1. The Inner THIRST ( Ps 42:1-6)
Are there times when you have a nebulous feeling and you don’t know quite what it is that is causing you to be ‘downcast’? You are not alone. The psalmist knew this feeling: ‘Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?’ (v.5a). God does not want you to stay in this place – he loves you and he wants to encourage you.
The psalmist speaks of an inner thirst: ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you (v.1). He continues, ‘My inner self thirsts for God’ (v.2, AMP).
Only God himself can satisfy this thirst. Knowledge about God will not satisfy your inner thirst. You need to cry out, as the psalmist did, for God’s presence. Meet with God (v.2) and pour out your soul (v.4).
Worship is key. ‘I was always at the head of the worshipping crowd, right out in front, leading them all, eager to arrive and worship, shouting praises, singing thanksgiving – celebrating, all of us, God’s feast!’ (v.5:6a, MSG)
2. The Inner LIGHT ( Lk 11:33-54)
A clean heart and conscience is far more important than clean hands. What goes on in your heart and thoughts really matters. Your eyes are key – they are the gate to the inner life. That is why what you look at matters so much. You let things into your inner life through your eyes. Your eyes also reflect what is going on in your heart.
Jesus calls you to fill your inner being with light. ‘Your eye is a lamp, lighting up your whole body. If you live wide-eyed in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. Keep your eyes open, your lamp burning, so you don’t get musty and murky. Keep your life as well-lighted as your best-lighted room’ (vv.34–35, MSG).
Jesus also calls you to an intimate and loving relationship with God – to that secret place, the heart, where true contact with God takes place. He calls you to be clean on the inside, not just on the outside (v.39). It is no good appearing clean outwardly if inside you are full of ‘greed and wickedness’ (v.39).
As Father Raniero Cantalamessa writes, ‘It would be a mistake to think that insistence on the inner life could harm our energetic commitment to the kingdom and to justice. Far from diminishing the importance of acting for God, interior life lays its foundation and keeps it going.’
The focus of the inner life, according to Jesus, is the poor: ‘Give as donations to the poor … and behold, everything is purified and clean for you’ (v.41, AMP). This is another example of Jesus’ teaching that, in the words of Mother Teresa, ‘Giving cleanses the heart’.
Jesus goes on to say that outward giving in itself is not enough if you neglect ‘justice and the love of God’ (v.42).
Jesus warns these religious leaders about wrong attitudes of the heart into which we can so easily fall. These words are a challenge to those of us in any kind of leadership. Jesus warns against:
‘You love the most important seats’ (v.43).
- Love of recognition
‘Greetings in the marketplace’ (v.43).
There is a danger of teaching a standard that we ourselves fail to live up to. ‘You load people down with burdens they can hardly carry and you will not lift one finger to help them’ (v.46).
Jesus was not afraid to confront people about their inner lives. He was not afraid of confrontation nor was he afraid of making enemies. It is not surprising that the object of his attack, the religious leaders, began to oppose him fiercely (v.54).
3.The inner LOVE ( Deut 6:1-8:20)
At the heart of the Old Testament, as of the New Testament, is love. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ (6:5). The Hebrew words here are much broader than any translation can fully capture, something that is probably reflected in the New Testament using a fourfold translation (heart, soul, strength, mind). The phrase is meant to sum up the whole of life, including both mind and will.
God always intended that the law of love should be internal – in the heart: ‘Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children’ (v.6, MSG).
Your love for God flows out of his love for you. His love for you is not dependent on any innate moral quality that you possess. It is the grace of God – loving us inspite of our sins, weaknesses and failures. ‘The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loves you’ (7:7–8a).
God showers his love upon you because of his loving character and his faithfulness: ‘The Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you … He willlove you and bless you and increase your numbers’ (vv.12–13).
You are called to this intimate and loving relationship with God. However there are three warnings given in chapter six:
- The danger of abandoning God because of the surrounding idolatry – ‘do not follow other gods’ (v.14)
There would have been the temptation to fit in with the surrounding culture, and adopt the religion of the people. However, God wanted them, and you, to remain faithful to him rather than merely seeking to fit in with those around you. (Deuteronomy chapter 7 expands on this.)
- The danger of doubting God because of hardship – ‘do not test the Lord’ (v.16)
Life will not always be as idyllic as is pictured in 6:10–12. When hardship comes, the temptation is to think that God no longer cares about you, but you need to hold on to the faithfulness and word of God. (Deuteronomy 8:1–5 unpacks this challenge further.)
God allows you to go through tests and trials so you can learn by experience that doing things his way is the best way. If you will not serve and worship him in the hard times of life (the valleys), you may not consistently serve and worship him in the good times (the mountain tops). Mountain tops encourage us. But valleys mature us.
- The danger of forgetting God because of affluence – ‘do not forget the Lord’ (v.12).
In the enjoyment of the gift, you can sometimes forget the giver. (Deuteronomy 8:6–20 expands on this.)
Underlying these three warnings is the realisation that material things alone – whether personal possessions or ‘idols’ – do not satisfy: ‘Human beings do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord’ (8:3).
Jesus quoted this verse when he was being tempted in the desert by the devil to satisfy his physical hunger in the wrong way. His response to the devil was that it is the inner life – the inner hunger – that is far more important than the material things. This inner hunger can only be satisfied by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Whether you are materially well-off or not, the focus of your life should never be on the material things but rather on the inner life which alone can satisfy the deep inner longing which God has put in every human heart.