“If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up! Not me!” ― J.M. Barrie
“If youth was sold in a bottle of hair dye, we would all get in line.” ― Jan Rogers
“Your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:5). I’m fascinated and blessed by Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this verse, that we are “always young in his presence.” It fits in so well with so many clichés, that you’re “Only as old as you feel.”
Yet the Hebrew text takes us much further. The psalmist speaks of the renewal of youth. It’s never too late, as someone said to me, to have a happy childhood.
Where God is, there is life.
I know people like that. Their whole company is a radiance of smiles, a basket of freshly baked happiness. You want to be with them. It’s like the laughter at a restaurant table, just over there. Don’t you want to join them?
When Jesus was invited to parties, it was not so that he could be scathing or condemning but because he was happy and loving and generous with the reality of who God is. And “the common people heard him gladly”. Those who were full of the sense of their own importance and religious self-worth just missed out completely.
As Sidney Carter put it, unforgettably, “I danced for the scribes and the Pharisees but they wouldn’t dance and they wouldn’t follow me.”
The invitation has gone out -It’s party time!- but few there are who get the joke and join in the laughter. We are invited into this wonderful experience of being “forever young in His presence.”
It’s seeing beneath the surface. Franz Kafka, despite many introspective and depressive traits, knew it full well: “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” E.E.Cummings made a whole career out of that one insight.
“I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
with closed eyes
to dash against darkness.”
So exuberantly young in His presence!
But let’s face it, every follower of Jesus feels, from time to time, the need of restoration and renewal. The Apostle John told a church that they had “lost their first love.” Do you know how that feels?
We speak of “normal wear and tear,” when pricing a second-hand car, but in every aspect of our spiritual lives, there comes a time when you feel you have lost your “shine.” Sometimes there are seasons where you cannot praise, or pray… and some crazy visiting preacher bids you dance and you roll your eyes!
Ah, as William Cowper put it, in a lovely old hymn: “Where is that blessedness I knew when first I knew the Lord?” Once upon a time, in the first flush of our relationship, I knew joy in the presence of God, but today, I’m just worn out.
“He renews my youth…”
The verse here speaks of the renewing of something. I need a renewed vigour to face temptation; to take my stand against the currents of society. I need to return to the well and drink again.
In Mark 6:31, “ Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.”
Isn’t that a wonderful picture of delicacy and understanding? Jesus totally understood the need for rest and renewal.
Besides the need for physical renewal, our emotional batteries need recharging. We may grow depressed, nervous, fearful, timid. We may grow cynical or world-weary.
Perhaps it was in such a context that Jesus told an old and sophisticated intellectual that he needed to be “born again.” The Kingdom of God belongs to children! And the free and natural attributes of the child are the very opposite of depressed, nervous, fearful or timid.
Sure, it makes you vulnerable. What baby isn’t the very epitome of vulnerability? Jerry B. Jenkins said, “We don’t like to be seen as vulnerable, but isn’t vulnerability far better than cynicism?”
The answer is yes.
But, finally, that renewal of youth is said to be “like the eagle’s.” And that doesn’t sound vulnerable at all!
Was it a simile? Well yes, of course. We may say “crazy like a fox” or “slinking like a cat.” So did the Hebrew poets say “As youth-renewing as an eagle”? If so, what did they mean by it?
The same metaphor crops up in Isaiah 40:31, where “strength” is renewed and it is promised that we “shall mount up with wings as eagles.”
According to the South-Western Bald Eagle Management Committee (honestly): “In their five-year development to adulthood, bald eagles go through one of the most varied plumage changes of any North American bird.” White fluff gradually greys and becomes spiked with brown and black over the first few months. The beak changes from grey-black to yellow. The early mottled plumage serves as camouflage, and the later white head and tail announce puberty. Fascinating.
So the key reference, it would seem, is to appropriate change. 1 John references how we grow from children to young men to fathers (1 John 2:12-14), with appropriate changes for the different phases. God provides for the renewal of his children as they mature. He renews us as He does eagles.. God reminds us that our new plumage (new feathers of maturity) is part and parcel of our natural growth cycle “in Him“; that He indeed is the one doing the work within us.
David prayed for this, in the wake of terrible disruptive sin, (in Psalm 51:10): “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Paul acknowledged God’s hand over the whole maturing process: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) Philippians 4:13: “ I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
He also urged young believers to makes themselves available for the process of change: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Gods mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Gods will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. “Romans 12:1-2.
He prompted the church at Ephesus “…to be made new in the attitude of your minds.” (Ephesians 4:23) and the church at Colosse, to “…put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” Colossians 3:10.
Let’s pray with John: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
Keep me Lord, in constant renewal and change, ready and willing, forever young in your presence..