Following Your Heart

Recently I was again exposed to a short list of ‘Thing Jesus never said’ contrasted with ‘Things Jesus said.’ One point in particular was that Jesus never said to ‘follow your heart.’ While I get the intent behind the phrase, I also find it simplistic and scripturally inaccurate On the occasions that I have challenged the simplistic idea that it may not be entirely wrong to ‘follow your heart’ (I have no issue with the other points) I have received the obvious follow, a reference to Jeremiah 17:9 saying I am wrong because our hearts are ‘deceitfully wicked.’ I don’t want to go too far down a road here but frankly I find a lot of my fellow believers come across as far better at quoting standard scriptures than engaging in some scriptural research and critical thinking.

Now, lest I simply come across as a cranky old man, I have a deep concern, backed up by numerous research studies and polls others have done, that a great many who claim Jesus’ name do not seem to know His word. Granted He has called me to teach so I am more invested in scripture, but I think we all need a level of investment that goes beyond cliché scriptures. Thus, let’s explore the issue of heart from both the Old and New Testaments by looking at some sample scriptures. Here are some scriptures followed by my comments.

5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5 (NKJV)

This seems to support Jeremiah quoting Yahweh as saying our hearts are deceitfully wicked. Yet in context if we read a few verses further we find that Noah was a just man and the ‘intent of the thoughts of his heart’ were not continually evil. Well both Genesis 6 and Jeremiah 17 seem be blanket statements I think they are generalities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 (NKJV)

If our hearts could not be cleansed then David’s prayer of contrition and repentance was not inspired by the Spirit.

1 My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands; 2 For length of days and long life And peace they will add to you. 3 Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart, 4 And so find favor and high esteem In the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; Proverbs 3:1–5 (NKJV)

23 Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23 (NKJV)

We are enjoined in Proverbs 3 to keep His commands with our heart, to write His law on the tablet of our hearts and trust Him with all our heart. Seemingly summed up in Proverbs 4:23. All things contrary to what can be done with a completely wicked and deceitful heart.

9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV)

Here we come to the core verse everyone seems to know without seeming to not know the context. Jeremiah is delivering a message and contrasting those who follow Yahweh with those who do not. The very next verse is always left out.

10 I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. Jeremiah 17:10

This takes us back to the context. If every heart is deceitfully wicked then the only proper response is judgment for everyone but that is not what we see in Jeremiah’s message. Yahweh is judging good and evil according to their ways.

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NKJV)

This is the promise of the new covenant and minimally should teach believers that when we have been born again our heart has been renewed.

7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Acts 15:7–9 (NKJV)

Here Peter teaches that our hearts can be purified through faith in Jesus.

43 “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:43–45 (NKJV)

Here, prior to the inauguration of the new covenant Jesus taught that our hearts could bring forth good our evil depending on the values we had embraced.   

6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NKJV)

Here Paul taught us that it is with our hearts that we encounter Jesus. The heart is where He shines into our lives.

10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:10 (NKJV)

Lastly and most importantly, if all of us have desperately wicked hearts how could any of us ever be saved? After all, Paul is telling us here that our heart is the organ of faith!

In conclusion. If we ignore the whole counsel of God, we can wholeheartedly embrace what is regularly taught from Jeremiah 17:9, that all of us have deceitfully wicked hearts. However, if we embrace scripture, we see that the issue is much more nuanced and that our hearts can follow Jesus and we can follow our hearts. What led to my conversion was that I followed mine right into His presence. If you have not yet done so I invite you to do the same.

The Lamp of the Lord

The title is from a phrase in Proverbs. It encapsulates the need to pay or give attention to our spirit.

27 The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord, Searching all the inner depths of his heart. Proverbs 20:27 (NKJV)

The phrase ‘depths of the heart’ is literally ‘rooms of the belly’ in Hebrew. We can discern from Proverbs that we can experience our spirit and that Yahweh uses it as a lamp, that is, He ‘lights up’ something inside of us when He wants to get our attention. I trust most of you have experienced this inner probing or awareness. In the New Testament we have a number of phrases that refer to this process. They include the ideas of being ‘led by the Spirit,’ ‘walking in the Spirit,’ being ‘filled with the Spirit,’ and ‘hearing what the Spirit is saying.’ Each of these points us to one thing, dependence upon, and relationship with, the Spirit, which points to our need to understand how to do each of the above. I am sure that as believers most of us want to walk, be filled with, hear from and be led by the Spirit. Practically we can look at this process in scripture as presented in 1 Corinthians 2.  

9 But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 1 Corinthians 2:9–12 (NKJV)

Obviously key to understanding and walking in what Paul shared in 1 Corinthians is the meaning of the word ‘know’ along with Paul’s statement in verse 10 that the spiritual things we can know are revealed by the Spirit. Some translations have different words instead of ‘know’ in verses 11-12 but in Greek the word is consistent and it means to know, understand or recognize. Clearly to walk in or be led by or walk in the Spirit we need to understand or recognize His leading. Practically speaking Paul is saying the Spirit knows the things of God and is willing to reveal them to us and we need to be willing or know or hear.

In my experience I spend time in prayer and in His word each day. I also seek to hold an internal awareness and be sensitive to His presence during the day and pray at various times during the day. Not set prayer time but simply carrying things before him throughout the day, offering up prayers for people and circumstances He brings to mind and seeking to hear His voice so that I can walk in and be led by the Spirit. This may mean sharing a scripture passage or concept with someone, sensing a need to call or connect with someone to encourage them or a sense to pray for a certain individual or circumstance.  

I see these experiences as Him ‘turning on the lamp’ inside of me to direct my walk with Him. If I have no internal leading, I simply seek to walk in the light of His word and what I have learned of His character over my many years of walking with Him. I believe this way of ‘walking in the Spirit’ is available to all who seek His face.

Others sense the spiritual atmosphere in cities or regions. Some sense what is happening in someone else physically as a call to prayer or intervention. I know I am at times aware of what is happening with someone and at times I am aware of someone’s gifts or callings. Having said that, I am not given to great prophetic experiences and dreams and visions. These are very practical ways He reveals things to us and I would love to have them as ongoing experiences. Yet He seems to have me anchored in the main, plain and seeming mundane, which is where I think most of us live. Given that, how is He lighting your lamp?

The Word of the Lord Tested Him

This phrase is taken from the life of Jospeh, not in Genesis, in Psalms. I have often been struck by the phrase. It was the ‘word of the Lord’ that tested Joseph. To better understand the idea, I will break it down and we will look at other examples in scripture that illustrate the same principle then reflect on how to apply it to our lives. We start with the phrase then the context.

19 Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the Lord tested him. Psalm 105:19 (NKJV)

Psalm 105 chronicles the history of Israel. We all have a story and this is the story of a nation. Embedded in this national story is a key character, Joseph. The idea of the ‘word of the Lord’ here is that Joseph was given great promises, then he quickly experienced the opposite. The story of his promises, slavery and imprisonment and eventual rise to their fulfillment is found in Genesis 37-50. A significant portion of the book of history. Joseph’s test and fulfillment took place over a long period, thirteen years. He was sold by his brothers at age 17 (Genesis 37:2) and raised up out of prison and given authority by Pharoah at age 30 (Genesis 41:46).

Joseph received prophetic promises via a dream from Yahweh then endured hardship and affliction with the word. The word, these promises, tested him until it they came to pass and he had developed the character to carry the authority he was given. Abraham and Sarah waited years for the promised son. We know that Abraham was 75 when Yahweh first promised him descendants (Genesis 12:1-7)  and that he was 100 when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5). The promise of a son born to him was more explicit in Genesis 15:1-4 but we do not know Abraham’s age then. We do know that Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born to Hagar. Like his descendant who followed him the word of the Lord had tested Abraham.

While two examples do not constitute a pattern there are many more in scripture. David was anointed as king and soon became a fugitive instead. The word of the Lord tested him over many years. Moses knew he was called by Yahweh to deliver Israel (Exodus 2:11-13, Acts 7:25). He tried in his own strength and then spent 40 years in the wilderness until he encountered Yahweh at the burning bush (Acts 7:25-30). The word of the Lord tested him.  

We even see this pattern in the life of Jesus. He was baptized in the Jordan and received affirmation from His Father that He was the beloved Son and His Father was pleased with Him (Matthew 3:17). What followed was a glorious entry into ministry – no actually, what happened was He was immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by Satan (Matthew 4:1). The word of the Lord tested Him.

Given these examples and this pattern should we expect different treatment? He has called each of us and once He calls us, He tests us. One of the words He spoke to me nearly three decades ago was 1 Corinthians 4:2.

2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:2 (NKJV)

This means like Paul who wrote it, our faithfulness is the primary test. Joseph had to remain faithful and hold onto his dreams after slavery followed by prison. Abraham has to hold onto the promise of a son in spite of his circumstances – he and Sarah both past the fathering and bearing stage of their lives. David had to remain focused on his calling and commission to be king well the present king sought his death. Moses had to believe Yahweh after his failure and subsequent encounter in the wilderness. Jesus – I, nor anyone else, fully understands His humanity but I believe He had to develop and walk out a trust relationship with His Father in spite of His wilderness experience.

I have a list of things He has spoken to me both directly and through others over the years. Some I am walking in, some I am not. As these words test me, I seek to be found faithful. How about you? What are you reflecting on? How is the test going?

Here to There

Many years ago, I attended a work seminar given by a popular international executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith where he focused on a book he had written, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. His focus was on the need to increase skills to move from one level to the next and his core concept was something call ‘Feed Forward.’ I won’t go into it in depth, it is easy enough to look up and his focus was on how to move up in the corporate world. Not exactly the primary value we find Jesus promoting, although He is not opposed to that for those walking with Him. However, if we are serious about our walk of faith our primary goal is to be successful in walking in the Spirit in His kingdom.

In our pursuit of walking in His kingdom there is a progression and what took us to one place will not take us to the next. Think of the tabernacle of Moses or the temple of Solomon. The outer court required sacrifice at the altar and cleansing at the laver. The inner court required bread upon the table, light in the candlestand and incense rising before the curtain to the holy of holies. I, like others, have long viewed this as the ground flour for the bread representing a submitted will, the burning oil in the lampstand a mind illumined with the truth of scripture and the incense on the small altar a heart of worship. In summary, a soul in passionate pursuit of His presence.

We see that what got one past the outer court was not sufficient for the inner court and what was sufficient for the inner court would not get one into the holy of holies. This was reserved for the high priest and then only one time per year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Now you may be wondering if I am promoting some sort of works mentality through which we earn great favour with Jesus. I am not, He is our ultimate High Priest. He offered Himself in the outer court, lived out of a submitted will, had a mind illuminated by scripture (Hebrews 10) and then took His own blood into the Holy of Holies and poured it out upon the altar (Hebrews 9:12).

Jesus made it possible for us to live in and out from the Holy of Holies, the throne of grace. What is required from us is the continual laying down of our agenda to embrace His. Just as the manna in the wilderness had to be gathered each day, the obedience that brought us to today won’t work tomorrow. We need to seek His face each day, which requires a submitted will, a mind illumined by the truth of scripture and a heart engaged in worship. Paul expressed it this way.  

31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 1 Corinthians 15:31 (NKJV)

And Paul was merely affirming what Jesus instructed us to do.  

23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9:23 (NKJV)

Now back to where this post began. The principle applies, what got us here won’t get us there. In the kingdom what we need to accomplish our goal of going deeper in Jesus is daily submission and obedience. An increased laying down of our lives marked by a mantle of humility. Knowing this let us engage in it and like (and with) Jesus be about our Father’s business as each day we present ourselves to Him afresh and seek His will for this day. After all, He is The Great I Am, not the great I Was or Will Be. He is a present saviour who desires that each day we live in and out of His presence.