In our small church we have a young couple who have just had their first child, and the whole church joyfully shares their happiness. This past Sunday morning the young father had been asked to preach the sermon. Appropriately, he chose as his scripture the 139th Psalm. He spoke of how God knows us from before we are born; how our bodies are knit together by His design, and how, no matter where we go, He is there. He reminded us that God knows all our thoughts even before we know them ourselves.
He had given this a lot of consideration and made many excellent points ~ but the gist of it could be summarized in this: “ Who we are, our essence, is an eternal soul housed in an impermanent body; we are not primarily bodies with (incidentally) a soul.” Wow. That brought home truth which forced me to remember again what being a believer is all about.
So many of us spend our days worrying about the things that affect the body: what will we eat, where will we sleep, what will we wear. We obsess with trying to accumulate stuff for the convenience or enhancement of the body. Yet, we are told that while man looks on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart. It doesn’t matter to Him if we are beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, smart or not so smart. What matters to God is whether or not we love Him and trust Him and are being transformed from the inside to become more like His Son.
If God thinks the inner woman is most important, then I need to be concerned with seeing that my spirit is nourished as much as my body. When it comes right down to it, I think all of us recognize this truth at some level. What does it matter, in the long run, how pretty our faces, or how beautiful our clothes, or how much stuff we have accumulated, if we are empty inside. We all know of people who are rich in things or beauty, yet are selfish, greedy and self-absorbed, and have no inner peace. Very few are fooled into believing that an ugly spirit can be disguised by a beautiful exterior.,
Over and over in scripture we are reminded of the need to open ourselves to the transformation available to our spirit through Christ. One of my favorite verses is all about this: (Romans 12: 1.2 NKJV): I beseech you therefore, brethren by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God which is your reasonable service, and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God, which is your reasonable service.”
It is easy to forget what is most important. We become complacent. In this society many of us have grown up in churches where we have been steeped in the traditions of our families. We love the sense of continuity with those who have gone before us in these same churches. We find reassurance in the security of our Sunday morning routines. We sing the same hymns, sit in the same pews, recite the same creeds as did our parents and grandparents. We have done the same things so many times that we could go to church almost in our sleep and not miss a beat. We listen to the sermon and come away critiquing the minister on his delivery rather than his subject (not that we should be critiquing instead of heeding!). We think the choir sang well (or not so well) this Sunday. We observe our friends and think so and so looked a little tired this morning, or notice the young engaged couple sitting together for the first time, and go away with a warm sense of well-being. It is all very comforting. Yet, is this truly worship? Is this the purpose of gathering together on Sunday morning, and the quality of relationship which the Lord wants from me? Worship is an attitude of the heart ~ an offering back to God of some of the love which He has lavished on us. It should be a sweet fragrance coming from us and going up to God. It is not really about what I get out of it, or merely a period of time set aside for a chance to reassure myself.
I know I enjoy that sense of warmth and comfort myself. I wonder what would happen if I stripped away all my relaxed routines and was forced to see myself through God’s eyes? What would I find in my own heart? Would I be able to find genuine worship among my thoughts and feelings on a typical Sunday morning?
How many of us actually go to church and come away feeling as if we had met the Lord, seen Him face to face, and had communicated to Him by way of our full hearts just how much we love Him? We may have genuine worshipful experiences once in a while, but by and large most of us are operating on rote most of the time. What if we really prayed every prayer, believing with all our hearts that we were in full communication with the Father, and that He was hearing us? What if we sang those songs fully conscious of every word coming from our mouths instead of just enjoying the energy and emotionalism which they produce?
Perhaps I am more focused on all this because I am old. As I get closer to the time when I will finally see the face of my Lord, I realize how much I would have liked to be able to look into His eyes and not be ashamed of time wasted; of missed opportunities to honor Him; of actions which were totally self-driven instead of driven by my love for Him. I struggle with my inner self because I know it is already too late ~ I know my history. There is a lot of rationalizing and defensiveness and denial going on when I try to explain feelings and actions which may not square up with what I know would be Gods best will for my life. I already know that I have squandered a lot of my life in pointless activities and preoccupation with things that, in the end, don’t really matter. I have been spiritually lazy, often living for comfort rather than under the discipline of holy intent.
Amy Carmichael addressed this. She said, “All the great temptations appear first in the region of the mind and can be fought and conquered there. We have been given the power to close the door of the mind. We can lose this power through disuse or increase it by use, by the daily discipline of the inner man in things which seem small and by reliance upon the word of the Spirit of truth. It is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure. It is as though He said, ‘Learn to live in your will, not in your feelings.’ “
When I am able to look objectively at my inner spirit I realize how needy I am, and how unworthy of His grace. When I see my own spirit in contrast to the Spirit of God, I fall on my knees in shame. Yet, in spite of it all, He continues to love me. I can’t possibly understand the depth of His love ~ yet even understanding it a little, my heart responds with a desire to serve Him, to show Him by thought, word and deed, how grateful I am; how humbled I am by His grace.
For however much longer the Lord gives me here, I am determined to live with my priorities straight. I want to stay focused on my inner woman ~ not give so much time and effort to the things that only affect the shell in which my real self is carried. I can’t neglect my body ~ it was given to me by God and needs to be properly cared for. Yet, I don’t want to make it my first priority. God will be looking at my heart.
When I was a child I was taught my catechism, and the first thing we learned was: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. I want to stay with the essentials, and focus on opening my mind and heart to the glories to be found in Christ. Then, if I continue to trust and obey, the Holy Spirit will continue His work to transform my inner woman into His likeness. I want to make the Father glad that He has accepted me in the Beloved, and not dishonor Him by forgetting that it is not my body that is eternal, but my soul.