Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Are You An Innie Or An Outie?

As I was wrestling with a written piece of personal reflection today, I was reminded of a consistent principle of God’s liberating coming-to-us that I was first taught several years ago.

God’s transforming presence is concerned with two spheres of our experience:
the internal (e.g. habitual thought-patterns)
the external (e.g. our circumstances)

Time and time again in God’s dealings with his people – Joseph, Moses, David, the people of Israel, the early church – we see that where breakthrough is needed in an external frontier, God first works to bring about breakthrough in an internal one. So, God does an internal work in the life of Moses, alone in the wilderness, in order that he can lead his people out of slavery in Egypt…and an internal work in the people in the wilderness, in order that he can lead them into the Promised Land. So, the early church grows as its members learn to share what God has given them among themselves equitably.

The principle is this: internal breakthrough proceeds, and results in, external breakthrough. Every time.

That is why we can pray: “…transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory…”

This principle even applies to Jesus, the one in and through whom a new covenant is written; the one in and through whom the kingdom comes in its fullest expression. Before his liberating mission can begin, Jesus must know that he is God’s beloved son; must experience a pioneering breakthrough in the frontier of identity (which takes place at his baptism), and a settling of that territory (which takes place in the wilderness, immediately following that event).

The converse is also true. When we fix our focus on external circumstances – whether they be ‘good,’ such as material provision, or ‘bad,’ such as illness or oppression – we lose internal ground that has previously been won. We trust in our own strength, forgetting that God provides; we despair in our own inability to overcome adversity.

This converse principle is: surrendering external ground God has won for us proceeds, and results in, a surrendering of internal ground won. Every time.

Whenever the people of Israel returned to God, they enjoyed the blessing of peace in the Land. Whenever they turned away from God, they experienced the curse of incursion, exile, occupation at the hands of other peoples. (And the testimony of the exilic prophets and of Jesus’ mission demonstrates that you can’t recover the internal frontier by attempting to recapture the external one.)

So where I am seeking God for external breakthroughs, I need to ask, what is the internal breakthrough that needs to be secured first?

And where I see external breakthroughs lost – those ways in which God’s love and power, made substance through faith, transform situations; that used to be characteristic of my experience of life but are rare now – I need to ask, at what cost? How much hard-won internal ground am I prepared to give away lightly?

1 comment:

  1. Funny that. I'm preaching on this on Sunday. And, having written my sermon, I'm happy to say: I agree! :-)