The outer self and the inner self
Suddenly, memory is a real dilemma. To my rescue, someone recently explained why we can remember someone from grade school but can't recollect what we had for breakfast this morning. For the life of me I don't remember who and on top of that I can't remember when they related this to me. But, it went something like this---
The human mind is like a bucket. When we're born we start putting things in our
bucket. The longer we live the more we can store in there. Finally, the bucket
becomes full. When filled, things start falling out of our bucket. What drops out first is
what we put in there last. So, we can recall many old things, but not something recent.
Makes sense to me. The science is a lot more complicated than a mere senior adult explanation, no matter how clever. But, underneath even such an elementary illusion is a profound truth. It is the thing about earthen vessels or jars of clay. The Apostle Paul wrote about them---
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power
belongs to God and not to us.
2 Corinthians 4:7, ESV
The entire text really is a remarkable explanation of the physical and spiritual dynamics that guide us through life, and the maturity that makes spiritual leadership possible at every generational stage. Paul added----
Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
2 Corinthians 4:16, ESV
He's contrasting the interplay between declining physical abilities and growing spiritual graces. Because of them "we don't lose heart" (v.16a), and "...we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (v.18). While this old body is going the way of dust, this inner self is being vested with spiritual blessings that give us maturity and direction as we lead.
Illustrations? Sure. As I got older, my retention of data declined, as in the full bucket. It happens to us all as we age. But, the Spirit dwells in me, and all believers, and "...will bring to remembrance all that I have told you" (John 14:26, ESV). Even though my bucket is full and I can no longer retain some details, the Holy Spirit is near and reminds me of what is spiritually important. The Helper works in the inner man even when the outer man is "wasting away".
Another? Here's one. I'm not agile anymore. In years past I could dribble a basketball, maneuver the court, drop in a three pointer, or fake you out of your shoes. No longer. I trip up the stairs a couple of times everyday. Suddenly I'm a clutz. Look at the front of any t-shirt. You can recall my menu for the day with a short review there. Then again, if the qualities of the spirit enumerated in 2 Peter 1 are present in my life, I am promised to be productive, effective, and fruitful in my service, and not nearsighted (vv. 8-9). God used many bumblers in his mission. The "wasting away" outer self can certainly be an aggravation. But, it's not a hindrance. Remember the Apostle Paul's thorn!
Want to mention stamina? Most of my life I've been an early riser and could burn the candle at both ends. Being an extrovert I was pumped all day Sunday after preaching. Suddenly, I'm sleeping till 6:00 a.m., late for me, and taking a nap in the middle of the day. After 63 holes of golf not long ago with high school friends I was wiped out for a couple of days. But, let me tell you about endurance. The Helper taught me endurance when I experienced some personal tragedy and hardship, the death of our son, and a battle with stage four cancer. Now, there's some wavering, and refreshment. But, the inner self is being "renewed day by day". Endurance, perseverance, steadfastness, resolve, mission and many other inner self attributes guide the course even when the engines are sputtering some.
Your personal generational map should involve intentional spiritual growth so that the fruit of the spirit and character of Christ are evident in you. You can lead in your earliest years if you lead with maturity. You can lead in your later years if you a strong, fresh, and vibrant in your faith.
Your outer self may be wasting away, as Paul wrote it, but your inner self can be renewed day-by-day.