So, picking up from where we left off in that first post… with how calloused hearts can sometimes tell us there is something more we need to offer God in order to earn, keep, or repay His Love… and how I’m not so sure that work is a requirement for faith… and how you may or may not have gasped reading that… but how I used this verse to explain myself…
And, how you, no doubt, have been questioning me under your breath, with something like…
“Wait a minute… faith without works is dead.” And, of course, you’d be absolutely right! But, I’d like to submit something more… I believe it’s only the faith that leads us to the work in the first place and that we sometimes can get confused on this point.
See, we only love because God first loved us and we only want to serve because Jesus first served us and no one even comes to faith in The Father unless first drawn by Him. So, the truth is, any “work” we’re ever able to accomplish, including obedience or good or even godly behavior… any giving, loving, serving, or you name it… are all simply gifts of that faith from His overflowing Grace and should only and always point others back to His Face.
Yet, remember this part of our verse…
“For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes…”
You see, my prideful, calloused heart not only kept me imprisoned by guilt, shame, and fear, it also kept me focused on myself… by believing there was actually some grander work to do — or, more accurately, some grander person to become — for God, in order to get closer or be more pleasing to God. So, I lived constantly unforgiven in my heart because I was constantly failing, and all this constancy only impeded my ability to believe wholeheartedly that…
Jesus already did the grandest work of all just to get us to Himself and The Father!
And, once my heart understood I should simply rest upon, glory in, and boast about the completed work of Christ, alone, and not on one single scrap of any good behavior, work, or service I thought I was accomplishing for Him, I was finally able to hop off the giant swing of pride (in all my accomplishments) and guilt (for never accomplishing enough) and be freed up to live the healed and forgiven life we’re now blessed to see, hear, and understand, In Him.
So, now I can say with certainty… and, this is also the part I believe in the deepest parts of me… the thing God wants most in return for His Free Gift of Salvation, is not any of our works or good behavior, but rather, the only thing we have worth anything at all… our very own heart.
A heart that longs for a relationship with Him and is set on a pilgrimage toward Him.
“Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts…”
Enter King David.
Good gravy, but I love the fact God’s Word includes stories like his. Like my own… full of pride and penchants towards sin and pain.
You see, God described David as, “…a man after my own heart.” But, this very man made some of the most horrible of choices and committed some of the gravest of sins (if you’re into measuring them). Yet, God called him and loved Him and blessed his throne and life and, even lineage, by including Jesus in his family tree. Why? Would we consider some of his behavior good or godly? Would we maybe even look at him in judgement and wonder if he was truly saved? Would there even be a place for someone like David in The Church today? I sure hope so, but sometimes I question.
So, with all that baggage, why would God say David was a man after His Own Heart when God, Himself, calls us to holiness? Considering our original verse, I believe it must be because David could see, hear, and understand that turning toward God with everything his human heart was capable of would result in God, faithfully, turning back to David and giving him the healing and forgiveness He promised.
See, in Scripture we find that David often danced, sang, and played instruments to the Lord. We find someone who regularly sought God’s face; clung to His grace; leaned into His voice; and depended upon His mercy. Not only did David cry out to God in times of deep distress, pain, and shame, but also in times of great victory and joy. Scripture records him to be a man who was, simply and unashamedly, in a relationship with God. The heart he had for and toward God, led him to seek God’s Presence at all times and regardless of any bad behavior, presumably because his heart knew that healing and forgiveness… that his very life… were all to be found in God’s Presence.
Because, a heart that can understand God, understands that His heart is for you and not against you. It understands that He rights all wrongs and turns our sad ashes into a crown of beauty. It understands that it will never be turned away when it turns back to God with all things. It understands that junk kept hidden in darkness has the power to suffocate, but when brought into His Light, reveals a life that thrives. It understands that living in guilt, shame, and fear is simply not God’s Heart for us.
And, that heart also understands that our new healed and forgiven lives found in Christ won’t always resemble anything we may think they should. It understands that, whether those lives are lived serving others outwardly or serving in some background, underground, or far off battleground, they will always require hearts open and willing to serve time on the ground at Jesus’ feet.
Remember the story of Martha and Mary?
Martha was busy with her plans and Mary was at the feet of Jesus — learning, growing, and spending time with Him. She had a heart that understood Jesus and wanted to know Him even better… one that seemed to desire a relationship. Martha, however, was living the way she’d always lived; doing what she’d always done… likely, what she thought was necessary. But, while hard work is certainly required at times, Jesus seemed to praise Mary’s time and attention toward Him over Martha’s busyness and blame.
For many years though, my relationship with Jesus looked way more like Martha’s. I wandered around busily on my own, working hard to become that person I thought I should be, with Jesus just in my periphery, and all the while failing miserably. Partly because I believed controlling my own life was all up to me, but mostly because I simply had no idea I’d never given God all my heart inside of me.
So, it’s no wonder I lived my life unforgiven… in those chains of guilt, shame, and fear. I was living a life that depended on my own strength and resources; and that held fast to others’ views and opinions; and that only sought hardest after God in the toughest of places. Like Martha, I basically just surrounded myself with the things of Jesus… church, fellowship, prayer, Bible study, sermon teachings, service… while completely missing the only thing that was really needed… a relationship with Jesus. I never realized that all the busyness was simply an attempt to bring Him into my world… instead of resting in the blessing of a relationship and life that was only to be found in His…
Because, quite simply… Jesus didn’t just die to save us from Hell or polish us up a little here and there.
He didn’t live in perfect obedience to save us for some perfectly, productive life lived in obedience to ourselves.
He didn’t faithfully finish what he began on this earth, so that we could finish our own self-made plans and ensure a happily-ever-after, American Dream kind of life on earth.
He didn’t bear the shame of that cross, so we could barely acknowledge His Name or Lordship over our lives.
Neither did He suffer an unspeakably painful death, so our family and friends could suffer us as we live exhausted lives in service to Him. Nor… as we saw in the gospel of John, did He bear separation from His Father, just so we would need to bear the burden of working harder to be closer or more pleasing to Our Father.
No. Jesus died to save us from our very own sin-soaked selves, so we could live — with hearts turned toward Him — the very blessed, healed and forgiven lives He planned for us from the very beginning.
Now, I’ve shared on this blog before that God allowed me to hit a dead end while living out faith my way. But, it was that very ending which forced my eyes and ears and heart to see, hear, and understand that I could turn to God in that death. And, what I was most blessed to receive in that turning was the healed and forgiven life Jesus had actually been offering all along. (More about this in Part Three)
You see, God is simply not beyond using the death of something to bring the dead back to life. And, I believe He actually used the death and resurrection of Jesus, to bring, among many other things, those words He spoke to Isaiah, back to life… and back to our own lives. Because, remember, it wasn’t only for our salvation, it was also for the lives we’d live while we await eternity. Jesus’ death secured the very thing we never could… a relationship with God that would bring the healing and forgiveness promised by God. And, now the only thing we really must ever do in response to Jesus’ work is rest in what His blood already bought.
So, then… what if we, like David, could turn and bravely face God with our own sin and brokenness? And, what if we, like Mary, could drop our busyness and bluster? What if we could truly understand with our hearts that we can rest in a relationship with Him and live, right now, the blessed life He has prepared and given us freely?
Going further still, what if we could stop trying to pretty up any of the mess in our lives… or run from it, or defend it, or hide it from those around us, and instead, live in complete authenticity in our community, bravely allowing God to open up our eyes to our own brokenness, so we could openly love others in theirs? What if we stopped all other steps towards some type of behavior modification or penance when any junk surfaces and began to live out a relationship with God by turning to Him in repentance as our first response to brokenness, while choosing to believe — and receive — His forgiveness?
Basically… What if we could simply live, right where we are, completely and totally loved just as we are, by the One who actually has the power to change who we are? The truth is, That One Who created us, is The One Who knows us best, and better yet, is The Only One committed to making us more and more like Himself… people full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control…
Because, it’s actually Jesus Who said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:1-17)
And, if abiding simply means remaining or continuing in… then we abide by a constant pursuit of honest dialogue with God in repentance, prayer, and regular times in His Word and Presence. We abide when we choose to rejoice with God in good times, and continually turn back to Him each time we don’t get our way or get bored or when life just seems to keep spilling its messes. We abide when we turn again toward Him, resisting all urges to run or hide in shame or work harder or keep busy or make excuses, in the face of any broken place. And, we abide when we offer God the heart He’s given us to understand… wide open and willing to confess and receive His Love, completely and totally, right in the middle of wherever we may find ourselves living.
Simply put, we abide when we live lives like Mary and David, because we know it’s where our new, blessed, healed and forgiven lives are found.
Now, if you’re interested in some authenticity or just simply a tad curious where all this is headed (Bless you!), then I hope you’ll pick up the next post here.