Stroll into a bookstore these days and you will likely find a large area labeled “Self-Help,” “Motivation,” or “Personal Transformation.” Go ahead, browse the volumes found here. Some are curiously interesting, and some will just make you laugh. Several books will seek to convince you that your main problem in life is that you aren’t tapped into the secret power that dwells inside of you. Something — a child, a serpent, a Buddha, and, yes, even a dolphin — simply needs to be “awakened,” and then you will become happy, healthy, and wise.
Some of these titles are clearly aimed at a Christian, churchgoing market. Some are even written by professing believers. There is a disturbing similarity in emphasis between these books and those offered by various “enlightenment” groups. It makes you wonder whether the contemporary church has become so desperate for spiritual identity that she has turned to New Age ideology and pop psychology for help. Various teachers and authors seek to convince us that our cosmic purpose is found within ourselves. Each promises that we can locate the telos — the ultimate aim — of our spiritual satisfaction within our own hearts. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth or more dangerous to our souls.
The existence of these books points toward a distressing aspect of church life: for many believers, an ongoing sense of fulfillment in Christ can feel like an elusive hope. We often hear of Christians who struggle with a sense of purposelessness, living their lives day in and day out, feeling defeated and discouraged. (I write as one who has experienced times like this.) Sadly, we all probably know someone who has abandoned the fight of faith altogether.
For many, the promises of the Good Shepherd ring hollow and often don’t seem to correspond with reality. Jesus said: “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Really? Abundantly? For some, the “abundant life” promised by Christ has been reduced to a daily grind of “faithfulness.” The Christian walk has become a listless routine wherein spiritual disciplines are a duty and godliness is rote. Joy, fervency, and love for God have been burned away like a morning mist by the incessant sun of Christian routine. Within many hearts, there exists a sense of emptiness. How are we to understand this ache within and at the same time recognize that there is no final satisfaction to be found by looking within?
It begins by gaining a proper understanding of the purpose of our inner man. Scripture most frequently refers to our inner man as “the heart.” Bible scholars describe it as the totality of our being, the essence of who we really are. It includes the mind, will, and emotions. And within the hearts of everyone is created an intense desire for spiritual purpose — a longing, a yearning for meaning, a “space,” if you will, designed by God that can be filled only by God (Eccl. 3:11).
And this is the crucial part: life cannot and will not make sense or provide ongoing meaning and focus until your inner being (your “heart”) locks onto the telos of its God-given desire, namely, God Himself.
The only answer to the vacuum in our hearts is a relationship with God: knowing the Father through the work of His Son as applied by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the nurturing of this relationship — resting in and rehearsing the gospel — is the great purpose of our inner man. It is the very reason our hearts were created: to know, love, and delight in the God who created us for His glory (Ps. 16:11; Isa. 43:7; Jer. 9:23–24). As Augustine prayed, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”
Perhaps the clearest expression of the purpose of our inner man is found in the Great Commandment: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6 :4–5). God’s desire for His people is that we should love Him with the totality of our being. Christ echoed this sentiment when He stated that loving God with our whole heart was the first and greatest commandment (Matt. 22:38). Even the Apostle Paul’s prayer for believers reveals that the purpose of our inner being is profoundly related to knowing the love of Christ (Eph. 3:16–19). Loving God — and being loved by Him — is simply why we were created, and we will find ultimate satisfaction in nothing else.
So, as we seek to be the church in this world, let us not seek to pursue abiding satisfaction and spiritual purpose by gazing inward or by probing the cauldron of mixed motives and fickle emotions that lie within the recesses of our hearts. Instead, let us simply remember what our hearts were created and redeemed for: to look outward in faith and to rest in the finished work of the One who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20).