WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT grandparenting? Very little. Although previous generations matter significantly to the biblical authors, the Bible does not give grandparents specific attention. The word “grandparent” does not even appear in the English Bible. Nevertheless, we know this role is essential to God, our extended families, and our local churches.
Today’s influential grandparent recognizes that they face challenges previous generations did not. Old age is not respected, families are shrinking, and the desire to flee to permanent vacation tempts those with the resources.
My grandfather was born in 1891 and died in 1983. In 1951, when he was 60, youth culture did not exist. That was only 60 years ago. The aged were esteemed and admired, but this is is no longer the case. In his book, Being Mortal, Atul Gawande notes that when people were asked their age in previous generations, they exaggerated upwards. “The dignity of old age was something to which everyone aspired.” But, today, people exaggerate downwards. No one wants to be old or admit that they are. Disrespect for the aged is a challenge previous generations lacked. But for us it is an opportunity to fix our identity in Christ firmly. We are sons and daughters of the living God. Whether old or young, that is our identity.
A second challenge is the falling fertility rate. Families used to be large. In 1955 the average Christian might have five to fifteen grandchildren. Today, it is not uncommon to have three or fewer.
The third challenge is our cultural wealth and life expectancy. They tempt many Christian seniors to go on permanent vacation. There is nothing wrong with travel or vacation, but spending our last decades on perpetual vacation is inconsistent with the gospel. In the words of Sam Storms—
The call to obedience, fruitfulness, holiness, witness, learning, leading, prayer, and worship is lifelong. It ends only when life does…But the call of Scripture…is to live as fully as possible for God’s glory until one’s dying breath.
Despite the passing of decades, one challenge hasn’t changed. The world is fallen, relationships can be fractured, and extended family members can be selfish, greedy, insensitive, or uncaring. The world is not what it’s supposed to be.
With these limitations in mind, what does it look like for grandparents to “live as fully as possible for God’s glory?” It means a heart-attitude to serve—a disposition that shouldn’t change with retirement. However, we must apply it with grace and flexibility, not with nagging guilt.
First, modern life expectancies provide us a golden opportunity to be personal examples to our grandchildren. Most importantly, this means exemplifying passion for Christ. A retired friend recently told me, “I want my children and grandchildren to see me reading God’s Word and praying. I want my example to convince them that Christ is the Treasure buried in the field, the Pearl of Great Price.”
Second, grandparenting is an opportunity to demonstrate humility. In the words of Dr. Packer spiritual fruit in old age means “growing “downward…into profounder humility, which in healthy souls will become more and more apparent as they age.” Humility means thinking more highly of God and less highly of yourself.
Growing “downward” also means increasing wisdom—a virtue inseparable from humility. Biblical wisdom pursues God’s end (his glory) with God’s means (the laying down of our lives and egos). This pursuit does not cease at retirement. In fact, Psalm 92:14 promises that the righteous will “still bear fruit in old age…ever full of sap and green.”
Third, besides passion for Christ, humility, and wisdom, grandparenting is an opportunity to exemplify hope. Life is short. Decades of experience have taught you this in ways that your children and grandchildren do not yet understand. They need to see you, not living in the past, but looking to a “building from God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Our decades of past experience will tempt us to live there, but God wants us to live in the future. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14).
Fourth, communicate with words and actions that, no matter how bad your circumstances, Christ is sufficient. Your children and grandchildren should remember you trusting God to work all things together for good (Romans 8:28). As your body breaks down, seek God for grace to radiate “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). I’m thinking of an 88-year-old wheelchair-bound Christian with oxygen tubes coming out of his nose who could barely walk. Nevertheless, his halting speech was full of joy, hope, and praise. His whole demeanor proclaimed one simple message. “My God is big and all-sufficient.”
Fifth, love the local church. If you have lived long enough, a local church has probably hurt or disappointed you. The temptation is to withdraw. A friend recently told me that his parents, both professing Christians, had done this. He was deeply concerned, not only for them, but for the impact their example would have on his children. Don’t do this! Yes, the Bride is not yet what she is supposed to be, but let your children and grandchildren watch your sacrificially loving the local church.
Sixth, pray aggressively. When we are not getting immediate results, it’s easy to get discouraged and quit praying for children and grandchildren, but that is a mistake. I met a young woman who recently became a Christian. “What brought you to Christ?” I asked.
“My parents are not Christians. I did not grow up in the church. Still, for twenty years my paternal grandmother has consistently prayed for my conversion. I am convinced that this explains my faith in the gospel.”
Last, take every opportunity to build a relationship with your grandchildren. Here family traditions and customs are crucial. Some take their grandchildren to lunch each year on their birthday. Others attend their concerts, games, and recitals. I know grandparents that contribute money to their grandchildren’s education. My great-grandparents hosted dinner for their extended family every Sunday afternoon.
Don’t be intimidated by today’s emphasis on youth. Yes, you are slowing down. Yes, your memory isn’t what it used to be, but don’t forget that Noah began his life’s work at age 600, Abraham conceived Isaac at age 100, Caleb inherited Hebron at age 85, and the widow, Anna, serving in the temple day and night, prophesied over baby Jesus at age 84. It’s not over till it’s over.
The same God who sustained you in your mother’s womb and has now sustained you for decades is the same God who will “not cast me off in the time of old age.” He will forsake me not when my strength is spent (Psalm 71:6–9). Rather, he will walk with you “until you proclaim his might to another generation, [his] power to all those to come” (Psalm 71:18).
That is the Christian grandparent’s hope!
 Psalm 71:18
 William Manchester, The Glory and the Dream, (Bantam: New York, 1974), pg 720-25 describes the emergence of teen culture in North America in the 1950s. The word “teenager” was first coined by Bill Hailey and the Comets, but not until 1957.
 Gawande, Atul (2014-10-07). Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (p. 18). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.
 Storms, Sam. Packer on the Christian Life: Knowing God in Christ, Walking by the Spirit (Theologians on the Christian Life) (p. 195). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
 Packer, J. I. (2014-01-31). Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging (Kindle Locations 570-571). Crossway. Kindle Edition, Italics mine.