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Outwardly Wasting Away but Inwardly Being Renewed

by Bob Russell

(Appeared in the January edition of www.bobrussell.org)


     You’ve often heard, “Old age isn’t for sissies!”  Or more crudely, “Old age sucks!”  Even the Bible warns if we’re strong enough to live beyond 70 years, we can expect increased “trouble and sorrow” in the final decade (Psalm 90:10).  And 2 Corinthians 4:16 realistically admits, “…outwardly we are wasting away…”

     Aches and pains, wrinkles and dark spots, gray hair and balding, memory loss and bodily dysfunctions, heartache, and mourning are inevitably a part of aging.  Frankly, life is often not fun.  At my annual physical last month, I received troubling news when it was detected that I am two inches shorter than I was 60 years ago in high school.  Apparently, we shrink with age!  Indeed we are gradually wasting away.

     But what about the last half of 2 Corinthians 4:16?  “…outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”?  If we really believe that because of Jesus Christ, the best is yet to be, shouldn’t the inward renewal outweigh the outward decline?  Shouldn’t there be a profound, distinctive joy in the aging believer because we’re nearer to heaven?  The Bible says, “…our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).  

     Who is happiest on a 16-hour intercontinental flight: the person who has just taken off from China or the person who is 15 minutes from landing in his hometown?  The guy who is almost home may not feel as well or look as good, but he’s usually the happier of the two.  As we grow older, we may be wasting away outwardly, but inwardly we’re uplifted and relieved in large part because we’re almost home.

     Younger people often feel sorry for older people.  They’ll say, “Look at that stooped-shouldered old widow…so many wrinkles, her beauty is long gone. Life is behind her.”  Or, “That poor old man, he can barely get in and out of the car.  He’s got such bad knees from injuries suffered in the glory days of youth that every that every step is painful.”

     It may surprise you to learn there are times when older people feel sorry for younger people.  We think, “That poor teenage girl is so infatuated with that immature young man, she has no idea the heartache she has in store.  I’m glad I don’t have to go through the emotional ups and downs of fickle dating relationships again.”  Or we think, “That young man is so ambitious and driven, he’ll probably make good in the business world and make a lot of money.  But I’m thankful I don’t have to live under that corporate and self-imposed pressure anymore.”  I like the peace and contentment I enjoy in retirement.”

     Job said that wisdom is found among the aged (See Job 12:12-13).  That’s not always true, but it should be.  There are some things you learn from experience that aren’t taught in a classroom.  On his 90thbirthday, my friend Vic Carpenter was asked what he had learned from his many years of experience.  Vic’s eyes twinkled, and he chirped, “Well, I have learned a few things.  For example, I’ve learned not to take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same day!”  That kind of prudence is not taught at Harvard…nor is that sense of humor, which “does good like medicine” (Proverbs 17:22 TLB).

     This Christmas, shortly after my 77th birthday, my wife and I received a generational blessing that can only come with old age.  We received a surprising photograph from my grandson Charlie and his wife Faith.

     They used a wrapped, framed photo to inform us we are going to be great-grandparents!  I’ve yet to learn if being a great-grandfather is as much fun as being a grandfather, but if it’s half as enjoyable, I’m excited.  I’m very thankful that God has allowed me to live long enough to see my children’s children have children.

     You see, old age has some advantages.  There’s a distinct contentment that comes from not competing with anyone anymore.  There’s a peace that comes from learning through past experience that not every problem is a crisis.  There are memories that bring a sense of satisfaction and give life depth.  And there are inexplicably sentimental blessings that come through your descendants.

     The prophet Simeon was an old man whom God had promised would live to see the Messiah.  When he held the baby Jesus in his arms, he prayed, “Lord…you may now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all nations” (Luke 2:29-31).  Simeon died a contented old man because he had experienced all that had been promised him on earth.  His bucket list was complete.

     Last week Pastor John McCallum referenced the following quotes from one of my favorite preachers, Fred Craddock.  Craddock said in his younger years, he desired to be a good preacher.  Then he added, “Now that I am older, I want more than anything else to be a Christian.  To live simply, to love generously, to speak truthfully, to serve faithfully, and to leave everything else up to God.”

     Me too!  That’s a pretty contented place to be.  Happy New Year, regardless of your age!

.                  Bob Russell is retired minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.  

2 Responses to “Outwardly Wasting Away but Inwardly Being Renewed”

  1. A. J. Istre says:

    Amen ! I am my brother Bob Russell age plus 11 years. I was privileged to preach over half a century. May God bless him and his wife. My wife went home 2004. Sunnye Faith Robbins Istre. Brother Stanford Chambers used to tell her that she lived her name.

  2. Norma J Campbell says:

    so interesting and uplifting to read your comments about aging. Im 83 and feeling it but feel I am heading for my eternal home in joy. So far am doing ok healthwise but see how swiftly things can change. Thank you and bless you. NORMA

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4