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Canterbury Tales: Favourite Bible Stories Retold by Archbishop Justin Welby

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Pilgrim’s Process: Inward Work

Pilgrim’s Process

By the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon

Inward Work

On our pilgrimage there are many things that it is good to do. Many actions and ventures that would serve others and benefit the Church. It is easy to focus on the needful actions. Many books and strategies and ministries do just that — proffering advice on how to evangelise, how to grow a church, how to lead or administer. All this is well and good, though most of us recognise the desire to make a difference and achieve deeds can go too far. It is not the calling of a pilgrim people to redeem or change a culture.

But in the midst of an activist culture we can lose sight of the priority God places on the inner work of the Spirit in his people. Romans 2:29 tells us, “A Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” The Holy Spirit does not in the first instance make pilgrims “do” things for God. His first priority is to renew and change our hearts to love God and neighbour afresh. This inner work occurs as we are fed by God’s Word and draw near to Christ by faith. We need to take time and give space for the Spirit to do his inner work of reviving affections and implanting new desires. 

Allowing ourselves to become sensitive to the Spirit’s ways, such that He grows His fruit in us and we recognise his imprint on our lives — this takes time and humility. Our culture encourages us to take pride in achievements, deeds and actions. The Lord looks on the heart and gives us the gift of His Spirit that we may be inwardly renewed. This does lead to changed lives externally as well as internally. New desires lead to new lifestyles. Let’s seek the Lord and not neglect the quiet, secret work of allowing His Spirit to press His Word deeper into our hearts. It is the only path to lasting change and renewal.

Revd Dr Peter Sanlon is rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: www.emmanuelanglican.uk

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