Breaking news: We are all going to die. But prior to death, we lose our strength and energy. Old age comes with waning strength. Memory starts to slip; instability and immobility become a norm of life.
Young, healthy people don’t think about the later years as difficult days (Eccl 12:1). They focus on the here and now. But we have all seen the debilitating effects of old age and disease, and so we have to reckon with the reality that as life rolls on, it tends to get harder.
As we consider the imminent reality of death, Solomon charges us in Ecclesiastes 12 to remember our Creator in the days of our youth (v. 1). That is, we should remember who He is, what He has done, and who we are in relation to Him. We should maximize our effort while we still have life. While we have strength, we should serve God now.
Serve God Before Life Gets Harder, vv. 1-2
Most of us as children were unable to comprehend the pain of tragic events. Our innocence and naiveté tended to make tragedies a distant reality. But as we move toward middle age, we start to understand what these tragedies mean. We build deep relationships with people only to experience betrayal. We develop an abiding love for another person only to lose that person to death. And while those losses hurt, we still have much to do. We fill up our time with activity and work, and anticipate living for another forty years. Consequently, the noise of tragedy, while still painful, is somewhat muted by our busyness.
But eventually we get old, and our body breaks down, and our friends and family die. We start to go to more and more funerals of people younger than us—a rare occurrence when we were younger. In our youth, we went to funerals of older people and we understood that all older will eventually die. Now we are older ourselves. Our stamina has faded away. We have little ability to constructively contribute. Fewer and fewer people depend on us. And we know that it is only a matter of time until our own lives come to an end.
Life is going to get harder. Our later years are described as “the evil days” and “when the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no delight in them’” (v. 1). It may be hard for a youthful, vigorous person to imagine a life without pleasure. But those days are coming, and we need to double down on our service for God now.
Serve God Before Your Body Breaks Down, vv. 3-4
In verses 3-4, Solomon piles up several metaphors that refer to the aging process. Your arms (“the watchman tremble”) and legs (“mighty men stoop”) will eventually lose strength and stability. When you get old, your teeth will decay (“grinding ones stand idle”) and your eyes will grow dim. You will lose your hearing (“sound of the grinding mill is low,” v. 4), and you will find it hard to sleep at night.
Serve God Before the Simple Things Become Difficult, v. 5
In addition to a deteriorating body, your hair color will change (“almond tree blossoms”). You will not be as quick and nimble as you were in previous decades gone by (“the grasshopper drags himself along”). Your drives and desires will wane with your strength (“caperberry is ineffective”).
Serve God Before Death Comes, vv. 6-7
Finally, your death will come. Solomon uses two analogies to describe a person’s end. The first is a golden bowl. There is coming a day when the silver cord that is holding the golden bowl will break, and the bowl will be crushed. The second image is a pitcher. One day the pulley at the well will break, causing the pitcher to crash at the bottom. At that point, we will return to the dust from which we came (v. 7).
If this life were all that there was to live for, then we would come to the end and see it all as a big waste. But because we live for the life to come, we should remember our Creator in the days of our youth. We should give our best energy and strength to serving God.
Solomon encourages young men in Proverbs 5:8–9 to avoid the adulteress woman, or else they will give their best strength to wasteful activity and their years to the cruel one. When I was a teenager, a man in the church told me, “I wish I could have been a Christian when I was young.” He had come to Christ in his thirties, and he was speaking to us in his forties, recounting how he would have loved to give his best energy to serving God.
We cannot go back to change the past, but we can focus on the reality of our imminent aging and death. And while we await that time when our life comes to an end, we should resolve to give our best strength to serving God now.
If you came to Christ as a child, that is a merciful gift from God. You may not have the shocking testimony of being saved from a life of drugs and alcohol. But praise God for that. And praise God that you can give your best years to developing godly habits that will serve you in your middle age and in your later years.
If you came to Christ in your middle years, make the most of it. Redeem the time, because the days are evil. You have not have had a whole life to serve him, but praise God for the time that you have now and in the future.
If you were saved in your waning years, do not despair. Remember your Creator. Soon you will be with Him. Use your remaining days and your remaining strength to sacrifice and serve for your Master. No time spent serving Him will be wasted.
Don’t waste your energy. While there is time, redeem it. Make the most of it. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.