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Aug 24

Why I Listen To Old People

wburgcrossThe more I “mature” in age, the more I find myself listening to old people.

We sometimes hear about the difference between new writers and dead guys.  The appeal of the dead guys, of course, is that they have gone on to glory and its too late for them to become heretics or major moral failures.

And the new guys have some fresh insights, having been exposed to a different world growing up than older folks.  But there is a middle ground of life experience we need to pay attention to: the old guys who have most of life behind them and the reality of impending glory before them.  They have much to say worth listening to.

And by old folks, I mean people in the last quadrant and season of life—roughly 60 or 70 and over.

Here are a few reasons why you should listen to old people:

  1. Old people have lived more of life than the rest of us.  When they stand up to speak, they have a long track record of life from which to draw.  And much of that time was spent actually focused on living life rather than memorizing passwords, tweeting trivia, engaging with video games, facebooking, and texting.  Much of that time was spent thinking, reflecting, and doing real things–often hard things– rather than watching people pretend to do real things on television. They know more about the human experience and the struggles of the human soul.  They have regrets.  Regrets we can learn from and, if we are wise, strive to avoid.
  2. Old people are done with ladder-climbing and can speak the truth without fear of losing a job, donors, followers, blog readers, a career track, supporters, customers, conference invitations, record deals, or a popular reputation (those things shouldn’t impact any of us…but lets be honest.  They do).  Do you ever wonder why modern-day preachers rarely speak out against heresy the way New Testament apostles did in virtually every New Testament epistle?   It’s simple, really.  We don’t want to lose our platforms.  If we speak the truth, we’ll anger the liberal heretics on the left, the conservative pharisees on the right, and the money-changers who rule both and who control  more of the religious trinket and publishing empires than we’d like to admit.  Truth is, we value acceptance over faithfulness—that’s why we hoard influence rather than dispensing 100 proof Truth.  Old people just don’t care about that kind of pretense any more.  They’re no longer trying to climb the ladder, so if they offend gatekeepers and aren’t invited to the latest conference, it’s OK.  They probably don’t want to fly all the way out there anyway.  They don’t have to walk on eggshells, fearful their church following might shrink, which in turn would shrink their own reputation, which would in turn shrink their own income and lifestyle.  It’s already shrunk, due to empty nest syndrome, age limitations, and the general downsizing of life that takes place at that age.  It’s so easy to justify compromise when we’re seeking fame and influence that we don’t recognize we are doing it….until we get old and don’t need the fame to feel good about ourselves, the income to sustain a very comfortable lifestyle, or the reputation to impress the flock into buying our stuff.  Old people can truly view people as…well, people, rather than religious consumers. They are prepared to give people what they need, rather than what they want.  Having lived most of life, they have a better understanding of what people need, whereas younger people have a better understanding of what people want. They are willing to dispense spiritual surgery to address the rot in the soul, rather than hand out pretty band-aids, pain killers, and entertainment that do little more than cover up soul pain and make it feel good for awhile.
  3. Old people have walked with God and have seen and heard most all aberrant theologies and pharasaical perspectives.  They’ve seen personal shipwrecks caused by every kind of perverted theology from liberal “grace” abusers who turn grace into licentiousness, to conservative, legalistic pharisees who have extra rules and rules and more rules for everybody.  Most of them have lived on both sides of the fence at some point in their lives and have learned to major on the majors and minor on the minors.  They fight for the gospel and ignore secondary issues, where the younger guys still fight for influence, acceptance, and a viral blog post, instagram shot or video.
  4. If they are truly regenerate, the older they get the more aware they are of their own shortcomings and the vastness of the grace of God. They’ve learned to enjoy growing and living in grace, and responding to it with obedience and gratefulness rather than callousness or performance standards.  They aren’t impressed with themselves and don’t waste much time on nonsense.  They realize how silly 95% of the stuff people on earth get excited about on earth really is.  They know they don’t have another 50 years ahead of them and so the things of eternity are becoming clearer to them as the clutter of life is pulled away.  They still believe God has a sense of humor but they somehow sense He isn’t laughing at most of the stuff we are laughing at on television.  They are more serious about life, and yet often less anxious at the same time.  They spend less time stressing in the pursuit of coolness, and more time resting in the pursuit of godliness…less time striving to be accepted by ungodly people or churchy people and more time enjoying the acceptance of God they already have.

Sure, there is a tendency in old age to become a grump, a curmudgeon, and a luddite resistant to change and technology.  But that shouldn’t prevent us from learning and listening.  After all, young folks have a few undesirable tendencies too.

So that’s why I increasingly listen to old guys, not just dead guys and young guys.

Do you want to know what is temporal and cool?  Talk to a millennial.  Want to know how to make money?  Talk to a boomer.

But if you want to be wise?  Listen to some faithful old guys and ladies who have walked with God two or three times longer than you’ve even walked the earth.

The internet is filled with wisdom from some of these folks…people like Alistair Begg, J.I.Packer, Peter Lord, or Steve Brown, John Stott (recently deceased, sadly) and Billy Graham come to mind for me.

But you don’t have to just listen to “professional” Christians.  Some of the godliest and wisest men and women you’ll ever meet might be just down the hall in your own church.

Or even in your own family.

Lets learn from those who came before us and are still with us.

Josh Riley

Husband, father, teacher, coach, business management consultant, real estate guy, program manager, children's discipleship leader, weatherbug, writer, speaker, workshop presenter, 176 other things and founder of

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