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Living From the Inside Out (Part 2/5)

Not Just a Pretty Face

 I have a small collection of pocket watches, some over 100 years old. I admire the craftsmanship that goes into every spring and sprocket. Of course, most of that goes unseen. We glance at the face of the watch, note the hands marking time and slip it back into our pocket. Yet, it is the internals of the watch that keep it functioning. If something is amiss inside, the watch won’t serve its purpose, regardless of how ornate the face is. What is true of watches, cars, and computers, is true for each one of us as well.

The Internals Matter

God designed us to live from the inside out. We are created as embodied souls; shaped from the dust of the earth and the breath of God’s life. Both the material and immaterial aspect of our beings have their proper function and require necessary attention. Still, there is a primacy reflected in the Scriptures. While we relate first to the physical appearance, God looks on the heart (1 Sam.16:7). Jesus said that purity is not a matter of what we eat or touch, but it is revealed by what flows from the heart (Mk.7:21-23). Wisdom tells us to keep the truth of God’s commands within our hearts, but to then guard our hearts. From our hearts flow the issues of life (Prov.4:20-23).

When the Bible speaks of “the heart,” it points to the totality of what we are inside. The “heart” is not just our feelings, but our thoughts, attitudes, hopes, fears, dispositions, and desires. It encompasses our inner life. Our bodies know hunger, but our heart steers our appetites. Legs and arms enable our movements, but our heart sets our direction. We have the physical capacity to achieve and conquer, but it is our heart which reaches for God’s glory or our own satisfaction. Understanding the centrality of our inner life is foundational for all those who long for spiritual growth. It may seem self-evident that spiritual growth involves our spirits, but we what we know in theory is not always reflected by our practice.

Living on the Outside

We are prone to living by the externals. In infancy we explore our world through our five senses. In maturing years, many conclude that materialism is all that matters. They begin to live by the criteria of appearance, performance, and possessions. These externals are readily measured, managed, and receive immediate applause. We can see the weight we’ve lost, count the money we’ve earned and touch the comforts of home. The externals of life are so obvious, they become a score card. Society tells us who is winning by how we look, what we achieve and what we have.

It is possible for believers to be swept up in the tide where the externals trump the internals. When that happens, the practice of our faith resembles the practices of the marketplace, where size and success become markers of God’s blessings. Piety can be reduced to moral management where we try to change the inside by simply rearranging the outside. Dress a certain way, avoid specific entertainments, attend the right services, abstain from certain foods, keep distance from the wrong people and you will be holy. But righteousness is not obtained by rearranging our externals. This doesn’t suggest that our conduct is unimportant, just that a spiritual life is not about regulation, but transformation. Spiritual growth is the work of God within us – not simply around us. The fountain of the heart must change for clean water to flow (James 3:11).

All That We Need

Peter writes that God has already granted to us everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Pet.1:3). We are fully forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus. We are fully empowered by the ministry of His Spirit. We are united with Jesus, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col.1:27). The Spirit of God lives within us as His temple (1 Cor.6:19). To paraphrase, God has joined our inner lives to His life and made His home within us. The arena for spiritual life and growth is internal. God’s work within us is manifest through our words and actions. It is no wonder Paul prays,

 “That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph.3:16-19)


 There is no avoiding or shortcuts. Every believer who longs to grow in Jesus Christ must give attention to their inner life. Here are 6 practical steps:

  1. Develop a Growing Self-Awareness

A growing soul requires that we be in touch with our inner life. Some find it easier than others, but it is vital for all. Personal reflection is key to exploring the state of our hearts. What am I feeling? Where do my thoughts take me? Can I name my hopes and dreams? What fears or concerns am I wrestling with? What issues do I keep returning to? What are the triggers for my anxiety and what are their roots?

Am I leaning towards God, away from Him or neutral towards Him? Some questions can be answered quickly while others “hang in the air.” Some hesitate to even ask the questions.

A personal inventory of the heart can be confusing or demand too much emotional energy. We are prone to running past the questions and just “getting on with life.” But the issues of living flow from our inner being. We often don’t take the pulse of our soul until there’s a problem or a crisis occurs. That which we have ignored calls out for our attention. Our inner life will have its voice that will not be ignored or stifled. Turning a blind eye to the flashing red light on the dashboard doesn’t fix problems. Denial grows a minor problem into a major one.

  1. Trust God to Examine You

Self-knowledge is not a sufficient answer. The Christian answer for soul growth is not about just knowing ourselves. We live under the wisdom and direction of God. David asks God to search His heart (Ps.139:23). Paul refused to be the ultimate judge of his own heart and motives. He trusted the examination of God (1 Cor.4:3-4). The Spirit who lives within you knows you better than you know yourself. We lack the wisdom to know exactly what our needs are. The patient doesn’t advise the surgeon. God sets the pace and direction for our spiritual development. We are His workmanship and live yielded to His Word and wisdom. Soul growth is not a self-help project. In faith and by faith, the clay yields to His touch.

  1. Take Time to Nurture Your Inner Life

Soul growth is not automatic. It is nurtured. The work is God’s to do, but we can invite it. As we all are different, there will be various ways by which we follow His Hand. For some, their inner life surfaces emotively; their feelings on the surface. Others are more reflective, describing their inner life by words. Some are active, taking forest walks or offering community service. Relational people find personal connections as a conduit for what’s going on inside. Whatever our personality, we can nurture the quality of our inner life through means that fit the shape God has given us. Invest time in those pathways.

 Whatever our makeup, it will help to take intentional time for personal reflection. A time of morning silence before God can set us up for the day to come. An evening review of the day can highlight moments and places that elevated or drained us. Many have found the habit of journaling to be indispensable for revealing the motion of our inner life. Journaling doesn’t have to be a diary form. It can be a record of gratitude, a listing of joyful moments, a transcript of concerns to address, a testimony of insights from God’s Word, a celebration of answered prayers.  The value of journals is in the re-reading of them. Our memories are short, but journaling gives an account of God’s goodness and our development.

  1. Find a Trusted Confidant

We aren’t meant to journey alone. We are fellow pilgrims who pace with one another. Our society is marked by individualism and loneliness. The Church is to be different. We support one another and offer encouragement along the way. But many Christians struggle to find someone to walk beside them. Pray that God will grant you a confidant – a family member, friend, church leader or congregant, a spiritual guide.

We want someone who will love us along the path and speak honestly without shame or judgement. We want someone we can be transparent with and know that the details are confidential. We don’t need someone to fix us or be swift with their best advice. We do need someone who has the Spirit’s wisdom and keeps turning us towards Jesus. Look for someone who understands your journey and is slightly ahead of you on it. If you have someone to pace with you, your soul is blessed. If not, ask God to bring one to you and keep your eyes open for the opportunity.

  1. Exercise Patience

Our inner life is shaped slowly. We don’t mature in a hurry – but we want to. Out of longing or need, we expect God to repair, restore and renew, all in the space of a prayer. The arch of maturity is not days or weeks, but months and years. God doesn’t seem to be in a rush. Rather than instant development, He grows us. There are lessons that need repeating and failures that we learn from. God may take us over familiar ground but in fresh ways. He is tolerant with our wanderings and patient with our dullness, but neither will detract Him. God will grow us. The delight of growth occurs in the relational time with God spread over a lifetime. God seeks a loving relationship rather than an instant fulfillment. What matters is not the speed of growth but its direction. So have faith in God and be patient with His Hand and with yourself.

  1. Do Not Resist the Pain

Even souls have growing pains. The pains may be self-inflicted by our refusals or stubbornness. We may suffer injury by the words and actions of others – or the absence of them. The troubles of this world will fall upon everyone. No one grows in body or soul without pain. God uses the pain to grow us.

My most significant seasons of spiritual progress have revolved around pain. Sometimes the growth sprouts during the pain, but often it buds afterwards. Pain drives us to God. Pain teaches us about our own inabilities to avoid hurt, fix it, or heal it. Suffering nurtures faith, patience, maturity and strength, the very qualities we want to grow in. We want the fruit. We don’t want the means. It is through difficulty that the inner life is shaped (2 Cor.4:16). So don’t be disheartened by the injuries of life, as if God was out to hurt you. The answer to our prayer is found under the burdens of life.

Scott Tolhurst

Scott Tolhurst

Scott and his wife have spent almost 50 years following God together through life, marriage and ministry. They’ve hop scotched across Canada and landed at the water’s edge on Vancouver Island. They’ve harvested the riches of family (5 grandkids!) and the delights of God’s people. Life has not always been clear but the fog has been pierced with these truths. The heart matters. Kingdom work is God’s. Nothing can replace faith. It never ceases to amaze Scott that, if his life is a gift, how great the Giver must be!

Living From the Inside Out (Part 2/5)

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