Justice and the Inner Life

“I’m just not sure I can keep going,” he said. He and his wife had moved to Africa to serve in their mid-20s, eyes bright. But after nearly a decade of high highs and low lows, the disappointments seemed to dwarf the progress. “I feel like I’m done.”

I’ve heard similar words from adoptive moms and foster dads, social workers and missionaries, political leaders and CASA volunteers. I’ve said them to myself more than once.

Weariness and disappointment can suck idealism dry, leaving our noble dreams limp like corn stalks in drought.

The truth is, most any work of justice and mercy will be harder and longer than we imagined at the start. One little thing after another, the weariness and disappointment can suck idealism dry, leaving our noble dreams limp like corn stocks in drought.

What can sustain us when the rain stops? Here’s a simple truth: if we have no Source beneath the surface, we will eventually run dry.

What does Justice have to do with Inner Life?

Justice. Inner life. Our minds naturally sort these ideas into opposing categories. Outward versus inward. Deeds versus thoughts. Action versus contemplation. But this separation is deadly, for the two can never long survive apart.

To paraphrase the book of James, an “inner life” that produces no outward works is already dead. But just as surely, actions of justice and mercy not rooted deep in the inner life will soon perish, too.

Any other source of nourishment – whether yearning for recognition, pure-hearted idealism, or sincere ache at the world’s hurt – may propel us for a time. But eventually, they will be outstripped by the world’s great hurt.

We Must Cultivate

“If you abide in me, you will produce much fruit,” Jesus promised. This abiding is mostly unseen, like an oak sinking its toes deep into hard earth; it is as mysterious as the way a tree’s phloem heaves water upward from roots into leaves. Abiding is all gift and wonder; undeserved, grace.

Yet somehow, we also choose it. We must participate in cultivating that deep-down life, just like any good farmer tends his crops even though he knows that only Something beyond him can actually make them grow.

Saints throughout history have found there are small, humble choices that irrigate the soul. These practices draw our roots down: disciplines of solitude and silence, Sabbath and simplicity, memorizing Scripture and chosen thanksgiving, and other habits practiced mainly out of view. They nurture a hidden life that, in time, rises upward into fruit we can see and others can taste.

Saints throughout history have found there are small, humble choices that irrigate the soul.

Learning How to Do It Together

Here is a simple fact: modern life tends to desiccate our inner life, from always-on technology to relentless activity in both work and play. Cultivating the inner life requires cutting against the grain of culture and even our own habits. It cannot be done without a clear vision for both why and how. And it is certainly best done with others.

That is why the theme of the CAFO2017 Summit this year is “Justice and the Inner Life.” We will explore together both why and especially how we can cultivate our inner life, especially in the thick of ministry, parenting, healing and serving amidst our world’s hurt.

We’ll hear from keynote speakers like Ruth Haley Barton (author of my favorite book written on this topic in recent years) and others who both lead and live out these things. We’ll have a series of workshops and experiences devoted to justice and the inner life as well. We will also have opportunities and rooms set apart to engage individual and corporate practices that feed and refresh deep down. I hope you can join us for all this.

What Those We Serve Need Most

A vibrant inner life is vital if we hope to persevere. But there is something even worse than quitting: it is to persist in giving, yet without love. We may continue to serve, but the light has left our eyes. When this happens, the hurting person we touch feels only cold philanthropy. We may meet her physical needs, but our labors for her no longer whisper to her that she is of matchless value.

The greatest need of every human soul is not merely to be tended. It is to be loved, and to know that we are.

The greatest need of every orphan…every foster youth…every struggling parent…every human soul…is not merely to be tended. It is to be loved, and to know that they are. That happens only if the little girl sees our eyes light up when she enters the room; only when the single mother knows we are wholeheartedly present as she shares her story; only if the juvenile delinquent hears tenderness and respect in the way we pronounce his name.

That kind of love is not something we can simply put on. It cannot be faked for long. It rises only as fruit of a vibrant inner life, roots sunk deep into God’s love and drinking daily of it.

That is the one wellspring. It is the only sure way to persevere amidst the hurt and disappointment that always come. It is our only hope of keeping light hearts while carrying heavy loads.  It is the one way to see our giving dressed always in sincere love.

If we desire to give others what they most need, what we most need is an inner life that drinks deeply of Christ. Justice and the inner life grow only together.