IMPROVING WITH AGE Genesis 12:1-8/Romans 4:1-5
Introduction: We Americans spend billions of dollars each year to look younger. We spend money on everything from anti aging creams to botox injections, to face lifts to plastic surgery. We’re even encouraged to act younger. The underlying message is, "Growing old is bad, so do everything you can to stay young." That message, though, assumes that the opposite of "old" has to be "young." In fact, there’s another way to look at it. The opposite of "old" can also be "new." When we look at it this way, we can get beyond just trying to hang on to that elusive thing called "youth." Abraham is the patron saint of those who feel toyed with by time, who suffer from nature’s limitations and society’s rejection. At 75, Abraham embraced new life, new purpose, new vision, and new hope. Old age to him was not a disaster but a new challenge, not full of death but full of life, not filled with fate but with faith. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance...by faith he sojourned in the land of promise...for he looked forward to the city whose builder and maker is God." All this and at 75 years of age! There are three truths about age I want to touch upon today:
I. First, we’re not growing old, we’re growing new. A growing plant adds newness every day: new roots, new branches, new leaves, new flowers. In a certain sense, "to grow" means to keep adding something new. We could even say that the expression "to grow old" is a contradiction in terms. We really can’t grow old; we can only grow new. That’s what growth really is. But we aren’t plants, adding leaves and flowers. What kind of newness can we bring out each day? The Apostle Paul wrote about the importance of spiritual newness. He spoke of the need to "put off...the old person" and "to put on the new person" (Eph. 4:11-24). We can all put on this "new person" through daily spiritual growth. No matter what our age, we can all find areas of our lives where there’s plenty of room for growth in Christian character. Perhaps we need to be more patient with family members or co-workers, less self-centered, more honest, or more willing to see and correct our faults. These are all ways in which we leave the old land, as Abraham did--and strike out for the new. Spiritual growth can have a very definite effect on the way we view aging. As we grow in Christian character and learn to know God better, we may find that we’ve stopped thinking of ourselves as growing old, because we’re actually growing new. As we discover the joy of growing new, we find the future leading not to declining years but to the spiritual newness of becoming more like Jesus.
II. Second, what’s important is not the amount of days in our life but the amount of life in our days. Our natural, quantitative age is unimportant as long as we’re being renewed daily by the spirit of God. While we want to measure everything from profit margins to life, in terms of quantity, the real issue is quality. The question we need to ask ourselves is not how many years we’ve lived but what’s the quality of our life been, however short or long. Some people are able to live and produce more in one year than others do in a life time. The quality of our life can’t be measured by the number of years we’ve lived. As someone has said, "Many people brag about hitting 70 to 80, who never hit anything in their life, except perhaps a golf ball or maybe a bottle." That’s a cynical statement, but a telling point. Living a certain number of years is nothing to brag about. What matters is how we’ve lived. And even more important, what are we reaching for now? If we begin to reach today, then this is the birthday of our life. Abraham’s "birthday" came at 75 years of age, when he responded to the call to travel with God to a new land.
III. Third, We Can Improve with Age. Being elderly doesn’t mean we’re in our declining years. We can be improving with age. It all depends on how we look at it. Would we buy a brand new car, fill the gas tank once, and when we run out of gas, give the car up and throw it away? Of course not! Yet, isn’t that something like what many of us do with our lives? Our education stops at 18 or 22 or whatever (we’ve filled up our gas tanks) and that’s supposed to do us for the next 50 or 60 years. The result is forced obsolescence. To use another metaphor, a woman compared her elder years to the second half of a football game. The game, she said, long since decided, was drawing to a close. Short of breath and speckled with mud, trembling in every limb, she struggled up and down the field, waiting for the final whistle to blow. How sad to have no energy or fuel for what should be the greatest years of our life on earth. How sad to see elderly people who have lost their spirit and do little more than eat and play Bingo, or consume excessive amounts of drugs, or consign themselves to a shut-in existence. Look it doesn’t matter how old we are, we can never outgrow our usefulness. This is particularly true when it comes to serving God. We can never be too old to serve the Lord. In my almost 25 years of ministry, I’ve encountered elderly people who’ve told me, "I’ve served my years in the church. Now it’s time for the younger ones." I feel so sad for people who say this, because, in effect, what they’re saying is that they’ve outlived their usefulness to God. But nothing could be further from the truth. God called Abraham at 75 years of age, and he called Moses at 40 years+ and used Moses to lead the people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, until Moses was well over 100. Don’t say you’re too old to serve God! You’re never too old. Think of it this way, within each of us is a little child wanting to serve. Don’t lose touch with the child within you. Rabbi Abraham Twersky tells a story about his great-grandfather who was sitting with other rabbinical scholars studying the Talmud when it was decided to take a break for refreshments. One of the group offered to pay for the refreshments, but there was no one who volunteered to go for them. According to Twersky, his great-grandfather said, "Just hand me the money, I have a young boy who will be glad to go." After a long time, he finally returned with the refreshments, and it became obvious to all that the rabbi himself had gone and performed the errand. Noticing their discomfort, the rabbi explained: "I didn’t mislead you at all. You see, many people outgrow their youth and become old men. I’ve never let the spirit of my youth depart. And as I grew older, I always took along with me that young boy that I had been. It was that young boy in me that did the errand.
Conclusion: We’re never too old to serve God. If we think we are, we simply need to release that young child within us, to do what needs to be done. For in Christ, we are improving with age.