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Inward Renewal

I have always measured my days and my value to others by accomplishment. It has been a great day when I can rattle off all the things I completed. I feel far more worthless on the days when nothing in my environment has much improved or progressed despite my having a healthy and capable mind and body to contribute. Growing up in an achiever’s culture is certainly a part of how I got this way, after all, one of the first questions asked by strangers is, “What do you do?” What we do tells other people how interesting we are, how necessary we are and how potentially beneficial we might be to know. Though most of us are savvy enough to object to workaholism, we admire it like a suntan no matter the known hazards. Like pasty white skin, laziness is far more abhorrent to us than the short-sighted and self-destructive nature of the other end of the spectrum.

So, when life “in the city” in an urban culture which seems surprisingly unfamiliar to me, confronts this, I have to listen. Yesterday, I had the privilege of sitting down with Bob Lupton, an experienced forerunner in the area of urban renewal for the Kingdom and not just self-improvement. Without fully knowing it, he lovingly rebuked my achiever’s mentality when it comes to establishing trust and loving relationships with my new neighbors. Here is an example: An older neighbor says of fond neighborhood memories, “We used to all spend so much time together, sitting on front porches and gathering our families.” My natural response is, “Well, let’s do it now! I’ll host a cook-out!” Bob advises against this idea that the new folks are the fixers and rescuers and, confirming suspicions, the ones with an agenda for change. Instead, I should offer, “Wow, that sounds wonderful. How do you think we could ever experience that here again?” For that and other such neighborhood needs, rather than jumping in and saying, “I’ll do it!” the better role is to ask, “Who do you know in the neighborhood who would love to do that?/Who could we ask to…”

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 I think about the Israelites wandering in the desert, an overhead map showing how inefficient their route actually was. I think about the way Jesus went about healing, teaching and training. When I stop long enough to notice, it is hard to miss the fact that efficiency rarely seems to be God’s priority. It doesn’t seem that outward impressions are as important to Him as they clearly are to me. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 2 Cor. 4:16 Inward renewal is the only lasting renewal. Inward renewal is slow. Inward renewal takes time and patience and persistence. Inward renewal is rarely visible, and certainly not to eyes in a hurry. This is true of the sanctification process and it is true of my neighborhood. Loving my neighbors for the Kingdom is going to have to mean resisting the urge to do for them and embracing the call to be for them. In a few instances, the outward expression of these two things may be the same. In many it will not. It will mean laying down my need to list my accomplishments and prove the value of my presence here. It will mean watching and listening far more carefully and closely to discover the strengths and gifts and passions which live in the houses all around me. It will mean actually caring about the interests of others above my own so that my goal for living moves rapidly away from the high school motivational question: What do you want your obituary to say about you? It means working so hard to draw others out that when all has been accomplished, it seems I have done nothing at all. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal. 2:20 Inward renewal means I quit measuring my days based on my accomplishments and start recognizing His.

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