Years ago, as a self-declared right-leaning evangelical I got in trouble at a right-positioned evangelical seminary. At the time, I was leading a masters program in Christian counseling that I came to the seminary to establish. My practice was to invite students to join me in exploring our “inner worlds”. The phrase set off alarms. A few influential faculty of the fundamentalistic persuasion worried that I was smuggling Freud into the church. Didn’t Dr. Freud get counseling off track in the early 1900’s by teaching us to see what is going on inside, desires and impulses that needed to be de-repressed?
Perhaps. But I was teaching counselors to look into people’s inner worlds with different expectations and for a different purpose. But for a counselor to do anything other than exhorting moral, God-pleasing behavior that lines up with biblical standards for right behavior unsettles a Christian culture determined to keep Christians under control. It’s a culture that risks becoming simplistic, shallow, and legalistically stifling in its understanding of how the Spirit matures Jesus followers.
I don’t fit into that culture. I believe the Spirit works from the inside out, and that requires an inside look to see what needs to be repented and to awaken what can be released. Let me put it this way:
In order for God’s Spirit to do His deep transforming work that releases Christians to relate more like Jesus, we must open ourselves to seeing our self-centered, self-protective, self-enhancing motivation that bubbles up inside us like a filthy swamp. And we can expect the Spirit to put us in touch with the pure desire of our redeemed heart to love God and love others. Both our ungodly self-centeredness and our godly other-centered thirst must be seen. It’s then the real battle in the soul is engaged, the flesh-spirit battle that is waged in the service of spiritual formation.
That’s too many words. Fewer will do.
Every Christian who longs to be increasingly formed to relate, think, and live like Jesus in the Spirit’s power for the Father’s delight needs to enter their inner world where the one battle that leads to victory is fought.
But facing the complexity and difficulty of that battle is tiring. Most mornings I wake up around 5 unassisted by an alarm and seem reliably plunged into my inner world. God sometimes seems distant and uninvolved, maddeningly unhelpful with current problems in my life. I know He loves me and is a good God. The cross of Christ confirms it. But then I pray. If you could tune into the verbiage running through my mind you would hear something like this:
“God, sometimes You make no sense to me. I’ve got problems You’re doing nothing about, and I’m struggling with temptations and frustration without sensing the strength and relief I know You could provide. Trusting You to always be doing what is best for me is difficult, but I want to trust You.”
Words like that bring me to a crossroad: I can either effectively give up on God as I face my distress and do whatever I can do that helps me feel better about me and my life, or surrender my well-being to however God chooses to advance it. Too often I seem stuck at that junction.
So I leave my inner world battle and get up, get ready, and get on with my day: coffee, several cups unleaded; two eggs, maybe oatmeal; and on the 12 minute drive to my favorite breakfast spot Sirius radio, channel 5, 50’s rock; or channel 19, all Elvis. In the process, I enter another world, leaving my inner world with its worries behind. This second world feels better, no pressure, much easier, more pleasant.
Here’s the question: Do I stay there as often and as long as I can? Or do I think of brief times in this less stressful world as only a break from the struggle going on in my inner world? If I mostly live in the world where I can manage my own satisfaction on my schedule, I forfeit precious opportunities to follow the Spirit into my inner world where I can become painfully aware of my relational sin, choose to repent, and become joyfully aware of the new life within me that can now be revealed in how I relate.
While I listen to music I like and eat a good tasting breakfast, I might be living in the illusion that God makes sense: I want to feel good; God provides the means to feel good, the blessings I want in order to experience a hassle free, enjoyable life. But then I live a superficial, self-obsessed life, and mistake it for a Christian life.
When I delve into my inner world, I invariably come into contact with a God who doesn’t make sense. It’s then I discover the opportunity to remain actively open to what the Spirit most longs to do, to form me into a Jesus follower who is slowly growing to relate more like Jesus.