Larry Crabb’s Inside Out was a book that I did not feel that I would ever finish reading it. The subject matter in the book was not difficult to understand, but it would take more than human effort to get to what the author was suggesting, for it refuted the health and wealth gospel, and reinstated the reality of walking with God: life on earth would not be a bed of roses just because we were children of God. Instead of insisting that God was obliged to change our circumstances, our focus should be to identify our compulsive sins, battle against our demandingness, abandon our ill attitudes, continually thrive towards positive changes in view of healthy Christian growth.
The book, as its author had implied, was not written for those who “sailed through their trials with an evenness and stability that others could only envy,” not recognizing their need to change inside out (page 33). On the contrary, it was written for those who were willing to take a sincere look within themselves, reckoning that their sanctification would never complete in this side of the heaven. It was also speaking to those who would come in terms with the reality that God’s peace might not necessarily eliminate the difficult challenges of one’s earthly life due to the problem of sin.
Some of my reflections on the book are as follows:
(a) Stay faithful to God even when God is silent regarding our predicament. Larry Crabb stated it aptly, “God’s prescriptions for handling life do not relieve an ache that is not meant to cease this side of heaven; they enable us to be faithful in the midst of it.” (p.79) Human beings are not designed to endure hurts and prolonged discomfort. Therefore, hardships in life often crumble our world immediately. Critical Illness, irreversible brokenness in relationships, financially instability, etc. often caused us to lose faith and trust in God. The way I look at it: If we are willing to stay faithful like Daniel and persevere through those “even if not” situations; if we reckon that we might have to hang on for quite awhile in the land of the “in-betweens;” then we would be suitable candidates to experience God’s transforming “inside out” change in us.
(b) Face our thirst, our crucial and critical longings. One of the central themes in the book is that Christians should not move along in life without dealing with the pains in their souls (p.99). Those pains may include unfulfilled longings, accumulated sorrows, and ultimately, the very thirst for one’s needs to be met. “Honest people touch the inevitable distress of life, sometimes through physical suffering, always through relational disappointment. Changed people taste the goodness of God so deeply that they pursue Him when life offers the legitimate but blander taste of nice homes, good health, and rich relationship – and they pursue Him all the more when those joys are removed.” The author boldly challenged us: Our choice is either to remain indifferent and live comfortably; or dive into the dimensions of knowing God and be willing to be changed by Him. Larry Crabb added, “One choice excludes the other.” That means, if we want to be more Christ-like, if we want to be following God’s way, we are bidding bye-byes to the comfort of status quo. We would desire more of Him, less of ourselves. Even at the expense of great worldly comfort, that trials and adversities leave us with tears after tears, we shall be single-minded about Him. “Tough faith never grows in a comfortable mind. But it can develop nicely when our mind is so troubled by confusion that we either believe God or give up on life. Letting ourselves experience confusion creates a thirst that only faith can satisfy” (p.116). Let’s face it, face our thirst, and let deep faith grow out of it.
(c) Demandingness towards God is a sin. “Frustration is excellent soil for growing a demanding spirit. It is therefore important that we handle difficulty well, allowing them to mature us rather than to push us toward demandingness” (p.148). I have a Christian friend who always shared with me regarding her prayer burdens. One thing that bothered me about her sharing was her declaration, “I will not take anything less than ‘victory.” In other words, she would not take ‘no’ for an answer. While she proclaimed strong faith in God, believing that God would change circumstances in favor of her fervent prayers, I often questioned the intensity of her demandingness. What if it is God’s very will to allow those prolonged sufferings to come upon us? Instead of demanding things to change the way we wanted them to be, what if God cares more about the shaping of our character? Larry Crabb made a very pointed argument about the necessity for Christians to battle against demandingness: “Christian growth requires that we surface the tendency to demand. It must be identified, exposed in all its ugliness, and abandoned. Otherwise, deep change will not occur” (p.159).
(d) Recapture our identity: We are children of light. “Even in the midst of darkness, we know where we’re headed… Spiritual depth frees us to be spontaneous in the midst of sadness. It enables us to press on in our involvement with people even when we stagger from blows of severe disappointment. A mature relationship with Christ is reflected in the capacity to hear whispers of assurance when discouragement is oppressive. And even when we’re mishandling frustration by retreating into an angry pout, mature depth won’t let us escape the convicting awereness that we’re designed to love…” (pp. 221-222) Indeed, as children of light, we should strive to have the 20/20 vision that even Job didn’t have, i.e., in the midst of unfathomable predicaments, we understand God as Father, and we His children in suffering. In the middle of undeniable internal disappointment of life on earth, we know that we need not rest ourselves in “cold orthodoxy and powerless accommodation” (p.225). For only a life with integrity would make sense; only vindication at God’s timing could justify our case. Children of light might also suffer like other human beings, but we know where we’re headed.
Overall, the book started with a stern critique regarding modern Christianity, suggesting that Christian message that promises to relieve the pain of living in a fallen world is “in dramatic reversal of its biblical form” (p.1). The ending chapters, e.g. “What It Takes to Deeply Change” challenged believers to consciously give up self-protective maneuvering to more loving involvement – which Larry Crabb saw it as a redirection of the soul that would require “far more than cosmetic surgery” (p.227). It would require an honest examination of our threatened manhood and womanhood (p.231-232) as well as the unusual courage to face the predicament in life (p.233). The last chapter “The ‘Good Stuff’ Beneath the Bad” encouraged readers to allow the love of Christ to reach into the depths of one’s woundedness. It also urged readers to experience God’s new empowerment by allowing confusion, disappointment and conviction to take their tolls on us. Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and fellow believers would minister to our needs. Eventually, contrary to our insecurity, we would find out that God had ordained more resources than we had ever known to turn our ashes into beauty. We would then witness how our God turn confusion into faith; disappointment into hope; and conviction into love” (p.250).
To conclude, even though Larry Crabb’s Inside Out might not be all encompassing in the diagnosis of human problems, it did point out the subtle areas that had become stumbling blocks for Christian growth. While life on earth will never be easier, I felt encouraged by the book in matters pertaining to dealing with my internal struggles and nursing my inner being. I reckon that an honest look at my heart yearnings would facilitate great opportunities for a powerful “inside out” change. As a citizen of God’s Kingdom, my role is to keep on growing, and never regressing. In this respect, Larry Crabb’s book is a good reader for my pilgrim’s progress.