Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Heart Matters: Difficult Commands and Spiritual Disciplines

Through His Word, our Lord tells us not only how to act, but what to think and how to feel. I’m thankful that God cares about my heart, my inner life.  At the same time, like many Christians, I often find commands related to my heart and mind frustratingly difficult to obey.  Consider these commands:

Do not be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6).
Do not lust in your heart after her beauty (Proverbs 6:25).
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger (Ephesians 4:31).

These are commands which Christians want to obey, but we often find it maddeningly difficult to control our own thoughts, desires, and feelings. We feel like Jesus has commanded us to win a marathon (if you are actually able to win a 26 mile race, then choose something else which feels impossible for you to do as an example). I think that a command to win a marathon might provide a good analogy.

First, for many of us, we would need a miraculous change in our bodies to make running, much less winning, a marathon even possible. Our old bodies just can’t do something like that.  Spiritually, God does that miracle when we are saved.  He gives us a new heart (Exe 36:26). In our marathon analogy, this would be like making our bodies young and healthy again. But most young people, while they have bodies which have the potential to run a marathon, could not go out and complete one today.

Now comes training.  A long time ago, in a body I no longer have, I ran several marathons.  I ran for 26 miles at a pace which I could not run one mile, or even a half mile, today.  When I first started running I also could not run a single mile at the pace I eventually kept up for a marathon. It didn’t come naturally or easily. Here’s what it takes:  a lot of focused, dedicated training. You live to run. Every day you run, and you keep doing that for several years.  You run longer and farther and faster.  You keep pushing.  There’s a lot of sacrifice.  You give up a lot of other things. You’re disciplined.

But don’t imagine it’s all misery.  Sure, there are sore muscles and sometimes you’re exhausted.  But as you go you enjoy running more and more.  There’s a “runner’s high”.  It’s hard and exhilarating at the same time. And rewarding.  But while physical running has a little benefit, there is much greater benefit from training for godliness:

1 Timothy 4:8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
 9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.
 10 That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

So, how do we “train” our thoughts, feelings, and desires to be more godly?  One way is through what has often been called “the spiritual disciplines”.  This verse reveals the three most basic spiritual disciplines:

NIV Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

We see three things to be devoted to:
1.  The apostles’ teaching, which today we have in the Bible.  Be devoted to reading, meditating on, and thinking about the Bible.
2.  Fellowship. This means worshipping, serving, and learning together with other Christians.  Practically speaking, this means being active in church and Bible studies and ministry groups.
3.  Prayer.  Pray a lot!

The more we do these things the stronger we will be in the Lord.  We will gain inner strength.  This side of Heaven we will not be perfect, but over time our hearts will become more and more Christ-like, and we will be better able to obey those commands about how to feel, what to think, and what to want.

Don’t be discouraged.  God is on your side as you seek to follow Him.  He WANTS you to succeed, and His mighty power will be helping you in your training and in your life battles.  And when you stumble or backslide, remember His grace, and with His help get up and get going again.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Heart Matters: An Introduction to Our Hearts

In His Word, God says a lot about the “inside” part of us.  I’m talking about our thoughts, desires, beliefs, feelings, and motives.  The Bible often calls this inner world our “heart”, but sometimes it uses words like “mind”, “thoughts”, “desires”, or “inner being”. Although a particular passage may be focusing on a certain aspect of our “heart”, to some extent these words are interchangeable. Just the word “heart” appears over 700 times in the Bible. This gives us a hint of how important our hearts are. Considering this, God has put it on my heart to write a series of posts on what God says about our hearts.

I thought I would begin with an overview of some of the many truths we learn from the Bible about human hearts.

While people are concerned with outward appearances, God is more concerned with our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). God knows, probes, and judges everything that is in our hearts, including our secret thoughts (Psalm 7:9;  Psalm 44:21). God will expose the motives of people’s hearts (1 Corinthians 4:5).

Wicked people don’t think about God (Psalm 10:4) and tell themselves that God is not real (Psalm 14:1). People’s hearts become darkened when they don’t glorify God (Romans 1:21). Satan works to steal God’s Word from people’s hearts, to blind them to the truth, and to fill their hearts with evil (Luke 8:12, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Acts 5:3).

People sometime poison (Acts 14:2) or trouble (Acts 15:24) the hearts of other people.

God is working to recapture the hearts of people who have gone astray (Ezekiel 14:5). We are saved by believing in our hearts the good news about Jesus (Romans 10:9). When we are saved He writes His law on hour hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). God pours His love into our hearts (Rom 5:5). God is in the process of transforming us by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).

A pure heart gives us access to God (Psalm 24:3-4) and hiding God’s Word in our hearts protects us from sin (Psalm 119:11). We should guard our hearts, because our actions come from our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). God wants us to seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13) and to love Him with all our heart (Matthew 22:37).

God’s thoughts are far above our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9), yet in another sense we “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

God wants us to be united in mind and thought (1 Corinthians 1:10). We are called to make every thought obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), to set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:1), and to think about good and pure things (Philippians 4:8).

God’s peace guards our hearts (Phi 4:7) and His grace strengthens our hearts (Hebrews 13:9).

God calls us to love one another deeply from our hearts (1 Peter 1:22). God uses us to encourage the hearts of others (Colossians 4:8). We can pray for the hearts of others (Ephesians 1:18)!

With that last point in mind, I would like to close this post with a prayer for our hearts:

Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us new hearts and for pouring your love into our hearts! O Lord, help us to set our hearts on you and to love you more than anything.  Give us pure hearts and transform us from the inside out. Fill our thoughts with your truth. Fill our hearts with your praise. Please protect our hearts from the evil lies of the devil and the poison of this world. Strengthen and encourage our hearts. Help us to be united in our hearts and to love one another deeply. And Lord, please use us to encourage the hearts of others.  In Jesus Name, Amen.

Other posts on “Heart Matters”:

Difficult Commands and Spiritual Disciplines

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .