Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

Who Wants to Live Like a Palm Tree?

3 Principles to Age Well

This isn’t a promotion for a time-share in Florida; the place where palm trees grow. A palm tree is a biblical picture for successful aging. The Psalmist describes how the godly in old age “will flourish like a palm tree . . . still bearing fruit in old age” (Psalm 92:12, 14). 

No matter our age we should be preparing for the palm tree life. Three simple principles can help us age well — principles not only for us seniors but for anyone who desires the palm tree life.

1. Chase my loves. In his memoirs, The World of Wonders, Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff writes, “I have followed the loves of my life.” Isn’t that a rich insight. Like this philosopher, I want to say at the end of my life that I‘ve followed my loves. I want to chase after what I’m most passionate about.

I think there are primary loves and secondary loves. Primary loves are the big passions of life — loving God, loving family, loving people, loving the Word of God, etc. Secondary loves are the little loves, the ordinary loves, the everyday loves. In these secondary loves I stop to savor the goodness of God in His creation, the common place, and in culture.

What are some of my secondary loves? I love sitting on the deck or porch with Peggy in the twilight of the day. I love walking through our garden with Peggy and Ginger (our dog) in the mornings. I love the green of April – June and the explosion of colors in October – November. I love the pageantry of Christmas and the first heavy snow fall. I love good music, good books, and good movies; media that captures my soul and senses.

I’ve discovered a simple truth in life — when my primary loves are in place I can pursue and enjoy the secondary loves. My primary love for God keeps all things in balance. After all, the good gifts of my secondary loves come from Him, the Father of lights (James 1:17).

2. Don’t shrink your world. Life seems to shrink as you get older. We lose inches in height (though not in our waistlines), our appetites shrink, our hair thins, and sometimes our sleeping hours shrink. But we must not shrink our worlds.

Our worlds are the places where we live with our experiences, thoughts, and dreams; these worlds are a combination of the physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. We can shrink our worlds by living in an echo chamber. We only associate with, read about, and listen to those who agree with us. Our thoughts, opinions, language, and interests echo around us with a boring similarity. Too much routine robs renewal and shrinks our worlds.

I want to resist a shrinking world. I want to read people I disagree with — that’s why I subscribe to the Sunday New York Times. I want to have friends who are different from me — different ages, interests, or ethnicity. I want to a ministry that ‘s not limited to the comfortable but one that stretches my mind, faith, and emotions. I don’t want to shrink my world, living in an echo chamber where everyone sounds and looks the same.

3. Limit to invest. A reality of aging, and of life, is limitations. The Apostle Paul knew this, exhorting us to think with “sober judgment” according to the faith “assigned” us (Romans 12:3). We do not have unlimited gifting nor time.

One of my limitations is energy. Sometimes I look at the schedules of younger leaders and I get tired just watching them. I watch my son and daughter-in-law play with their children with what appears to be boundless energy, energy that’s in short supply on my end. 

I find that my enthusiasm is limited. I’m not so eager to embrace the new, to volunteer for the latest opportunity, or to lead with a new idea or vision. I tell myself that “That’s ok.” It’s time for younger leaders to step forward and lead.

Facing limitations doesn’t mean I succumb to passivity — watching life and ministry go by. No, my limitations cause me to make wise investments. I want to channel the energy I have into God’s priorities for this season of life. 

The Psalmist exhorts us to “number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Author Jean Fleming comments on this passage by writing, “Numbering our days isn’t about computing days but rather about drawing me to attentiveness.” I want to be attentive to the things that are truly important and invest my energies there. I want to be like King David,  “who served the purpose of God in his generation” (Acts 13:36).

I’m taking two simple steps to do this. First, I’m praying for God-given opportunities to invest my contribution. This doesn’t mean attending more meetings, filling out more paperwork, or over-scheduling my life. I want to invest my contribution of coaching, teaching, writing, and creating in a few selected avenues.

Second, I need friends to keep me accountable. I have a life coach who asks me hard questions. Peggy is my wise counselor as we navigate this season of life together. God and friends are my investment partners .

Palm trees inhabit the Bible and dominate the Near Eastern culture. Palm trees are extremely practical with every part having a use. Leaves are used in roofing, ropes are made from the crowns, the date kernels provide food for animals, and liquor is made from the flowers. Palms take nearly thirty years to reach maturity so planting a tree is a long-term project. 

What do palm trees teach us about life? Quality of life happens through aging; age does not diminish our effectiveness but may limit our capacity. Like the palm tree, I want to be useful and practical with no part of my life wasted to God’s purposes. I want to be “ever full of sap and green” (Psalm 92:14); chasing my loves, not shrinking my world, and limiting life to invest it well. May the Lord grow forests of palm trees in our churches and communities!

The Ways of the Leader Cover Image for Bill_1

The Ways of the Leader

Check out Bill’s latest book The Ways of the Leader on NavPress. The book will help local leaders wisely develop local strategies for local challenges.

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