This past week I was emotionally impacted by the internal life of Jesus. The fortitude he shows as he is mocked and shamed is yet another facet of his glorious person. Peeking through the window of Scripture at that kind of internal strength makes us imagine what our own lives might look like if we too could nurture the dignity that comes from hearing the voice of the Father above all others. I challenged us all to build our internal castle of character and intimacy with God.
Still, someone grabbed me in the parking lot and asked me, “But how do we do that?” I think that is an important question, and the answer is more complex than just prayer. The truth is, a strong inner life is built on three practices and if you neglect one you risk spiritual stagnation. The passing of time is not enough to build character or intimacy with God; it also takes intentional investment in these three areas. Think of these at three over lapping circles…
Theological Reflection: Each of these require reflection, but the most obvious way to build your inner life is through our reading and reflecting on scripture, prayer, and the quieting of our hearts to listen to the voice of God. It is not just the reading or praying but the internal and external application of what we read and hear. This is theological reflection, and this is the first way we build our inner life.
Self-Assessment: Reflecting on Scripture and the heart of God is a kind of outside-in journey. Self-assessment on the other hand is an inside-out journey. We can spend hours reading and reflecting on ideas that are outside ourselves but if we never take the time to understand who we are in relation to those concepts, we will not ultimately grow. This too is a kind of prayer, asking God questions like: Why do I react that way? How am I wrong in this situation? Why does that scare me so much? How can I take responsibility for this situation? Being able to make sense of our own motivations, impulses, and what makes us tick is a nonnegotiable piece of a strong inner life.
Relational Feedback: The final reflection that builds our inner life is the voices of those around us. Listening and humbly considering what those who know us say about us is actually vital to personal growth. Unlike Jesus, we are imperfect friends, spouses, coworkers and ministers. For that reason, we are ever dependent on good feedback from wise, loving and courageous friends who will tell us the truth about what they see in us. Both the good and the bad. Even our enemies can be a revealing source of valuable feedback about ourselves, we should never write them off completely but maintain humility even in the face of accusation and false report. The strong inner life is capable of considering even the feedback our detractors give us.
I tend to think of these as three overlapping circles, spiraling inward over time toward the middle. The inner life is the place where these three are honestly examined in the presence of God. Each take time and intentional investment, which means they are all predicated on slowing down and finding the space to reflect. This was a discipline that even Jesus, though he was perfect, did not neglect. How much more important will it be for us? Steal some time from your external life this month to build that internal castle with God.