April 3, 2012

Getting Older? Or Getting Better?

Before Leigh Anne Jasheway wrote a humorous book with the same title, the saying “I’m not getting older, I’m getting better” was popularized by a cosmetic or hair dye ad campaign, I can’t remember which. I used to say it when I was in my forties and it came to mind today when I read this verse.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)
As a Christian, I’m not exempt from aging. However, there is something else going on in me. I have eternal life and that life not only renews my inner self, but affects the way I live as I age. For example, I’ve known childlike joy in the sorrows of old age aches and pains. This joy comes from the life of that inner self. Because the Holy Spirit is involved, it bubbles up, often overriding what is going on in the outer self.

The Bible talks about the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. I know that too, but it is not quite the same as this renewal of the inner self that happens even as the outer person suffers. Paul wrote more about it a bit later in the same letter to the church at Corinth.
We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:3–10)
He contrasts his experiences on the outside with the activity of the inner, eternal life on the inside. Those who take up their cross and follow Jesus know what he is talking about. To clarify the contrast, here is a list.

INNER realities
OUTER experiences & feelings
Holy Spirit, God’s power
afflictions, hardships calamities, beatings imprisonments, riots
labors, sleepless nights,
His righteousness
His endurance
His Purity, patience
His knowledge
His kindness and love
His truthful speech
Honored, praised
Dishonored, slandered
treated as imposters
Unknown >
< well-known
Living, not destroyed
Dying, or punished
always rejoicing
making many rich
possessing everything
having nothing

I will likely not experience the extremes that Paul did in my outer life, but I have known sorrow and affliction along with an inner joy that cannot be explained except that this is God at work. He renews and makes known His presence, if not to others, at least to me. 

This has a practical application. So often I pray that God would remove trials, heal ailments, and grant favorable relationships with everyone. I want to be a good person and always rejoicing. Yet Paul was a good person and always rejoicing even in the midst of his trials, suffering and mistreatment at the hands of others. The power of God and the working of the Holy Spirit does not depend on outer experiences or even how I feel about them. He can renew that inner self no matter what is going on.

So I have to ask myself what produces greater evidence of God in my life? Is it when I have no hardship, calamity, sleepless nights, slander or poverty? Or is it when He gives me endurance, patience, joy and the ability to enrich the lives of others no matter what is happening? This is a no brainer.

Lord, I’m not happy with feeling weaker because of health issues, or those other externals that sometimes happen, like being misunderstood, or sad, or even being known when I’d rather be invisible, or invisible when I wish someone would notice me. Yet in all these things, You are at work to build the inner self, the one that You redeemed by the power of Jesus Christ. My old nature will fade and disappear when I enter eternity. All of these external challenges will also be gone. When I think about it in this way, I don’t mind getting older as long as, because of You, I am also getting better.

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