An Introduction to Outward
I’m going to switch gears for this month, from “inward” to “outward.”
In February, I concentrated pretty heavily on examining certain Biblical ideas and how those ideas might shape our lives. Let’s call that looking “inward”, as in “inward on our foundational beliefs.” If it isn’t already obvious, I consider my Christian beliefs as my anchor point for understanding everything else that I could possibly know. That might seem like a bit of a “Well, duh.” statement to some, but if you think about it, that’s quite a big deal. We need to clearly define where we begin our thinking from.
Our time here matters. It’s not the end-all, be-all, but while we’re called to not be “of the world” we still have to be in it. What I mean is that if you dig far enough into your own beliefs, you cannot keep your theology, your philosophy (we all have one, even if we don’t know what it is), and your politics (don’t confuse this with political affiliation…) all neatly separated into their individual spheres. At the heart of your principles, the line between these three blur substantially. In order to be authentic – which is simply just telling the same truth across the domains of ones actions, words, and thoughts – we have to deal with any inconsistencies and paradoxes that crop up in our soupy wash of values.
What I’m saying is this: what you believe matters. Think of your life as a house built on what you believe. Letting it stay half-defined or vague or not defined at all is leaving your foundation awfully sandy, and the first good storm that comes along – nobody gets to skip the storms, by the way – will just knock you into a bunch of miserable pieces.
To take this analogy a step further, don’t assume that your foundation is automatically solid just because you claim Christianity as your belief of choice. If we claim it but don’t seek to understand it, we’re inevitably going to come up spiritually short. You might be tempted to argue, “Yeah, but Proverbs says, ‘Lean not on your own understanding…'”, and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve yet to find a Scripture that gives me license to be lazy, so if I think that’s what Proverbs 3:5 means…well, let me just add some more of that sand to my foundation.
No, we’ve got to explore what we believe, and we’ve got to joyfully dig at it, knowing full well that we will never get to the bottom of God. That’s the idea behind this mentality: the more we seek to understand God, the more profound we understand Him to be, therefore the more of Him there is for us to seek to understand. It’s a constant process that requires our participation. The moment we lay the shovel down, we put the solidity of our belief at risk.
“Seek, and you shall find.” The Truth doesn’t change, but if we stop seeking it we will cease to find it, and it must be found continuously – every second of every day.
Okay, so all this is the “inward” focus, and we have to begin there, because this is the source for understanding everything else we come into contact with. But if we stay so intently focused inward all the time, we’ll get complacent. We’ll be prone to think that we’re beginning to have everything all figured out.
I look at it this way: we spend time “inward” focused, and we’re fed that way. Then we dedicate a portion of time “outward” focused, and that keeps us hungry.
Look, let’s face it: in this age of social media, it’s easy to create a cozy bubble – to only hear the voices that we like and agree with, and to unfriend or unfollow all the voices that we don’t. That’s easy listening. It’s like the elevator music of life; it takes zero effort and it offers us little beyond shallow self-service.
So here’s my challenge: stop creating the patronizing bubble. If we want to grow, we can’t shut off those voices that say things we don’t like. Revel in that mild discomfort you get from being confronted with an idea in radical opposition to your own. Especially if it’s just on a computer screen, and remember it can’t actually hurt you.
Start by exploring why it bothers you so much. The question we’re asking ourselves is, “What foundational belief do I hold that is so rattled by this person’s idea?” Once we answer that, now we need to know where we got that foundational belief from. Is it grounded in Scripture? Did Mom or Dad just bestow it on me when I was a kid? Did I just unconsciously adopt it out of life experiences?
The thing to notice here is that irritating idea has already taught us something about ourselves, forced us to examine what we think we know. Our old bubble would have kept us comfortable, but this way we’re letting this new idea refine our core beliefs. It’s putting that foundation to the test, like a mini-storm that we volunteered for. If what we believe has trouble standing up under the weight of this foreign idea, well that’s a good thing to be aware of.
I would like to point out that I said the new idea refines our beliefs, which is not the same as redefines our beliefs. If every time we swing “outwards” our beliefs end up getting completely changed, then our time “inward” was probably ill-spent. The idea here is that as we go back and forth from inward to outward, new information, new insight, new depth is constantly being added to what we believe. We bring in what we find “outward”, and then we work to figure out what that means for us “inward”. There is a dynamic of growth that occurs, one where we are actively involved in the seeking.
Again, to be clear, the goal here is to know Him better, to always be pursuing Him. Never just knowledge for the sake of knowledge, or wisdom for the sake of wisdom. But that “our hearts may be encouraged…to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:2-3)