Further Up and Further In
“But I press on that I might lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has already laid hold of me.” Philippians 3:12b
I have had fall break this week and with it came a longing to “go to the creek”. It is my happy place, my quiet place, my “real” place. As I stood at the edge of the yard, hearing the trees call out to me, I couldn’t help but think how much I like trees; I like their strength, their stability, their ruggedness. I was tempted to hug one, but decided against it; I didn’t want to embarrass the tree. But, as I stood there, I thought about how different it is to look at trees from afar or through a window as opposed to sitting among them in their natural habitat. There are some things that just cannot be appreciated unless you sit right down beside them; unless you go further up and further in. I know this is true in nature, and I have come to realize it is true in life as well.
For some reason, thinking about my desire to be “up close and personal” with the trees led me to reflect on the times I have looked forward to being close to other aspects of nature. I remember my anticipation and excitement about seeing the ocean for the first time. I was in my early twenties and I’d never been to the ocean (or, to be geographically correct, the Gulf). I couldn’t wait to see the endless expanse of blue waters, the boundless shorelines, and the incredible sunsets. But, when I arrived, what I saw was the endless expanse of souvenir shops, the boundless rows of water-front shanties, and the unimpressive displays of beach paraphernalia. The water…well, I did see it…after I waded through the commercialized sea of beach trafficking, but by then I was so disappointed that the beauty of the water didn’t wash away my disillusionment of the pre-ocean scenery. I had expected God’s nature unfurled; I received man’s nature unchecked.
The same experience happened when I went to Gatlinburg and, years later, to Alaska. Each time, I envisioned nature in it rawest, most prolific form but what I observed was nature in its gaudiest, most profitable form. Now, to be fair, I did see beautiful aspects of nature, but they were tucked behind the souvenir t-shirts, ball caps, and shot glasses. That’s when I decided, if I was ever going to truly see the beauty of an area, I would not go to its perimeter but would set my sights on the interior instead; to see nature at its best, I would need to go further up and further in. And, as it turns out, this approach is true for experiencing the richness of life as well as the reality of nature. The best part, the truest part, is only found when you move beyond the outlying areas and into the inner arena.
Paul knew this. I know because he wrote, “But I press on, that I might lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has already laid hold of me.” (Phil 3:12) He wasn’t content with life on the perimeter; he too wanted more; he too preferred the unadulterated interior to the unguarded exterior. Paul knew the importance, the necessity, of going further up and further in; he didn’t settle for a replica, he went after the real thing. Somehow, standing on the edge of the woods and longing to be in the woods brought this realization to life. I understand the disparity between the longing and the living, between the anticipated and the actual. I can relate to the chasm that often separates the two. But now, I see that it’s not a discernment that is meant to be migratory but rather a disillusionment that is intended to be motivational. Just as the true beauty of nature is most visible when looking from the inside out, so too is the true essence of man most notable when looking from the heart-side out. “Or do you not know…”
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s.” (I Cor. 6:19-20) Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians but they are for our benefit as well. From these verses, we are reminded that both our outer body and our inner soul belong to God; His Spirit dwells within us. And, if the Holy Spirit resides within us, then surely our inner being is unquestionably more important…more authentic…than our outer being. Surely what lies on my perimeter (my flesh) is as juxtaposed with my spirit as the souvenir shops are with the ocean. Further up and further in…that’s where the true beauty lies; further up and further in…that’s where the true purpose resides; further up and further in…that’s where the Spirit abides.
But how often do we realize we’re caught up in perimeter living? How often do we fail to see that we’ve stopped looking at the ocean and instead are gazing upon Uncle Charlie’s Crab Shack? How often do we don the “I Saw Alaska” t-shirt that was purchased one hundred feet from the cruise ship’s dock? Or, how often do we hang-out at the church house rather than hiking up the mountain for a real encounter with our Creator? It’s all perimeter living; it’s all pausing at the edge rather than pressing on, and in, to the interior. Past experience tells me that the out-lying areas are not the best representation of a territory’s true beauty. To see the heart of something, you have to travel to its core. Not only is this true in the realm of physical nature, but it’s also true in realm of human nature. Our most authentic, unadulterated self lies not in our flesh but in our spirit. If someone wants an accurate view of who we are, then they’ll have to go further up and further in; they cannot look from a distance nor can they tippy-toe around our perimeters. They will have to press in until they can see the intentions of our heart. And, lest we think this is one-sided, we too will need to do the same.
How blessed we are to have a Father who already does this! No one knows us better than God; no one sees us more clearly than God; no one loves us more completely than God. He is the Discerner or our thoughts (Heb. 4:12), the Defender of our minds (Phil. 4:6-7), and the Deliverer of our souls (Ps. 56:13). God was not content to walk along the perimeters of Heaven but scaled time and space to place His Son in the midst of our world…in the center of our need. And with that one act, He bids us to follow Him. He places within us the desire to know that which is real, to not be content with perimeter living, and to continually move further up and further in. For when we do, not only do we move past those things which are cheap imitations but we also press in to the One through whom all things are seen more clearly.
Perimeter living; I don’t want to do it. Not as it applies to my physical walk and not as it applies to my spiritual walk. I am thankful God has reminded me to press on, to go beyond the exterior and to seek that which lies further in. My prayer is that I will continue to see the disparity between outer-edge living and inner-expanse living that I may never settle for a souvenir when the real thing lies just further up and further in! I hope this is your prayer as well!