"Balancing the Inward and Outward Practice of our Faith"

Given the response to the sermon on June 23, I decided to repeat a column from several years ago that continues our reflection on a healthy spiritual life. Richard Beck wrote a blog in which he reflected on an encounter with a female student who was concerned about her spiritual life and told him, “I need to spend more time working on my relationship with God.” Now I’ve answered concerns like that and preached numerous sermons in which I’ve tied the health of our spiritual experience to the building blocks of prayer, study, worship, and fellowship. For us to keep our relationship with God strong and vibrant and keep ourselves open to the guidance of God’s Spirit, those building blocks are essential. Do you want to work on your relationship with God? Cultivating spiritual disciplines seems like an obvious first step. What caught my attention and made this worth bringing to you was Beck’s response that if this young woman wanted to work on her relationship with God, she should consider if there was anyone to whom she needed to apologize to; and that she should go to ask their forgiveness instead. Now that sounds like a very unspiritual approach to spirituality, but in his blog Beck makes an important point that working on our relationship with God should make us different and better people. Within the limits of space, Beck approached the goal of effective faith from the opposite direction, and focused on action and living as a Christian as the way to deepen one’s relationship with God. My space is limited too, and so I hope you will follow me as I declare that the issue here is really maintaining a healthy balance of both inward practice and outward expression. We may all know some Christians that have excelled in prayer and study, but were sorely lacking when it came to caring and serving. Some people may prefer to focus on spiritual things and ignore the more difficult task of actually living their faith in an effective way. On the other hand we may also know some wonderful caring people who serve our community in tremendous ways, who are moral people with great intentions, but who are incomplete because they lack any spiritual roots. These people may have a great passion for saving the world, yet their attempts at caring and service may fall short because they are trying to do it on their own without any direction and help from our loving God. To become all we can be as people of faith, we need to develop both our inner and outer worlds. The writer of James was saying essentially the same thing when he said “faith without works is dead.” As we seek to become closer to God and become more like Christ, we need to devote ourselves to those disciplines that build our character and deepen our discipleship; and that will mean both spiritual disciplines and interpersonal improvements, both knowing God and serving others. Both of these emphases are important and must be part of our lives and practice for us to have a sustained and sustaining faith.