In his book, Ordering Your Private World, Gordon MacDonald tells about a friend who was the duty officer on a nuclear submarine in the Mediterranean. On one occasion, while the captain was in his quarters, the duty officer was in the very bowels of the submarine. There was a lot of naval traffic overhead so he was forced to make some rather abrupt and sudden manoeuvres to avoid any potential collisions.
Within a matter of moments the captain came down to the bridge, the control room. He looked at the duty officer and asked “Is everything all right?”
“Yes sir,” replied the duty officer.
The captain took a quick look around and began to go back up the ladder while muttering under his breath, “Everything looks all right to me, too.”
This submarine is a picture of what our lives are often like. There is a lot going on. We often feel under pressure with our time and energy and finances. There seem to be constant demands from people around us. How do we cope?
We could (i) choose to blame our circumstances or other people (ii) attempt to work even harder to keep up with the demands or (iii) we could go to the bridge of the submarine. The bridge of the submarine represents the inner part of our being – our heart (sometimes the Bible refers to it as the ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’). We could refer to this idea as living ‘inside out.’
If we were to put this idea graphically it might look like this. Most of us live from the outside in. Our physical worlds – what we can see, feel and touch – creates the starting point for our lives. This in turn gives rise to our thoughts and feelings. Lastly we pay attention to our spiritual world – the deepest and most important part of who we are because it is the part that connects directly with God. When we live from the outside in we often have the feeling that life is getting away from us.
By contrast, the life of Jesus gives us a very different picture. He epitomised the idea of living inside out. The gospel writers tell us that He often withdrew from the crowds to spend time alone in prayer (Mark 1:35, Matt 14:13,23). I cannot think of another human being who had more on their plate than Jesus Christ. He was on a mission to save the entire world. Crowds mobbed Him. He had to preach, teach, train disciples, heal the sick, raise the dead etc. If anyone should have been feeling stressed out by the demands of life it would have been Him.
He regularly went to the bridge of the ship to check that everything was OK and to get direction for what He was going to do next. His life was characterised by a deep sense of purpose, but never a sense of panic. He lived from the inside out.
And He gives us this offer: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28,29)
We would do well to accept this invitation. When we start by paying attention to the inside circle (by spending regular time with Christ) it begins to have effect on the second circle – our thoughts and feelings – which in turn impacts our physical world. This is living inside out!