Summary: As we grow older we find meaning in encouraging others, especially the young. Trusting them is equivalent to trusting God.
We like to say that age is a state of mind more than it is a set of numbers on the calendar. We tell each other, "You’re only as old as you feel." But you know, I’m finding that it is important to know what you feel. It is important to listen to yourself as you age.
I am not referring to aches and pains. I am thinking about more than how much energy we have or whether our muscle tone is what it used to be. I am thinking about how we see ourselves as aging people ... how we perceive ourselves, how we relate as persons who are growing older.
Just think, for example, about the phrase "growing older”. Who is growing older? Anybody older than I am is "growing older", right?! No, we are all growing older, aren’t we? There’s only one way to stop growing older, and you know what that is! You’re not ready for that yet, are you?
So growing older is not something we can avoid. We may as well learn to read it. We may as well learn to understand what aging is about. We may as well decide to listen to ourselves and to discover what we feel about growing older.
This is something that I’ve been trying to do of late. I’ve been one of those people who has always thought of himself as young. As long as I could avoid the mirror, I could keep that illusion going! I never really thought of myself as reaching that thing they call middle age. Actually, to tell the truth, I whizzed past middle-age quite a while ago; I don’t think my age is in the middle. How many people do you know who live to be a hundred and ten? I sort of woke up one morning recently and realized that I was "growing older". And so I’ve begun to listen to myself. What does it feel like to be growing older?
I find I’m asking questions, questions like, "What do I really want out of life? What do I want to accomplish? What is important for me to give myself to? What is worth my spending precious years doing it? And can I get it done? Can I really get something solid accomplished?"
Those questions are really very spiritual. "What does God want of me? And what may I expect from God? What will give me spiritual satisfaction? What will cause my God to say, when ’growing older’ becomes very old, and even becomes death ... what will cause my God to say, ’Well done, good and faithful servant’?" I find, in this time of my life, and maybe you find, in whatever time it is in your life, that we need to feel that we make a difference to somebody. We need to feel that we count for something. We need to know that our living has not been in vain.
A man named Barnabas jumps out of the pages of the New Testament at us to give us some lessons in growing older. When you trace Barnabas’ life and work through the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, what you find is a man who had the spiritual balance that allowed him to grow old gracefully.
Let me tell you what I see in Barnabas’ life. The key to Barnabas’ ability to grow older gracefully is that he believed in the promises embodied in Christ, and so he was able to believe in the promise of young people. Barnabas found that the secret of growing older and liking it is that when you trust the promises of God, you are able to encourage young people. And that gives you meaning.
Let’s work that out with Barnabas. When we first meet Barnabas, by the way, we discover that his name is really a nickname. His name is Joseph, but he was called Bar-nabas, which means “son of encouragement”. You are about to find out why they called him that.
First, Barnabas shows us that when you believe in the promises of God, you are able to deal with fear. And when you deal with fear, you can believe in the promise that lies in someone else and you can encourage them.
When you believe in the promise of God, you can drive away the irrational fears that immobilize us. You trust God to raise up a generation of trustworthy people, and you encourage them.
In the ninth chapter of Acts, there is the story of the conversion of Saul, who had been the chief persecutor of the infant church. This man Saul had made it his personal business to root out Christianity and to do it in the most ruthless manner possible. He had made quite a name for himself, running up and down the road between Jerusalem and Tarsus, securing warrants and fomenting trouble for the Christians.