Recently, I came across some insights in a book I have been reading that help flesh out some ideas I have been struggling to name. Let’s get into it.
The goal of spiritual disciplines
If you ask someone how to grow as a Christian they will tell you to read your Bible and pray. It’s not bad advice, but it is universally almost never followed. Few Christians read their Bible, or have an informed and rich engagement with it. Even fewer have fulfilling, meaningful prayer lives. I know all about that having walked with Jesus since I was a young child—having tried to get to know Jesus since I was a young child. Now that I am 50 I am beginning to see some things differently.
In my life, and you may resonate with this, I have gone through a progression in understanding spiritual disciplines (things like, fasting, prayer, Bible reading, confession, worship, living simply, solitude, service, etc):
- The Christian thing you are supposed to do but don’t do.
- A task you commit to, but it is tiresome and unfulfilling and often boring.
- Moments (or seasons) of powerful prayer followed by long dry spells with most spiritual growth coming from books and ministry leaders .
- Embracing spiritual disciplines as vehicles that open us to receive God’s grace in our lives—to know God better—with renewed, but faltering practice.
- Engaging in loving union with the Father with a life-rhythm of disciplines that reveal our heart to the Father without fear or shame. Enjoying and basking in His presence without strings tied to Him delivering fulfillment to our emotions.
The importance of our inner lives
In all of scripture, I find this passage in Matthew 7 to be one of the most arresting:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’
Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Matthew 7:21–24 (emphasis added)
The idea that you could prophesy, cast out demons, and perform many miracles without knowing Jesus is striking. And that’s how I have always read it.
But Jesus doesn’t say that these individuals never knew Him, He say He never knew them!* And to top it off, He calls them evildoers!
They were able to do these miraculous signs but Jesus didn’t know them. I have an idea of what is going on here and let’s provide some more context to get to that punch line.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Matthew 7:15–20 (emphasis added)
Let’s look at that last part from Luke’s Gospel.
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Luke 6:44–45 (emphasis added)
Here are some takeaways I have been meditating on:
Our lives need to be open to God. In addition to bringing needs or requests to God, our prayer lives should reveal ourselves to God, so that He can know us— our true motivations, our fears, our hopes and dreams. You could say that God already knows all about us, but Jesus here says that he doesn’t know these miraculous workers. It’s a different kind of knowing.
Jesus says inwardly these false prophets are ferocious wolves. They have not submitted their inner lives to the Father for scrutiny and renewal. They are ministering to others from a place of ambition, jealousy, envy, and self-importance. They are using their platform for belonging, value, and significance. These motivations are raging within them ferociously like a wolf. That’s quite a word picture.
The fruit that marks a false prophet that Jesus is talking about is obviously not the fruit of ministry success — speaking God’s truth, power over the enemy, and God’s miraculous work in people’s lives. We desperately need discernment and need to quit ignoring bad, unloving behavior.
Without the deep inner life that comes from loving union with the Father—where we are opening ourselves to be known—our “great and miraculous works” are actually evil. And why not if they are coming from a place of selfishness or jealousy? These are not fruits of the Spirit, but the sinful nature. The sinful nature cannot beget the life of the Spirit.
Daily, we are storing up things in our hearts. Are those things in our hearts unmet desires? Are they selfish ambition (James 3:14)? Are they a desire to have a more visible or bigger platform? Or are we storing up good thing in our hearts by allowing God’s goodness to permeate us and overflow?
Storing up things in our hearts sounds to me like an agricultural word picture. The image is a farmer storing up the harvest in a barn, to be used in the future. The things we are meditating on, what we are nursing inside of us, become the stores out of which we speak and work. The only way I know that a good man stores up good in his heart is through the loving union made possible in the spiritual disciplines. “Storing up” refers to an abundance. If our time with the Father is spotty or non-existent, nothing is being stored up. We are barely subsisting. But God has promised us if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. The ball is in our court.
There is a lot going on here, and I am just scratching the surface. I hope this is helpful, and I pray that you enjoy rich and meaningful, loving union with the Father.
*Pete Scazzero makes this excellent point in his book Emotionally Healthy Leadership (p117–118) and this point has filled in some gaps for me. I believe spiritual disciplines open us to God to “know as we are known,” and an often overlooked component of that loving union with the Father is God knowing us — the unveiling of our inner selves to the Father. Some of my words here are Pete’s words — loving union with the Father, for example. I highly recommend this book.