“Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes…”
Matt Redman’s familiar line perfectly expresses the gist of Psalm 71. It’s a psalm of trust, but one from a particular perspective. Psalm 131 speaks of trust at the beginning of life. Psalm 23 pictures trust right in the middle of the dark valley of life’s trouble, but Psalm 71 is something of a retrospective:
“For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
my confidence since my youth.
From my birth I have relied on you” (vv5,6).
So far, so good! I’ve been on this track for a long time now, Lord! But I’m declaring my need of you now, and my confidence that you’ll respond.
There’s an important point here, that trust never becomes redundant. The psalmist is calling out for help in the midst of trouble, just like he has always done.
“In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me;
turn your ear to me and save me “(v2).
You never get to the point of not needing God’s help. You never get beyond the “faith of a child” who looks to Dad in the time when things get tricky. My confidence that God will answer cannot slip into a complacency that I need not bother asking. This is a relationship that runs two ways.
The difference is, that when you’ve been on the road with God for a long spell, you learn not to panic under pressure, or doubt your salvation, or doubt his love. You’ve seen these kind of things before, and your experience leads you to trust that God will see you through.
There’s even the sense in Psalm 71 that the writer’s lifelong confident trust has become well known, and that others look to him with admiration:
“I have become a sign to many;
you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise,
declaring your splendour all day long” (vv7,8).
But there is still more to come, and the new chapter of the writer’s advancing years has yet to be written. Even though he can look back at the way that God has led him and delivered him in the past, he has one lesson yet to learn.
He has to learn to sing while the evening of his life comes on.
“Do not cast me away when I am old;
do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (v9).
Here is an important insight into the anxieties of an older person. Even though this person has been a believer since youngest childhood (v6), this veteran of the faith still has worries, even worries that God might leave him in the lurch.
There’s a tee-shirt slogan I saw in a “Retirement Village” in Florida that read: “Old age ain’t for sissies.” And I prayed with an old lady once, bravely facing the onset of dementia in her husband, who said, “It’s as if God has kept the hardest tests until last.”
So I think that this psalm expresses a realistic view of the later years of a lifetime. There may still be conflicts with others in the community (vv4, 10-11, 13). There may even be anxiety about one’s relationship to God (vv 9, 18). That a longtime believer should express such worries might alarm us until we remember that Jesus himself expressed the same concerns, praying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
So what can we do as we approach this “hardest part?” The psalm suggests staying on course, follow living a lifetime of prayer and praise that includes telling of God’s mighty deeds and wondrous gifts.
Times of anxiety and lack of trust are to be expected, even in the lives of God’s senior citizens. Singing praises and telling stories about what God has done are an essential part of such lives, too.
Father, I place into your hands the things I cannot do, for I know I always can trust you. Let me be singing when the evening comes.
And on that day
When my strength is failing
The end draws near
And my time has come
Still my soul will
Sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years
And then forevermore
Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name