This sentiment comes from more than a cultural exposure to an impoverished nation. It is born of a heart knowledge of loving others without restraint that occurred on a remote mountain side in rural Swaziland. Twelve team members from different churches, backgrounds, philosophical viewpoints, and ages; all coming together under the banner of Christ's love for others - all giving of themselves. Each of us was a contact point for the driving force of God's love representing the countless hours and dollars expended by our dear families, friends, and churches, without whose support - none of us would have built soccer goals, cleaned feeding bowls, prayed with hospital laden families, given food, or even stepped on care point soil.
Three weeks ago this journey brought me back to my "mission field"...and I have failed. I have failed to carry back and sustain the absolute selfless love for others above myself. I have failed to continue to ignore circumstances and persevere under the power of God's grace and love for me and through me. I have failed to fully permit that heart knowledge that still burns within to fully transform me from without. The wrecked reality of "normal" that I am living within, is not the reality I had envisioned a month ago when my pants were filthy with red soil and I was daily wiping red dust from my face with wet-wipes before dinner.
You see, Ludlati was very literally the "mountaintop experience". My amazing bride held our lives together at home. Many of my team-mates would recount similar support. Together, we were able to simply be the "hands-and-feet" of Jesus as we daily interacted, prayed over, and loved on others without external concerns. Our efforts, our energies, our lives were focused to laser precision as the totality of our days and nights were consumed with the work and relationships that were the very reason for our presence two hemispheres from home. This was the epicenter of spiritual energy and of being in God's will. We were covered over by countless prayers and our hearts were daily humbled and amazed to have the opportunity to partake in the smallest of parts in this unfolding work of the Lord's. Words will never adequately capture the experience, even if each of us writes dozens of blog posts on the subject.
Then something truly spectacular and amazing occurred: we returned. We returned to families, we returned to responsibilities. We returned to our comfortable homes where kids are not starving, have plenty of clothing and have to be reminded to brush their teeth, where bills have to be paid, where the lawn needs mowed, the dishes need washed and the dog occasionally poops on the floor. We returned to jobs and reports and deadlines. We returned to obligations to extended family and friends and the organizations and churches we support. We returned to heartache as friends suffered attack from the enemy on their families. We returned to redefinitions as my particular family unit was altered shortly after through the process of foster-care and the addition of two precious, yet wounded hearts. We also returned to apathy as eyes glazed over when we attempted to recount our experiences to some. We returned from the mountain, and found ourselves right where God called us - in our own lives.
I am confident that most of my team-mates have handled this return with Godly grace and poise. All of us have been affected. Some, including yours truly, have been channeling their thoughts and reflections through blog posts and I have been blessed by the writings of others. I am prayerful that for each, that they are able to transform the world around them with what God has brought to their hearts and minds during a twelve day journey. For myself, I am feeling the attempts of the enemy to encumber me and encase me within the cares of this life.
What I am realizing is that my "best self", the "self" God desires of me, was fully present picking his way through thorn strewn rocky paths, carrying beans to home-visits, and silently feeling the heartache with team-mates over death's infiltration and influence over a people. Likewise, my best self was fully present to rejoice in the miraculous as God continues to breathe life into a community that is growing; a community that is having traditional superstitions and demonic cultural influences wiped away by the simple powerful truth of His word as it is taught and shared - bringing life and healing. My best self was fully present to lift my voice in song with those heavenly voices of the children harmonizing acapella as they praised Him. My best self is actually always present - he never leaves me. He is the inner man, the true man that God re-birthed through salvation.
But so often, I treat this person as a long lost child; someone I wish would come around more often. This is because I, like most, often fall for the delusion that this flesh, this outer man, this body, that this is my real self. As a result, when my day at work is unreasonably difficult and I'm working overtime and I'm sporting a headcold and my children are fighting and my bride doesn't fully see my opinion as the perfect logic that I view it - then I permit my flesh, this outer man, to sit in the driver's seat and I become responsive to circumstances rather than living according to the spirit, my "best self". Here's what the Word has to say about this:
"So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace."
2 Corinthians 4:16 MSG
But what happens to this inner man? He becomes encased, weighted down and crusted over with this fleshly outer man. Like a prisoner trapped within, ignored he slowly fades into the background of the noise and business that is our lives. Unfortunately my family has had to put up with the writings of the inner man on this blog while I have simultaneously been struggling to readjust and re-acclaimate to my "normal" life with sickness attacking, family pressures, new children in our home, and workplace stresses - all attempted in the strength of the outer man. Two words: Epic Failure.
The problem here is that God did not rebirth this outer man (yet) to handle this world, its pressures, its attacks, its current that steadily pulls at us to sweep us away with the rest of humanity towards a Godless end. This flesh is not equipped for this, but our inner man is. Our inner man is the joint heir with Jesus, through whom we are more than conquerors. But we must first recognize the priority the inner man has over our flesh, our comfort, our extra 30 minutes of sleep, our uncomfortable feelings in dealing with others' needs - and we must actively live this inner man's or "best self's" life. It is only through the spirit, that God can utilize us to transform the world around us. If we could do it in the flesh, we would have figured out how to do it without God long ago. I like what Paul prays over the church at Ephesus, something that is applicable to each of us:
"I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit." Ephesians 3:16 NLT
Catch that? When the inner man, the spirit man is alive and well, we can be plugged into "unlimited resources" of inner strength. But what does that mean for us? For me, I have to be less responsive to how my circumstances are affecting me and more responsive to what His Word says about me and my circumstances on a minute-by-minute basis in my home, in my work, toward my family, towards everything around me. This puts the inner man, the spirit man, the rejuvenated reborn man in contact with the circumstances and when he is in submission to the Word, only God's best can happen in my life. The outer man can't handle them anyway; he doesn't have the resources of wisdom or guidance. It is only in living through the inner man, that we, as followers of Christ, can effectively engage this world, effectively take up our cross, effectively walk where he beckons. It is only in the inner man that God can move through us to use us as His hands and feet to a lost and dying world around us, right here around us. But we must be willing to live in reverse - something that sounds absurd to the world around us. We must be willing to live inside out.
"But the natural, nonspiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them, of progressively recognizing, understanding, and becoming better acquainted with them, because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated" 1 Corinthians 2:14 AMP