When I heard that best-selling author and Christian counselor Larry Crabb had passed away last week, I got to some remembering.
I recall seeing in the summer of 1989, a video series based on Crabb’s book Inside Out, in which he argued, if we are going to take seriously Jesus Christ, then we need to move below the surface, go beyond appearances, the pretenses of behavior, and pay attention to the deep and unwieldy currents of our hearts. Dr. Crabb challenged me to consider the primacy of the inner life for a Jesus-follower, which was a very new thought for me at the time.
On that summer Sunday evening, my heart was stirred. I remember being gripped by Dr. Crabb’s words. I longed to live out what he spoke. His emphasis seemed faithful to the thrust of biblical spirituality. After all, wasn’t this the intent of Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisee who invited him to dinner?
While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. Luke 11:37-41
Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?
The inner life must be taken seriously. That summer I was beginning to suspect that simply knowing and doing the right thing was not going to be a sustainable spiritual strategy. Who I was kept on getting in the way of good and desired behaviors. Rumblings and resistances within my heart frustrated the connection between belief and behavior. Knowing something and doing something would not simply connect from dot to dot. Knowing that I should be patient in a situation or should be forgiving or should be courageous did not lead to being patient or forgiving or courageous. Good character refused to be put on like a coat. A deeper work of the Spirit was going to be required.
That summer over 30 years ago a prayer began to surface in my heart: God, let me not live my life by borrowed convictions and second-hand experiences. I longed to live honestly and faithfully from the inside out. I did not want my life with God to rest solely on the spiritual heroics and insights of others: a missionary’s amazing story of God’s faithfulness and power or a writer’s insight into the work of forgiveness or a friend’s blessing in my life. These were all gifts to me, for which I was thankful, but they could not substitute for first-hand discovery and trust in Jesus.
One person defines the spiritual life as “a way of referring to one’s life—every moment and facet of it—from God’s perspective.” By this definition, Jesus was very concerned with a deeper spiritual life. Over and again in the gospels, Jesus confronted those for whom the faithful life was defined by only a part of their life (e.g. virtuous behavior, right thoughts, religious experiences, missional service). Jesus asks poignantly, “Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?”
In retrospect over thirty years later, I now realize Dr. Crabb’s Inside Out video series was an invitation to a deeper spiritual life, to connecting grace and truth to every part of my life.
Thankfully, Jesus’ wise and gracious Spirit continues to invite us to a deeper level of honesty and faithfulness, cultivated from the inside out. When we realize our inner lives are sometimes full of greed and wickedness, and we become frustrated by our inability to live freely and love generously, may we receive these frustrations as invitations from God’s Spirit to a deeper spiritual life, a life held and shaped by Jesus’ fierce and tender mercy.
God, give us each the grace to be open, again and again, to such invitations…
An Inside Out excerpt:
I think of those who are in positions of Christian leadership. The pressure to model for others what maturity looks like can lead to breakdown or pride. You realize that others think of you as better than you know yourself to be. It’s hard to maintain an image. But the pressure to encourage people by displaying what God can do in a life surrendered to Him makes you hide a few struggles.
Some of you are rightly grateful for the maturity that years of commitment have yielded. But you know the line between gratitude and pride is thin. Some of you are tired, close to burnout, weary of the loneliness that comes from battling with temptations you feel free to share with no one.
My message to you is, THERE’S LOVE! The Church needs leaders who can involve themselves in other people’s lives with the joy of integrity and transparency, confident that their love is unfeigned, willing to be deeply known for the sake of helping others. The awful distance from people that the aura of leadership creates can be bridged. The struggles that sometimes tear at your soul can be dealt with. Vulnerability, humility, intimacy, power—qualities of character that the pressures of leadership can often weaken—can be developed. The model of a loving servant that our Lord both illustrated and taught can be followed. But more is required than keeping your head above the water of expectations and responsibilities. A long hard look at your life, preferably with a trusted friend, may be necessary to slow down the hectic pace of a life committed to ministry and to identify those internal issues buried beneath the demands of leadership. The joys of influence are available to people who change from the inside out.
The message of Christianity is that a relationship with Christ is available that can reach into every part of your life and can move you toward becoming the person He saved you to be.
Larry Crabb, Inside Out (Navpress, 1988), p. 25.