How am I doing spiritually? When was the last time you asked yourself that question? When did you last take a long look at yourself in order to reflect on your spiritual life? Am I growing? Am I drawing closer to God? Am I truly nurturing the love of God the Holy Spirit has most assuredly placed in my heart as a child of God?
LOOKING INSIDE For many of us, life is just too busy. The pressures of daily life, the demands of work, study and home, all press in on us. We barely make it from one Christian meeting to the next with body and soul intact let alone find time to pause and look inside to see what is going on there. It seems that the last thing we are inclined to do is to look inside our own hearts.
Part of the problem is that we avoid anything that could lead to depressing self-examination, fearing the downward spiral of guilt and despondency that so easily follow bouts of morbid introspection. We avoid stillness. We run from one duty to another thinking that responsible activity is all that God wants from us. We make just enough surface noise to drown out that inner call of the Spirit to deepen our relationship with God. The garden of the soul becomes overgrown with the thorns of the cares of this life, the pursuit of our career, the ambitions of self or simply the daily chores of modern living.
I believe we need to recover the lost art of spiritual self-reflection. Evaluating our spiritual health is an important discipline. How else can we take stock of the things that really matter? But there are many of pitfalls to avoid.
Perhaps the most common pitfall is the tendency to descend into self-condemnation. We all know we are not what we should be. That’s why we fear all forms of critical self-analysis. What if we find out that our lives are a hopeless mess? That’s what we fear we will discover – the home truths which are a little too close to home for comfort. But the point of self-reflection is not to dwell on the negative; it is to discover the pure gold God has put within us.
Granted, when we examine our hearts we discover, just beneath the surface, a whirling mess of conflicting and confusing motivations, ideas, longings, thoughts and feelings. We work hard not to admit these to God, to others and even to ourselves. So our goal is to hide and not to expose ourselves. But these negative things do not tell the whole story. They are not the final word about us. They do not define who we are. What defines us is the work that God has done in is.
Every person who has yielded their life to Christ has received the gospel miracle of new life in Christ. And, if we are in Christ, then Christ is also in us. He lives within us by his Holy Spirit. The new creation nature describes who we really are (2 Corinthians 5:17). This new nature, the new heart within us, lies at the foundation of our inner spiritual life. True self-examination goes deeper than dwelling on the mess just beneath the surface of our lives but keeps probing until it touches the new nature alive deep within us.
This is the encouraging good news of the gospel. God has changed our hearts and the goal of all spiritual reflection is to discover the Life within, expose it, nurture it and allow it to manifest first, internally in joy and worship, then, externally as it propels us toward the practice of love for God and our neighbour.
It is no secret that love, the love of God for us and the love of God at work in us, is the heart of true spirituality. So the first call of spiritual reflection is to the love of God. This enables us to bypass that negative, self-deprecating form of so-called spirituality which has much more to do with the unsanctified spirit of fear and condemnation than it has to do with walking in the love of our heavenly Father.
Reflecting on the love God has for you, and others, leads to a healthy inner life which, in turn, helps you sustain a healthy eternal life. It is not LOVE in abstract, or LOVE as a force or principle, but it is the personal LOVE of God. Love does not exist in abstract isolation. It implies person hood, relationship – a reaching out to another and receiving back from that person. Unfortunately, many of us flounder at this point. I can theoretically believe that God is LOVE, but have I learned to revel in the overwhelming unconditional love of God to me, personally to me?
Reflecting on God’s love is the starting point for spiritual self-reflection. It causes us to open up personally and receive his love. It affirms, it heals, it inspires and motivates. The realisation dawns in your soul that not only God loves you but that he also has given you a deep love for him. It reveals your inner spiritual passion as you respond to him and yearn for him in love. Only spiritual reflection in the quietness of your soul and in the presence of God’s Spirit can lead you into the depths of his love.