July 7, 2011

Within and Beyond

What does it mean to live the way the Bible teaches us? Is it really all about having the right doctrines and theology, so that a Christ-centered life will flow from that? Is it all about evangelism and missionary work? Is it all about observances? And how in the world do we get ourselves down to living the way God would have us live? These are simple questions that aren't answered so easily by anyone, and countless people in and out of the church are asking themselves these same questions. My view is that it isn't about how anyone teaches or lives but me. The only thing I can truly do is look within and reach beyond.

Any preacher can tell you how the OT was about the coming of Christ and the NT is the story of His coming and Kingdom, but I like to look at a deeper layer that speaks to my inner man and the way he needs to live. When you get through all of the books of the OT to the end of Malachi, you can't help but see the cry of all the prophets to look inside ourselves and return to God. Then, when we read through the NT up to Revelation, we hear the call to reach outside of ourselves and touch our fellow man. Inner and Outer. Within and Beyond. I don't like to look at the OT as only the law that has been fulfilled, just to be stepped past, but rather as wisdom to integrate into my inner being so that I can reach outward effectively. For me, the distinction between the OT and the NT is an artificial one made by man; the entire Bible is God's Word given to benefit both the inner and outer aspects of my life, each and every day.

"Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the LORD", is how Jeremiah put it in Lamentations, and that is a great thing to do as individuals and congregations. In order to effectively and wisely reach out to our fellow man, we must have the insight that comes from these deep looks within ourselves. Some people may think of these inward testings and cleaning as nothing more than dredging up the past, but it can be a lot more than that, if done correctly and prayerfully. I can't begin to put into words that level of self-knowledge that I have gained through this; information about my behavior patterns, the motives behind them, and a true understanding of both the good, and more importantly, the bad that is within me. We do need to remember to utilize the counsel of others that know us well when we start these inward journeys, as it is all too east to either look at things superficially and say, "Everything's ok here!", or allow ourselves to sink under a distorted view of the negative things we will surely find.

Having done the inside work, we can turn outwards, to reach out to our fellow man. Jesus taught us to help our neighbors in both physical and spiritual ways, to help meet all of their needs to be a whole person. But just because we have set our sights on those "beyond" ourselves, doesn't meant that we can let up on looking "within." It's very simple to do things that seem to "help" someone else on the surface, but those actions may not actually be good for that person, or for ourselves. Are we helping this person to grow internally, or are we simply giving them what they need to stay stuck in the same internal spot? Compassion for others is a great thing, possibly the greatest thing we can give to our fellow man, but, we have to ask ourselves if our compassion is truly helpful. I have found the teachings of the Tibetan Buddhists to be very insightful here; they have wise teachings about "Idiot Compassion." We all know the saying of "Give a man a fish...teach a man to fish...", right? Is what I'm doing for someone a thing that is truly helpful, or am I just enabling them to remain in their destructive behavior? Am I helping them to grow into a person that can function on their own reliance of God, or am I keeping them reliant on an intermediate relationship with God through my actions? Am I helping to foster a false sense of self-importance, or a deeper understanding of their importance in doing God's work? Tough things to ask ourselves, but questions that must be asked, and can only be asked with a proper view of the "within."

Inner and Outer. Within and Beyond. Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Each of us must look within and reach beyond, and by doing both effectively, we find that God is in both places, Within our own hearts and Beyond us in the hearts of others, helping us and others to grow and be His children.

1 comment:

  1. This is so beautiful. "The only thing I can truly do is look within and reach beyond." It is our calling, I think. This conversation is so important because it is easy to overlook our own needs if we only focus on helping others. We sometimes forget the 2nd part of the answer Jesus gives when asked what is the greatest commandment: love your neighbor as you love yourself. It comes back to balance. Inner and Outer. Looking within and reaching beyond. Lovely.