Sunday, August 28, 2011

Within/Without...are they the same?

There must be a quiet place where all is in order, a place from which comes the energy that overcomes turbulence and is not intimidated by it."

As I was preparing some material to present for a retreat, I read Gordon MacDonald’s book
Ordering Your Private World. This book originally came out in 1984, with the latest revision being printed in 2003. MacDonald asks a very important question that often relates to an unseen issue in many people who come to counseling. Are you taking time regularly to order your inner life?

After describing what a Florida sinkhole looks like, he states "The Florida sinkhole is a physical picture of a spiritual problem with which many Western Christians must deal. As the pressure of life continues to grow in the first years of the 21st century there will be more people whose lives resemble a sinkhole, unless they gaze inward and ask themselves, Is there a private world beneath the noise and action at the surface? A world that needs to be explored and maintained? Can strength and resilience be developed that will bear up under the growing pressure at the surface?

Christ recognized the same problem when he accused the religious leaders of his day of being "white washed tombs." (Matt 23:27)They gave one appearance on the outside, but inwardly they were rotted (the dead body).

Stress and pressure in life eventually beings to reveal the emptiness within us as sin-fallen humans. Perhaps that is why God inspired several of the biblical writers to write about "tests of faith" as blessings, and something to rejoice about. Those problems, stresses, or "tests" often force us to see what is really inside our inner world, and to recognize the need to make changes to become a person of integrity. A dictionary definition of integrity is "a state of being whole or entire." Most chocolate bunnies don’t have integrity–they are hollow inside. Far too often we are like the bunny–we are not the same inside that we appear to be outside. When the tests come, if we are hollow inside, we will cave in. Our clients, too, often do not have the inner strength to deal with the issues of life.

Before we can truly help our clients "order their inner life," we must learn to do so in our own lives. MacDonald states: "If my private word is in order, it will be because I make a daily choice to monitor its state of orderliness." To order my inner life, I must know my "inner life" or my heart, as the Bible calls it. Not only do I need to know my inner heart, but I also need to know God’s heart, so I will know how to order my inner life.

If I am who I say I am (a Christian counselor, or even "a Christian"), it will require taking time daily to know the heart of God and to know my heart. Psalm 139 highlights how God knows my heart, my inner thoughts, and even my inner motivations. But do I know His heart? Hosea 6:6 reminds us (God speaking) "I don’t want your sacrifices, I want your love. I don’t want your offerings. I want you to know me." Making a choice to "order my inner life" means I take time to know God’s heart, and to know my own heart, so I can have courage and strength to believe and trust God, and choose God’s desires over my own. That courage and strength is the opposite of anxiety and depression that often overwhelms many people.

How do we do that? Of course, our primary revelation of God is from the Bible, so spending time in the Word is essential. Reading through the Bible every year is a great starting place, but we also need to be studying, memorizing, and meditating on God’s Word regularly. How do I come to know my heart? Journaling each day is a great way to become honest with myself and my heart motivations. There is something about expressing thoughts and emotions externally that enables us to see them more concretely. As I have processed my own latest "great stressor" in life, journaling through the Psalms has been a rich experience for me. Most of my journal entries are written as letters to God, containing segments of telling Him what is in my heart, segments of confession, and segments of praising and thanking Him for all He has done and will do.

MacDonald tells us "A disorganized spirit often means lack of inner serenity. For many Christians, what should be tranquility is in fact only numbness or emptiness." How many people come to counseling for this very reason? They can’t really identify what they need, or how to resolve their problem, so they come to a counselor.

Are you willing to pay the cost for an "ordered life?" Not only will you benefit from this choice, but those who come to you for help will benefit, and God will be glorified.


  1. Thanks for the post. It reflects some things that I have been thinking about this week. I have not read this book but now I plan to.

  2. Great! I think you will find it gives you lots to think about!

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