The Preparations of the Heart

Proverbs 16:1 is a scripture that has long held great significance for me.

1  The preparations of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. Proverbs 16:1 (NKJV)

I believe an incredible move of the Spirit is imminent. At the same time I recognize that how, or even if, we will experience it depends on our heart condition. I recall reading a story from the deeper life movement in 19th Century. One of the speakers and leaders in the movement held a series of meetings where many experienced deep times of refreshing from the Lord. After the meetings he realized something – he was the teacher and his spiritual life was dry! He responded by setting aside everything else and seeking Jesus until He too experienced refreshing.

Pentecost Sunday is near and this year, as in every other year, we have an opportunity to reflect on the first outpouring of the Spirit in the Upper Room in Jerusalem to prepare our hearts. At the first Pentecost hearts in the upper room were prepared and thousands were blessed by the outpouring of the Spirit. Sadly many more in the city went on with business as usual. The history of revival, is similar. People came from all over to experience Azusa Street in the early part of the 20th Century. Most of Los Angeles continued on with business as usual, or likely a more aptly description is busyness as usual. Our heart condition is critical.  

I long for two things. One, a deep move of the Spirit that touches the church and our surrounding culture. Two, wisdom to steward and sustain this move. The first requires that we, like the history of every revival I know of, prepare our hearts and the second is that we maintain steadfast hearts (more on that next week). While I am not an expert, I have read a good deal about revival and I know from scripture that hearts are first dealt with before His Spirit is poured out. As A. W. Tozer has said, ‘He first disturbs us before He fills us.’

So, I don’t know what is in your heart nor you what is in mine but Jesus knows what is in all of our hearts. If we desire to see Him move in our lives and our culture let us embrace the heart of David.

23  Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; 24  And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (NKJV)

Rooted and Grounded

In Ephesians 3 Paul uses some important imagery in communicating spiritual reality.

17  that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – 19  to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19 (NKJV)

Contained in these verses we have the idea of being rooted and grounded followed by a shift to width, length, depth and height. Paul is covering all of the dimensions but telling us that knowing the reality of the dimensions is dependent on being rooted and grounded, not just in anything, but in love, the love of Christ.

Even a well rooted tree can come down if planted in the wrong place, what is around it is important. If you look at the pictures below there are two significant trees. One is already in the creek and over time will be swept away, the other is still rooted but on a crumbling bank that will give way over time and it is only a matter of time before that tree will also end up in the creek and be swept away. There are numerous trees in both pictures that are safely away from the eroding power of the creek.

It is a question of where are we planted and whether we are we rooted and grounded in a safe place. Jesus love is the only secure place to be rooted and grounded yet we cannot plant ourselves there. We can pursue Jesus love but we need to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in our inner being to be securely planted.

16  that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, Ephesians 3:16 (NKJV)

If we want to know the width, length, depth and height of Jesus love then let us ask Him to strengthen our inner being so that we can both be rooted in, and bear the reality of, the width, length, depth and height of His love – knowing His love in every dimension of our life!

His Perspective

I want to draw us into heaven’s perspective. Our culture enjoins the worship of celebrities, a worship of the rich, famous and popular. Yet in the midst of all of this there is an important reframing of the issue by Jesus. He is great at giving us perspective!

15  And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Luke 16:15 (NKJV)

This is a verse that cuts deeply across the grain of our culture – Jesus plainly declaring to the religious leaders of His day that in seeking popular acclaim they embraced the wrong value system. They were drinking dirty water from polluted cisterns. They didn’t understand that Jesus perspective wasn’t about religious power and control, it was about people. Even those He grew up with in Nazareth were offended by what Jesus said when He declared both who He was and what His priorities were.

18  “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19  To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Luke 4:18-19 (NKJV)

Jesus was publicly declaring He was the Messiah but like any good leader He also laid out His vision for His followers to see. His focus was on the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind and the oppressed. Did He accomplish His vision? Luke tells us in a one verse summary of His ministry.

 38  how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. Acts 10:38 (NKJV)  

Getting back to the value system of Luke 16:15, there is an expression, ‘Most of those who are well known on earth are little known in heaven and most of those who are well known in heaven are little known on earth. God’s valuation system is different than our culture. He wants our focus to be on being known in heaven.

In sharing some of these ideas with a friend he said, “The Lord once asked me, ‘Is it good enough that you are famous in heaven.’  He was exposing the fact that it really wasn’t.” What about the rest of us? Is it good enough to be famous in heaven?

Looking for Leadership

In times of crisis large segments of the population look for answers and there is often an expressed desire, an expectation, that governments will provide that leadership. While I appreciate what our elected officials and bureaucracies do, I think there is a better place to look. I often turn to these two verses from Psalm 25. They exemplify something I read recently in a book by Scott Rodin, “It is not whom you are leading but who is leading you that will determine your legacy.” Thus, I regularly join David and turn these verses into a prayer.

4  Show me Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths. 5  Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day. Psalm 25:4-5 (NKJV)

I recognize the need to walk in the path He has prepared for me. Though I may stumble and wander, my desire is to be on the path He has laid out. Notice both ‘ways’ and ‘paths’ are plural. This is akin to what it says elsewhere in Psalms.

4  There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. Psalm 46:4 (NKJV)

The point is not the idea that ‘all roads lead to Rome.’ Rather it is the idea that each of us have a different calling, but we all have the same purpose. Our purpose is to walk in His ways and flow into the river of His purpose. Our gifts and callings have been given by Him to glorify His name. This means seeking to walk in the paths He has prepared for us and looking to Him in expectation that He will lead us on the right path.

The idea that we can expect Him to lead us in the right way is inherent in the Hebrew word which is translated as ‘wait’ in verse 25. The word carries the sense of hope and expectation and being bound up with Him, the opposite of passivity. We are not waiting in the sense of hoping something will happen. The call is to wait the way David expressed it elsewhere. This is the verse I think of when I think of ‘waiting on the Lord’ because it encapsulates in one verse the idea of scriptural waiting, a confident expectancy.

3  My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up. Psalm 5:3 (NKJV)

So, in this season we need leadership. Let’s look for it in the right place and leave a legacy that points others to Jesus.

What is God Speaking in our Circumstances

Circumstances are not always what they appear to be. There are many examples in scripture of things not heading to the conclusion one would envision given the circumstances. For example, Joseph being sold into slavery. The children of Israel coming out of Egypt and then having an impassable sea before them and an Egyptian army behind them. Paul seeking to spread the gospel and ending up in prison.

What came out of the above events? Joseph preserved a nation; God displayed His power to engender trust in a people and Paul had time to reflect and write a good portion of the New Testament. Great outcomes in each case but not the expected outcome based on viewing the circumstances from a simply natural point of view.

There are natural examples of how good can arise out of something that presented as a disaster. Years ago, I remember reading the story of the electronics giant Best Buy. The owner had a chain of nine stores and the main store was hit by a tornado, it tore off the roof of the showroom but left the stockroom intact. The owner made a decision to hold a ‘Tornado Sale’ and advertised the sale as the ‘best buys.’ It was so successful it changed their business approach and led to the changing of the name of the stores to Best Buy. The store literally rebuilt itself and grew to become an international electronics giant, all from how the owner chose to respond to the destruction from a storm.

Obviously not every situation turns out this way but some of how it turns out is based on how we choose to respond. Here are two scriptures most of us are likely familiar with.

20  But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Genesis 50:20 (NKJV)

28  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

Did Joseph suffer? Yes. Did Paul suffer? Yes. Will we suffer in some way? Yes. This is part of our journey through life. Yet if this is a test the right answer for the test is choosing to look to Jesus rather than our circumstances. This is not about ignoring or denying them. When the children of Israel faced the Red Sea with an Egyptian army pursuing them there was no pretending the sea or army were not obstacles. There was a looking to the Father in the midst of their circumstances. Moses did the crying out and we need to do that in each of our lives.   

Our call is to look at and fully acknowledge our circumstances then practice what David encouraged.

1  Give ear to my words, O LORD, Consider my meditation. 2  Give heed to the voice of my cry, My King and my God, For to You I will pray. 3  My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up. Psalm 5:1-3 (NKJV)

Let’s look up to Him!

Living from the Right Place

Living from the right place is a lofty aspiration. Years ago I came across an expression, ‘Live from a great depth of being.’ My heart was drawn to the idea. I looked it up recently but could not identify the source. The closest I came was Emerson’s quote, ‘It is not length of life but depth of life.’ That aside, I think it is an important concept and lofty goal. Recently I came across Heidi Baker’s expression of living ‘Presence Centred.’ There could be no greater depth to live from than Jesus presence.

In my own prayer guide I have written the following, ‘Holy Spirit, as I sit and walk with Jesus, I ask You to draw me into the subtleties of the interaction that I might deepen my awareness of Your presence and leading.’ I have it down in writing because I believe it is important and I need to remind myself of this aspiraiton. I know Jesus seeks to interact with me and the depth to which it takes place depends on the response of my heart. I generally put on worship music as I pray in the morning but sometimes I find that as He is drawing my heart I simply need to turn it off because it is a distraction rather than an aid. This is a relationship and He is the lead so I need to pay attention to how Jesus is leading and respond accordingly.

As I write this I have gentle instrumental worship quietly playing in the background. It is an aid because it supports rather than overwhelms and my heart is currently in a reflective place. At other times something a bit more intense is helpful, or silence. After all there is an old Hebrew saying, ‘The beginning of wisdom is silence.’

However we approach Him, He seeks to draw each of our hearts into a place of intimacy in a way that grounds our specific relationship with Him and this has always been the way. For decades a popular phrase in use in evangelism is the idea of knowing Jesus as our ‘personal Lord and Saviour.’ While I get the point and the idea of us making a personal connection I have never liked it and in fact find it a bit offensive. It may just be my reaction but I wonder how our Lord and Saviour could not be personal. I have no concept of an ‘impersonal’ Lord and Saviour.   

Having said that, we are each called to develop and deepen our relationship to Jesus in the way in which He calls us. One of my favourite Proverbs is the first phrase in 14:33.

33  Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, But what is in the heart of fools is made known. Proverbs 14:33 (NKJV)

Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding. A powerful phrase that speaks to me of Jesus as wisdom being comfortable and at home in my heart if I understand how to respond to His drawing and leading. How is he calling you today?

An Endless Life

Recently as I sat before Him mediating on a passage of scripture I was very aware of the Lord’s incredible vastness. It was like a spiritual ocean with no end. Many years ago as I sat with Him early one morning I had a similar experience. He opened up something before me. With the eyes of my heart I was aware of what I can only describe as eternity. It was frightening and shook me. Years later I was able to reflect on it without that fear but only after He had shifted something inside of my spirit and mind.

As I reflect on these two experiences what comes to me is how Jesus priesthood is depicted in the New Testament. We are informed in Hebrews that Jesus priesthood is the fulfillment of what Melchizedek pointed to in the Old Testament (Heb. 7:17). Jesus priesthood is according to the power of an endless or indestructible life.

16  who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. Hebrews 7:16 (NASB)

16  who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. Hebrews 7:16 (NKJV)

Jesus is our High Priest and we can be confident in His eternal priesthood due to His endless life. The vastness I encountered and the eternity I experienced are both contained within Him. In light of that we can be confident in this or any other season. Confident because this Eternal One lives within us. Another way of seeing this in scripture is found in Romans 8.

11  But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11 (NKJV)

Seeing this verse in Romans 8 in the context of what we know about Jesus priesthood in Hebrews we can come to Him in this present situation. We come knowing the eternal endless indestructible one lives within us. His life is strengthening us to face whatever He has called us to walk in. Let’s be confident of the Living One within us and put our hand to whatever He has placed before us and minister His life to those around us.  

Wisdom Calling

Wisdom is presented in different ways in scripture.  

20  Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares. 21  She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words: Proverbs 1:20-21 (NKJV)

Much of the book of Proverbs is about practical wisdom. It is about discerning what to do in a variety of situations from parenting to financial planning to managing and maintaining a household. All well and good. I deeply appreciate the book of Proverbs and have read through it a multitude of times. As much as I appreciate practical wisdom there is another type of wisdom.   

17  that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, Ephesians 1:17 (NKJV)

30  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – 1 Corinthians 1:30 (NKJV)

These two verses let us know that we can walk in a spirit of wisdom and that Jesus has been made unto us wisdom. This goes beyond understanding Proverbs, it goes to drawing upon Jesus in us. This wisdom is at times contrary to natural wisdom. Many of you have likely at some point felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to do something that did not make sense at the time but you see His hand after the fact. That is spiritual wisdom and is in essence a revealing of heaven’s perspective on the situation.

I have had this experience a number of times. A significant one many years ago was a turning point in my career. What I sensed the Holy Spirit leading me to do made no natural sense, in fact it was contrary to what made sense to me and commitments I had made. In spite of my natural reasoning I followed the leading of the Spirit. It was through this experience, which was very stressful over a period of weeks, that I learned that I could have anxiety in my mind and peace in my heart and that it was spiritual wisdom to follow His peace (Col. 3:15). It all made sense in the end and had I trusted His leading from the beginning I could have save myself a lot of stress and anxiety.

So, let us determine to respond to the call of wisdom, to develop natural, practical Godly wisdom. Even more, let us recognize that it is wisdom to seek His spiritual wisdom that our lives and the lives of those around us may be different and that Jesus may be glorified.  

A New Year

We are a week into a new year, 2020, when many are expecting new or improved vision. At the same time it is easy for our resolutions to fade in the light of the reality of the day to day tasks of the post holiday season. Given that the scriptures encourage us to embrace one primary resolution.  

18  But the path of the just is like the shining sun, That shines ever brighter unto the perfect day. Proverbs 4:18 (NKJV)

Our calling is to continually seek to get closer to Him, to draw near to His heart. In the process something I think we need to reflect on is our corporate rather than individual calling. Our culture encourages a great deal of focus on self, and while we need an awareness of our purpose and calling, the context is always as part of a body.

The New Testament places great value on the individual soul but not in isolation. In our calling to walk deeper into Him we are called to the following.

15  but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – 16  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (NKJV)

We are to speak the truth, be motivated by love and seek to see each one of us take our place in the body and see the whole body strengthened and each member effectively doing their part. The context is that we are together being built into His dwelling place.

19  Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20  having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, 21  in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22  in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22 (NKJV)

It is a joined together body that Jesus is building for His dwelling place. This past week. A friend sent a note asking what I sensed the Spirit was saying for this year. I prayed and what He spoke to my heart was, “We need to find our voice.” My understanding of this is that ‘we’ the church as a corporate body need to understand and embrace our authority and discern His strategy in speaking into our culture.

In conclusion, my prayer is that this year we would resolve to find our place in His body and see it strengthened to accomplish His corporate purposes.

Do You See What I See?

There is an expression used in relation to positions in conflict resolution, ‘Where you stand depends on where you sit.’ In essence, how we see things depends on the perspective from which we are looking at them. Jesus addressed perspective on many occasions and we will look at one example.

The context for the passage below is Jesus being tired and hungry, resting at Jacob’s well while the disciples headed to town for food and Jesus then ministering to the one who has become known as the ‘Samaritan Woman.’ The disciples return as Jesus is still talking with the woman.

31  In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32  But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” 33  Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?” 34  Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. 35  Do you not say, ‘’There are still four months and then comes the harvest?’ Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” John 4:31-35 (NKJV)

The disciples misunderstood a few things here, as I suspect most of us would have.

Since culturally they didn’t associate with Samaritans the disciples were experiencing an internal conflict. From where they sat Jesus should not be talking to the woman, yet He was their leader and they were being discipled by Him so they didn’t challenge what He was doing. They had experienced enough to know He was up to something but they didn’t see it.

Jesus informed them that His encounter with the woman strengthened Him because she responded to truth. There was spiritual food and natural food to draw from. I’m sure Jesus still ate later on. Jesus then used another natural event, harvest time to make a further point. While naturally they were not in harvest time Jesus was telling them to see differently. There was a more important harvest, one that harvested people for His kingdom, and it was ready to be reaped.

It is clear that Jesus intent in this brief encounter was to teach them rather than confuse them. He highlighted their internal conflict to broaden their perspective. So when we see something in His kingdom that doesn’t align with how we think and see perhaps where we stand is connected to where we are sitting and we need to ask Jesus if He wants us to change chairs.