A Pure Heart

A sad note in the Bible and in life is that people’s hearts change.

King Solomon started his rule with a heart after God but ended up worshipping the idols of his many wives. Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem to the “Hosanna” chorus, but a few days later he was rejected for Barabbas. 

We see people who seem deeply in love become enemies. We see people who are excited about some new moment in their life become sour and unhappy about it.

Our human hearts are changeable and subject to temptations and weaknesses within us. We are warned that the human heart is deceitful and wicked.

“The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9

The Apostle Paul told the church leaders in Ephesus, a church he planted himself, that some among them would end up doing harm to the church.

“Some of you will rise up and say things that are distorted, in order to have your own group of followers.” Acts 20:30

Because of this vulnerability within us we are warned to keep watch over and to guard our heart keenly.

“Diligently keep guard over your heart because all the issues of life spring from there.” Proverbs 4:23

And we are told to direct our heart to love God and to love our neighbour. This is a matter of our will, directing our heart to do what is pleasing to God. It’s a command, so it must be in our power.

“Jesus said to him, You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

So we see that our heart is problematic, likely to come up with things that will lead us astray, so we are to give attention to the condition of our heart and purposefully direct it to the things God wants. Our heart does not rule us, but we steer it.

What is helpful is to cry out to God to work in our heart, changing it and cleaning it up, so we are kept from temptations and distractions that take us away from glorifying God. David prayed to God to clean up his heart, after he committed adultery.

“Create a clean heart in me, O God; and renew a right spirit in me.” Psalm 51:10

We also have the wonderful promise by God that He will give us a new, purified heart.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit inside you. I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

The combination of God’s work in us, along with our intention to keep our hearts pure before God, will enable us to be free from the many traps the human heart can produce.

As a matter of ‘keeping’ or guarding your heart it is wise to stop from time to time to audit your heart and keep track of where it is going.

A father once shared how he taught his daughter to protect her heart. He gave her a page with a large heart drawn on it and asked her to write in the heart the names of people who had a piece of her heart. She wrote her parents, family and God into the heart, but as she reflected she also recognised others she cared about, including an old lady and some needy people. The father then discussed these people and what part they should have in her heart, encouraging her and cautioning her as he saw fit. Father and daughter made this a regular event as he taught her to guard her heart and steer it in the right directions.

So here’s a suggestion for you to do privately. Draw a heart and write on one side all the positive things that make your heart glad, identifying the people who bring that joy to you. On the other side write all the negative things in your heart, such as envy, resentment, un-forgiveness, bitterness, hurt, shame, etc, and the people connected with those feelings.

Then submit the whole list to God, as your loving Heavenly Father, to give His comments, correcting and encouraging you. Listen to the godly conviction that comes as you consider each one, and make godly choices about how you will guard your heart and keep it pure before the Lord.

Then take those things that seem stronger than you, such as deeply rooted feelings you know God does not approve of, and call on God to change your heart, purify your heart and protect you from yourself and your own evil reactions.

Remember that God is your saviour. He saves you from sin, death and hell. God also saves you from yourself and the evil that may be in your heart. He can overpower every evil snare, attack and fiery dart of the enemy. Your part is to value your heart and call on the Lord to save you.

You might like to track down Brian Doerksen’s prayer song that asks God to purify your heart, or Keith Green’s song “Create In Me A Clean Heart, O God”.

Purify my heart, Cleanse me from within And make me holy.

Purify my heart, Cleanse me from my sin, deep within.

Refiner’s fire, My heart’s one desire Is to be holy; Set apart for You, Lord.

I choose to be holy; Set apart for You, my Master, Ready to do Your will.

May you each have a Pure Heart before God.

My Peace I Leave With You

I have pondered in recent days what people might consider good quality of life. A report I heard recently talked about the Australian standard of living being reduced by slow wages growth. That led me to consider what ‘standard of living’ might really mean.

Life is not about the amount of things we buy or our spending power, but much more centred around intangible things that can’t be purchased.

Peace is a key one of those. The ‘sleep at night’ factor has long been recognised, seeing that unwise choices can lead people to agitation, even when they should be soundly asleep.

What is the point of having great wealth and chasing the latest technologies, keeping up with the latest fashions, collecting the most trinkets, when your inner life is in turmoil.

The Beatles released a song in 1964 that declared “Money Can’t Buy Me Love”. Truth is that money is quite limited in its ability to buy things of true and lasting value, such as peace and happiness, contentment, confidence, inner freedom from addictions, etc.

The wonderful thing about God’s peace is that we never have to pay for it. 

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you. I do not give to you like the world gives. Let not your heart be troubled, or afraid.” John 14:27

God gives us His peace. Christ said He was leaving it with us. We don’t have to pay for it, earn it, or achieve it in some way, but simply receive it.

We receive God’s peace through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, since peace is one of the Fruit of the Spirit.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” Galatians 5:22

And God’s peace is a peace that does not make sense. It does not fit the circumstances, allowing us to feel at peace when others think we should feel agitated. It’s called ‘peace that passes understanding’, outside our logic and comprehension.

“The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

So, how do we get this peace? Since God’s peace is a gift, not earned, and it is a fruit that grows through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we don’t need to strive to get it. We simply receive it.

That means we start by asking God for His peace.

“Lord God, I see in Your Word that You have promised peace to me. I see that it is a gift from You, so I don’t try to earn it or deserve it in any way. I simply ask You to give me Your peace. Pour out the Holy Spirit on me and stir up the Holy Spirit within so the wonderful fruit of peace pervades my life. I now receive Your peace in my heart, my mind, my body and my life. And I thank You and praise You for Your wonderful gift. Amen.”

If you find that God’s peace is not impacting your life then stop to consider whether you are actually blocking that peace. One way to block peace is to hold tightly to things you fear and which concern you.

We are told to cast our cares and concerns onto the Lord. If you think you are the one who is supposed to solve your problems then your very self reliance will bring you down. When you give your problems to God you can relax, because the solution is not up to you any more, but it is in God’s hands.

“Cast all your care on God; for he cares for you.” 1Peter 5:7

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will do it.” Psalm 37:5

“Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough of its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34

If God is pouring His peace into you while you are determined to be fearful and anxious then you neutralise the blessing that is yours.

You are told to stop being anxious about anything. 

The apostle Paul linked our anxiety with God’s peace, suggesting that when we stop being anxious we will experience the peace of God.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6,7

One of the most wonderful gifts people can enjoy, one that people pursue all the time, that of peace, is being offered to you as God’s gift, through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. God’s peace is the very best kind, way outside our understanding and turning up when others would never expect it.

Stop and receive this amazing gift.

Stop and think about how agitated you are, and what frustrations bother you. Take stock of the little anxieties you have about yourself, your family, your income, your work, your relationships, your health, your future, your walk with God and anything else.

As you recognise an area of concern stop and pass that concern to God (casting your cares onto Him) and let God be in control of your life, your situation and the outcome. Then trust Him and praise Him and let go of your anxieties, confident that God has everything under control and wants only the best for you.

And claim Christ’s promise that My Peace I Leave With You.

Becoming Sheep

“The Lord is my shepherd” Psalm 23:1

David’s psalm about God as our shepherd is among the best known and most loved of all David’s writings. Yet it was never meant to be a nice poetic thought. It was David’s reality. It is meant to be our reality too.

If God is our shepherd, then what are we?

“Know that the LORD is God, he is the one who made us, we did not make ourselves. We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3

Jesus, our Lord, described all of His followers as sheep, calling Himself the good shepherd, thus putting Himself in the place of ‘The Lord’ of Psalm 23:1.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” John 10:11

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and My sheep know me. Just as the Father knows Me I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep.” John 10:14,15

Like it or not God thinks of you as a sheep. Thankfully you are not a goat, since that has rather unpleasant connotations in the Bible. You are one of God’s sheep, or you’re supposed to be.

I once had to catch an old goat on a large farm. Several goats had to be rounded up and they split in different directions. I set my target on the old hairy goat named Abraham. He was a wiry creature and I chased him around about 100 acres of the farm. He found hiding places and he could get up more speed than I could for short bursts, so I must have followed him around for over an hour. Finally, as we both tired, he stood in the long grass and, as I approached, simply dropped out of sight. I wasn’t fooled and managed to get right to him.

But that’s when the real fun began. He was as stubborn as anything and I had to get help just to pull him back onto his feet. Then to pull him toward the trailer we had waiting for him took all the energy I had left in me.

In my pastoral years I have encountered some people like that too.

When we had finally dragged Abraham onto the trailer I realised I was bleeding in several places from various falls and scratches over the previous hour. I was so focused on capturing the goat that I did not realise how bruised and bleeding I was.

I’m glad that normal pastoral life isn’t about chasing goats all day.

Sheep, on the other hand, are normally compliant, even silent when they are being sheared. Sheep know what they like and don’t like, and they can be a handful when you have to manage them at close quarters, but in general sheep are cooperative and easy to handle.

In Biblical times shepherding had a significant difference to what we know today. Today we focus on ‘big is better’ and have moved away from hands-on farming in many ways. Today sheep are processed in large flocks, with automated systems.

Biblical shepherds knew their sheep and their sheep knew them, not just the sound of their motorbike or truck. Biblical shepherds were with their sheep, caring for them, and carrying them if need be. The sheep were regularly counted and the shepherd would pursue the lost sheep.

So it is with us and the Lord. We are not just a number, with a computer chip on our ear, but we get God’s personal attention and care. Our shepherd walks with us, leads us personally, and has his rod and staff close at hand to assist us.

All that said, the point I want to make is that we need to see ourselves as sheep. That speaks of us trusting our Shepherd and allowing Him to lead us.

Goats have a mind of their own and will doggedly resist compliance. But as God’s sheep you are challenged to give up your selfish independence and pride and allow God to set the direction for you. As a sheep you are led to places the Shepherd chooses. You don’t get to pick and choose your own preferences.

That means you allow God to take you into dark places, like the Valley of the Shadow of Death, spoken of in Psalm 23. That’s not a place you would choose to go. But you go through it, because that dark place is simply on the path to where the Shepherd wants you to go. The Valley of the Shadow was not the destination, but part of the scenery on your journey. We walk ‘through’ it, not to it.

“Truly, though I walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

We fear dark and challenges places but as sheep we find our comfort in our Shepherd. The fact that He is with us and that He has equipment to protect us causes us to be completely free of fear. “I will fear no evil”.

So we see that as sheep we come to a place of trust and of relationship with our Shepherd, and we come to a place of peace and security, knowing God has everything under control and is with us in our darkest moments.

The prophet Jeremiah reveals the benefits of being sheep, when God described godly shepherds and the impact they would have on the flock.

“I will set up shepherds over them which will feed them: and they will not be afraid any more, or be discouraged, and neither will they lack anything, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:4

With Christ as our shepherd these are the benefits we enjoy as well.

So let me try this little test on you, to help you see if you are a good ‘sheep’ or not.

Do you trust in Christ as your Shepherd, resting in the assurance that He has everything under control?

Do you look to the Lord every time you feel unsettled or in danger?

Do you find your comfort in Him?

Do you find that the things you really need are being provided, and that life is filled with real blessings, even if not with the things you might want or others might taunt you with?

Do you find that you can face each new day with a sense of peace, joy and purpose, knowing whatever the day brings it is in God’s plan for you and God will provide all you need to work through the challenges and issues of the day?

If you can answer ‘Yes’ to those questions I would say you’re pretty good at being a ‘sheep’. And that’s good, since that’s what you are and what you’re meant to be.

If you are stubborn, insisting on your own way and your own wants, resenting what God is giving you and where you have ended up, then I’m guessing there’s some ‘goat’ in you which you need to repent of.

May the Lord, Who is your Shepherd, lead you into wonderful relationship with Him, where He can hold you, comfort you, lead and guide you, and take you wherever He wants you to go, and you can enjoy being His forever.

Now is the Time

Motivators like to stir us up about what we need to do ‘now’! This moment is the most powerful moment in your life, since you have control of it right now and can direct it as you please.

That relates to physical or external things, such as getting a task done, making a choice, finishing something, saying something, and taking an action step that will lead to an outcome.

Doing it ‘now’ also relates to our inner life, such as choosing now what we will believe, or to forgive, or to change our heart attitude about something.

This moment is the moment you have control over. Yesterday has passed and tomorrow is out of reach. But right now you can take action, in outward expression or in inner decision. So this ‘now’ moment is always very powerful, if we stop and take notice of it.

The Bible celebrates the word ‘now’ and the word ‘today’ in a number of places.

“Take notice, now is the accepted time; take notice, now is the day of salvation.” 2Corinthians 6:2

“The hour is coming, and now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father seeks such people to be His worshipers.” John 4:23

“You once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1Peter 2:10

“While it is said, Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.” Hebrews 3:15

“Now the just shall live by faith” Hebrews 10:38

“Now are we the sons of God” 1John 3:2

“Exhort one another daily, while it is called Today” Hebrews 3:13

You can see from those verses, and that’s not an exhaustive list, there are many things we are to engage with ‘now’, including acting in faith, worshipping God, being saved, receiving God’s mercy, enjoying being God’s children and exhorting one another.

So, let me exhort you for a moment about whatever you are facing right now.

There are things you need to do practically, and you have this very moment to get to them. You may have put them off or simply forgotten about them, but you have this wonderful ‘now’ moment to do them.

Maybe there is something to be cleaned up, finished off, started, worked on or packed away. Maybe there is someone to call, a message to write, a prayer to pray, an apology to give, someone to forgive, something borrowed to return, a word of encouragement to say, a thank you to send, an “I Love You” to speak.

Maybe there is a chair to get out of, a habit to put aside, a few steps to take to get you into the garden, or a short drive to connect you with someone or something that needs your attention.

If you let this moment pass and stay where you are doing what you are doing then this ‘now’ moment will move on and be wasted.

Maybe there are some things to settle inside you. Choose right now to declare and settle some key choices inside you.

“I believe God exists and I am accountable to Him for all I do and say. I believe God loves me and wants me to be His child for eternity. I believe God sent His son, Jesus, to live and die for my sins, and to rise again and conquer death and sin. I put my faith in Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.”

“I choose to believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and I put my trust in all I find in the Bible. I choose to believe God is on my side and rejoices when I step out in faith in Him. I choose to put off all the world’s ideas that attack faith in God and the Bible, whether they are scientific, philosophical, cultural, religious or political.”

“I reject depression and discouragement, since God loves me and is on my side. I reject fear of failure, since God is with me and is pleased whether I achieve or not. I reject religious enslavements, since I have been called to faith, not religious form. I reject sin habits, since I have been made holy by my holy God and through the power of the Holy Spirit. I reject pride, since I totally rely on God for anything that is of lasting value. I reject greed and lust, since it is not things and experiences that bless me, but being close to God that fulfils me.”

“I dedicate myself to serve God, helping others, blessing the needy, sharing what I have, caring and praying for others, even if they hate and abuse me. I dedicate myself to building God’s kingdom and encouraging those who are fruitfully working for God.”

“I cherish this precious moment and I use it to glorify God, express my faith in God, enjoy God’s salvation, be thankful, humble myself, and stop wasting my life, stepping up to get things done that will give glory to God and bless others.”

This ‘now’ moment is yours. What are you going to do with it?

Your Character House

It seems that Christians in pioneering days used the analogy of a Character House to teach people about the need for godly character.

A pioneering child would be called on to help their father and others construct their houses, barns, etc. There would be many laborious tasks, all done by hand, in order to fell the trees, prepare the timber, prepare the site, and construct the building.

Children would learn about the need for a solid structure and the need to ensure gaps were well filled to hold out cold and vermin. They would learn to discern the quality and strength of the materials they were using.

It seems they were also instructed that, just like building a house for the family to live in, each child was also building a Character House in which they would live for the rest of their lives.

If they were hasty or lazy, careless or sloppy they would end up building something that would crumble over time, or crack under the pressure of storms. They would end up with gaps that let in unwanted things or that made the dwelling uncomfortable to live in.

Their Character House needed to be built from the best materials, like the fear of God, truthfulness, faith in God, right choices, saying “no” to selfish impulses (deferred gratification / self-control), respecting the consequences of their actions, and so on.

The more godly character each child developed, such as selflessness, patience, faithfulness and self-restraint, the better their internal character would be and the stronger they would be as a person going through life.

If a child made a foolish, selfish or angry choice, or if they gave in to an inappropriate impulse, such as greed or vengeance, they were effectively pulling planks of wood from their Character House and leaving gaping holes for bad things to enter their lives.

By this simple analogy pioneer children could be called out when they made wrong choices, asking them, “Do you want to make holes in your Character House?”

A missionary friend told me how he dealt in a similar fashion with his children. When they would act selfishly he would point out to them that their wrong behaviour was because of evil in their heart. He pointed out that he loved them and wanted to be sure they did not take that evil into their future life. He would give them godly discipline, but he was also intent on the ‘reproof’ aspect that goes with punishment, as prescribed by King Solomon.

“The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame.” Proverbs 29:15

The Bible teaches us that godly correction drives foolishness from a child.

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction drives it far from him.” Proverbs 22:15

Before I take this thought further let me address the likely cultural reaction to ‘rod’. Most western cultures object to the idea of a parent hitting a child. Yet God instructs that proper use of a stick in discipline drives away foolishness and gives wisdom.

The Bible also points out that a rod used in anger will never have a positive effect.

“the rod used in anger will fail” Proverbs 22:8

Godly discipline is not about beating a child. It is about using punishment wisely and with love for the child, to reinforce godly instruction, so the child knows the parent loves them and is given inner strength to resist temptations to foolishness.

However, my point here is about the word ‘reproof’ not the rod, so please don’t let that word distract you from what I want to bring to your attention.

My missionary friend would give godly ‘reproof’, instruction that illuminated the understanding of the child and guided them to wise choices in the fear of God.

Each time a child would make an unwise choice he would point out to the child that their choice revealed some evil within them and he would encourage the child to call out to God to deliver them from that inner evil.

One infant son, when asked if he wanted Jesus to help him remove the evil within gave a very definite “No”. The father gave the child the appropriate discipline for whatever incident it was and left the matter. The next time the child acted inappropriately and was called to account the father once again asked if the child wanted Jesus to help him remove the evil within. Again the child was resolute in his “No”.

This pattern repeated for months, as the stubborn will of the child resisted admitting he had problems and needed help.

Finally, in yet another moment when the child acted selfishly and belligerently, he was called to account for his actions. The child’s resistance seemed to break and, with tears, the child told his daddy that he needed Jesus to help him stop doing wrong things.

Let me point out that in the case of my missionary friend and in the case of the Character House analogy, the child’s attention is drawn to their inner condition. The children were taught to understand their inner attitudes and choices and to realise that they needed to rise to godly standards, for the sake of their own future.

Have you ever come to realise that?

Some people go through life with untrained, unrestrained, feral habits and lifestyle, and then blame all their problems on others. If you have never been given godly discipline then what ever happened to the ‘foolishness’ that was bound in your heart as a child? If that foolishness was never driven out by godly discipline then aren’t you still bound up in that same foolishness?

If you have torn planks out of your Character House then don’t blame others for the problems that invade your life, mind, heart and circumstances. If your life is crumbling because you didn’t build it right, don’t blame others.

However, you have a loving Heavenly Father who wants to save you and rebuild your life. I urge you to yield to Him and allow Him to train your heart and restore your soul, and rescue you from yourself.

“Lord God, I have made many foolish and selfish choices and destroyed the strong character and life you intended for me. I repent of that and ask You to forgive me. I also submit myself to You and ask You to save me from myself. Save me from my selfishness, resentment, pride, foolishness, self-delusion, shame, bondage and so many other things that destroy my life, my peace and my fruitfulness. I give the mess of my life to You and I call on You to rescue me and rebuild me, and train my heart to live in the fear of God and for Your glory. I ask this in Jesus’ lovely and powerful name. Amen.”