Devotional: Inward or Outward?
As I left our church this past Sunday, I was humbled and grateful for the powerful message that Pastor Barry preached. The call to be “outward facing” through sharing our faith with others is a call that I tend to ignore. I needed to be convicted of this tendency. As I contemplated the sermon and reflected on how I would write this devotional, I spent some time questioning why I struggle to live an outward facing life. What is it that keeps me from sharing my faith? The answer is one of the primary struggles I have faced in my Christian walk with God: fear. I remember being confronted with my intimate struggle with fear several years ago. A trusted mentor gently told me that they felt I was wrestling against a fearful spirit and asked if I understood how it was affecting my relationship with God. They went on to explain how my fear was in essence, a mistrust of God and His word. If I trusted that God was who He said He was, my fear would cease to exist. But as we live in a fallen and broken world, I have continued to wrestle with this sin and was not surprised to realize that the root of my reluctance to live an outward facing life was fear. Perhaps some of you are wrestling against the same thing.
As I contemplate our call to live outwardly and share our faith, I find myself wrestling with fear in the form of a question: what if I say the wrong thing? What if this person rejects me? I have thought this more times than I can count. And after I do encounter someone, I often spend time afterwards thinking about things I said wrong or should have said instead and wondering what the person thinks of me. But if you read what I just wrote, you will see that the focus of those fears is entirely on myself. I become fixated on my words and my actions and omit the role that God is playing in my life and the lives of others.
In his sermon, Pastor Barry talked about the motivation and the means by which we live outwardly. In regards to motivation, he quoted 2 Cor. 5:14 which says, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.” (ESV) He went on to explain how the translation of the Greek word for love (agape) emphasizes the receival of love. Pastor Barry said that because of this, “the motivation for an outward facing lifestyle is not because we love other people, it’s not because we love God; it’s because we have been recipients of the love of God.” He articulated that the means for living outward facing lives comes from viewing others through the lenses of the gospel or the lenses of grace. He went on to explain how this perspective can only come from receiving grace ourselves, referencing 2 Cor. 5: 17-18 which says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (ESV)
Through examining my fear and the questions I have when I contemplate living an outward facing life, I have realized that the motivation and the means through which I have been pursuing this have come entirely from myself; not the Lord. My motivation has been to glorify myself and the means by which I have lived outwardly have been limited to my own abilities which fall woefully short. My fear of saying the wrong thing implies that I have the power to offer salvation or condemnation which is wholly untrue. It also implies that any good resulting from my interactions with others will be attributed to me, instead of giving the glory to God. I have not been motivated by the received love of Christ and the means by which I have lived outwardly has not come from viewing others through the lens of grace – my focus has been entirely on myself and I have removed God and His grace.
I am thankful for the way that God used Pastor Barry’s sermon to reveal this struggle to me. My fears expose a selfishness in my heart that attempts to place myself on the throne of my life and remove God altogether. I am so very thankful that we serve a God of grace, who’s mercies know no end and who loves me enough to not leave my salvation, or the salvation of others, up to me. In His grace, God has given me His righteousness and love. When I rest in His righteousness, I am free from the fear of failure and rejection, knowing that no matter what I do or say, I will not separate myself from the love of Christ. Furthermore, when I view others through the lens of grace, I acknowledge God as the ruler of all and entrust their salvation to Him, not myself. This freedom enables me to willingly and joyfully live an outward facing life, knowing that God will use me to be a blessing to those He has already called to be a part of His family. Brothers and sisters, I know that the fear of failure and rejection runs deep, but there is grace for this struggle! God longs for us to turn to Him so that He can respond in faithfulness and love. Join me in seeking the Lord, asking Him to help us forsake the fear that rules our hearts, so that we may live an outward facing life that shows this faithfulness and love to all those we meet.
Photo credit: George Bakos