Inner Work

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

~ Matthew 23:25-26 (NLT) ~

If you want to grow, you must do the inner work. Inner work is the washing of the inside of our cup. It is facing our dirt and finding the root cause of how it got there and why it keeps coming back. It is getting healing from trauma. It is confronting our shame and facing our fears. It is bringing our selfishness and greed and pride to the cross to be crucified with Christ. This is the most sacred type of work and the most neglected.

I think there are three reasons why inner work is so neglected by Christians. Firstly, it is unseen, especially in the early stages. As you first begin to tackle your inner demons, not many will come up to congratulate you or encourage you on the excellent work you are doing. There will be no acclaim or reward for taking up that broom and mop and getting down in the muck of your inner life. The motivation to do inner work must come entirely from within (ultimately from God)… the militant commitment to give up your fake-life to follow Christ. Your sight of eternal life (not in heaven but here and now) must be larger… more attractive… more valuable… than the Pharisee-life of religious superiority and praise of men.

Which brings me to the second reason that inner work is so neglected. It requires us to be honest about our mess and that type of honesty will not win you many friends in the church. The vast majority of the church is in the business of cleaning the outside of the cup – managing sin – modifying behaviour. Jesus says we have to clean the inside first. Transformation, Jesus’ way, cleans the heart first and then (after some time) the outside becomes clean. This type of transformation is lasting, genuine and Christ glorifying. The problem is that while we are doing the inner work, our mess is visible and that is uncomfortable to our ego. Often, to really sort out the inside of our cup we will have to seek professional help, confide in family and close friends and generally be OK with not being ‘blessed and highly favoured, praise God’. For many, that price is too high.

The final barrier to inner work is the lack of tangible results. We are driven to perform. ‘Only results matter’, says the management adage, and we have bought it wholesale. Inner work is slow, and tangible results are not evident for a long time. You have to be more committed to the process than the results. This was my greatest challenge to my inner work. I saw men and women of God walking in great purpose in their 20s and, “What was I doing in my 40s?” my inner critic said. Nothing much. Decades of just trying to know God better and confront my own depravity without much evidence of the greatness I felt called to. There is this pressure to achieve something… anything… to exit the process prematurely.

This performance culture is a delusion and a distraction. Why are we more inclined to listen to a pastor who has twenty books, leads a mega-church and has hundreds of thousands of followers on twitter than the little faithful old ladies in our church? I’m a big fan of little faithful old ladies. Without these pillars, there would be no successful pastors. Often, they are full of the wisdom of inner work gurus. Our eyes and ears need recalibration. Success defined by numbers of followers and size of empire is not a kingdom definition. I’m not saying that these things are bad, just not a good goal for your life. They are better achieved as a byproduct of more of Christ in us. There are men and women with big outward success that have cleaned the inside of their cups and some that have not. To the uncalibrated eye they may look the same, but the former are such treasures while God takes no pleasure in the latter.

I invite you to recalibrate. At this time many of us are on a break from work. Spend some quiet time with God. Re-focus on the inside of your cup. He is looking for those who will carry His Living Water, undefiled, to a world in drought.

Copyright 2021, Matik Nicholls. All rights reserved.

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