The Quaker philosopher and theologian Elton Trueblood wisely warned, “Because we cannot reasonably expect to erect a constantly expanding ministry of compassion upon a constantly diminishing foundation of faith, attention to the cultivation of the inner life is our first order of business.” He is right. And here are five “what if” soul exercises to help you cultivate your inner life and keep you spiritually strong.
1. What if we applied the “Ma Israel” principle to our conduct?
Let me explain. Ma Israel operated a boarding house in Flint, Michigan, in the forties and fifties (Israel was her real name). One day, she phoned to ask her pastor if it was all right to take her grandchildren to the circus.
Her pastor advised, “Get on your knees with your Bible open before you and ask the One who rules the universe to guide you. And He will.”
Mrs. Israel replied, “That’s what I was afraid you’d say. I worry that God might be more strict than you or the church.”
Though the Ma Israel principle may give us a chuckle or two, it reminds us that our conduct must please God. So we never have absolute freedom to do what we want, but we are free to live as God’s love slaves. And that affects every detail of our lives.
2. What if we shaped our ministry by the “Frank Dean” principle?
Frank Dean, a retired boiler maker, gathered expired datelabeled and damaged packaged food from supermarkets near Jacksonville, Florida. He then made regular stops at the homes of poor people with food. Once, while visiting her father, Karen Dean Fry made the rounds with him and on the way home she said to him, “Papa, I hope when I help people I will always do it with dignity and respect the way you do.” He chuckled and said, “Oh honey, we need them much more than they need us. They are the only way we have to send our love to Jesus.”
This sounds very much like Jesus’ words, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:45 NIV).
3. What if we lived our lives by the “purge-all-myprejudices” principle?
Like many pastors, I have been accused of my share of prejudices—some laughable, others accurate. True prejudices had to be faced, forgiven, forsaken, and cleansed by the Spirit.
But as I thought about my experience with this prejudicepurging process, I came to believe everyone has prejudices that must be faced and cleansed by the Life-Giving Spirit. These could include gender bias, prejudices between old and young, academicians and practitioners, conservatives and liberals, veterans and beginners, fundamentalists and Wesleyans, or lay leaders and clergy in local, district and general church ministries? If we wanted to enliven the discussion a bit more, what about prejudices of class, language, and culture?
4. What if we lived as models of the agape expectations of Scripture?
Agape–love being perfected is clearly part of Scripture’s holiness teaching. In fact, love had such high priority that when asked to name the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matt 22:37-39 NIV). Then, He made this startling summary statement, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt 22:40 NIV).
Doesn’t that at least strongly imply every Christian worker is required to love God, others, and self? Isn’t there great room for improvement in loving each other in the work of the Kingdom?
5. What if we lived by Fred Suffield’s personal holiness standard?
Kittie and Fred Suffield, a well know husband and wife evangelistic team from an earlier era, specialized in holiness preaching and teaching. It was Fred’s practice at the end of the day to ask Kittie, “Has there been anything in my life today that made you doubt I am a holy man?” What if we asked someone as a personal favor to us to put that question to us every day? What would we say? Better yet, what would we do?
All this reminds me of a prayer I overheard a Salvation Army officer pray, “Oh God, help us realize our communities are not nearly as much in need of our expertise as they are in need of the One who called us.” It’s as true as the law of gravity—our inner life affects out effectiveness. At the same time, it affects our ability to persevere and our sense of satisfaction and meaning.
by Neil B. Wiseman
consultant and former editor of GROW Magazine