes,

Mentoring involves wisdom.  In a world overwhelmed with information, we are sadly lacking in wisdom.  Wisdom develops over a lifetime of pondering and integrating the experiences given by our Lord.  We need to pass this on to the next generations to help them mature, to stand there with encouragement, and to provide that fertile soil in which new leaders can develop.

The prophet Hosea counsels us to “sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground” (Hos. 10:12).  In other words, the making of an elder is a seasoned work that begins long before we reach old age.  As Linda Seale wisely concludes, “Aging well is a process that begins by doing any stage of life well.”

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

Rabbi Ben Ezra, by Robert Browning

*see http://www.regent-college.edu/pdf/regentworld/RegentWorldSummer2011.pdf for a pdf of this publication.