March 21, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — 2 Corinthians 4:16 (NRSV)
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.
I don’t believe there are “seven secrets to renewing your soul.” There isn’t a magic list of things you can do for this to happen. The Holy Spirit works in each of us in distinctive and unique ways. But the example of Paul in 2 Corinthians encourages us to not lose heart as even as our bodies diminish. We turn to the Lord for help, embracing the promise of our inner nature being renewed day by day.
This devotion is part of the series: Treasure in Clay Jars.
Linda and I are getting a new kitchen floor. Since our current floor is over a hundred years old, it was about time for a new floor. Yesterday, I watched with fascination as Charlie, our “floor guy,” installed the new wood in the rather peculiar space of our kitchen. It reminded me of working on a jigsaw puzzle. Of course, Charlie wasn’t sitting at a table as he worked. He was on his knees, bent over, hour after hour. That would be quite an accomplishment for someone with 30-year-old knees. But here’s the thing. Charlie is 83. He’s working at this point, not because he needs the income, but because he loves using his talents to serve people. I’m so glad he does!
I must say I am floored by Charlie’s physical abilities (yes, obvious pun intended). Every now and then I take on a project that requires me to spend a few hours on my knees. By the end of my task, I can barely walk around. I know it will take a couple of days for me to recover. Why? Because I have a 65-year-old body. It can still do the job, but with less agility and more pain than it used to experience. Frankly, I can’t imagine laying floors at 83!
Thus, when I read 2 Corinthians 4:16, I can relate to what Paul is saying about his “outer nature wasting away.” Of course, Paul’s problem wasn’t a matter of aging and challenging household projects. Rather, his body was taking a considerable beating because of his apostolic calling. For one thing, traveling around the Roman world to plant churches was exhausting in and of itself. But also, Paul was often the victim of various kinds of physical punishments laid upon him by those who resented his evangelistic work. You may remember that in 2 Corinthians 11 he refers to “far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death” (11:23). And that’s just the beginning of a long list of physical miseries (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27). I can’t begin to imagine how all of that would take a toll on a person’s body.
Because of what he had endured as an apostle, Paul experienced his “outer nature,” that is his body, “wasting away.” Today, most of us don’t face anything like what Paul did, though it’s important to remember that millions of Christians throughout the world do face significant persecution each year. Most of us will not experience anything like this, however. For us, the “wasting away” of our bodies happens mostly as we get older. When I was young, I could work all day on my knees without pain, see clearly without glasses, and eat gallons of ice cream without gaining weight or sending my cholesterol through the roof. Now, things are different. Though I’m still blessed with overall health, my body is not what it used to be. Sometimes I find this quite discouraging.
Moreover, I have older friends who struggle mightily with the “wasting away” part of life. A dear friend of mine has lived energetically into her 80s but is now dealing with major physical pain and invasive medical procedures. Her faith in Christ remains rock solid. But what she’s going through is hard. As we experience such things, it’s easy to “lose heart.”
Paul writes that he does not “lose heart” even though his “outer nature is wasting away” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Why not? What enables Paul to remain encouraged, even hopeful? His answer comes in the second half of verse 16: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” Our inner nature is what we might also call our soul, spirit, our heart. It’s the part of us that is not physical; the realm of thought and feeling.
Paul does not denigrate the body. He does not follow the Greek-Platonic tradition of valuing the spirit but rejecting the worth of the body. The outer nature matters to Paul, as it should to all who are guided by Scripture. Remember, only a few verses earlier he talked about “the life of Jesus” being “made visible in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). But Paul is also realistic about the body’s limitations and frustrations.
Nevertheless, he is able to flourish in spite of these challenges because his inner nature is being renewed day after day. This renewal is not something that happens only once in the life of a Christian. Rather, it is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. This work happens in a variety of ways, as we are alone in prayer or gathered for corporate worship. It happens when we study Scripture or quiet our hearts for reflection, when we fast in Lent or feast in Eastertide.
Sometimes the renewal of our inner nature happens more intensely because our outer nature is wasting away. I think, for example, of Helen, an older woman in the church I pastored in Irvine. Soon after I arrived Helen became unable to leave her home. Her body was weak and frail. You might say her “outer nature was wasting away.” But then you would also have to say her “inner nature was being renewed day by day.” When I’d visit Helen, she’d share with me how close she felt to the Lord. She’d talk about all she was learning and how eager she was for Heaven. Here I was, trying to care for a woman who was close to death, and she was encouraging me far more than I was encouraging her! I’d leave my times with Helen feeling unusually uplifted.
I don’t believe there are “seven secrets to renewing your inner nature.” I don’t have a magic list of things you can do for this to happen. The Holy Spirit works in each of us in distinctive and unique ways. But the examples of Paul and of my friend Helen encourage me to not lose heart as my body wastes away. Rather, I am learning to turn to the Lord for help, embracing the promise of my inner nature being renewed day by day.
Can you relate to what Paul says about his body “wasting away”? If so, what’s that like for you?
Do you experience your “inner nature” being renewed day by day? If so, what is this like for you?
What helps you to be open to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit?
Talk with a wise friend or your small group about your experiences of spiritual renewal. Pray for each other, that the Holy Spirit would be renewing you day by day.
Gracious God, one of the hard things about being in this broken world is the experience of our bodies “wasting away.” When we’re young, it can feel as if we’re immortal. But as we get older, we find that parts of us don’t work so well anymore. We are not as strong as we once were. And serious illness comes more often. We can easily “lose heart.”
Yet even as our bodies struggle we can be encouraged because you are renewing us on the inside. Thank you for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling with us. Thank you for all the different ways you renew our souls.
When hard things happen in my life, when my body is “wasting away,” help me to turn to you, dear Lord. May I be aware of your presence and open to your renewing work in my life. Amen.
Banner image by Ravi Patel on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Do Not Lose Heart.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.