Jesus: "I have made You known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

- John 17:26

Friday, 27 January 2017

God wants our hearts

What is the point in life? What am I supposed to do? What does God want me to do? 

As I consider my future and have lots of big decisions to make, these are the questions that file relentlessly around my head.

And so God showed me this:

God’s overarching purpose for humanity is to have our hearts genuinely, authentically, loving him. And everything else: our words, our actions, to reflect and come out of this wholehearted love. That is all God wants for and from us.

So often we think that God is concerned with what we’re going to be doing in life - God wants me to be a church leader, God wants me to go to Africa, God wants me to be single…and maybe he does want those things for you, but only so much as they incline your heart a little more towards him.

He will work through you and your actions to bring other people’s hearts close to him, but he will also use your life situation (marriage, job, location, friends etc) to bring your heart closer to him.

Because everything is for that end.

I realised this as I was considering my future and I want answers. But I have no drive to any particular area, no sign from God…And then God showed me freedom. Freedom in knowing that whatever I do, wherever I go, whomever I’m with, He will be working out his purpose in me: to make my heart more his.

It’s indescribably freeing.

There’s no pressure because the purpose and meaning of my life doesn’t depend on my actions. I can partner with God with this work in me anywhere I go and in anything I do.

How do I know all this? It’s the cry of the Bible: the cry of Old Testament history, the cry of Jesus throughout the gospels, Paul in the letters...Everyone seems to get it‘The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7).

Why was God, Yahweh, frustrated with the Israelites? Because they kept not living up to his command that they: Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ (Deuteronomy 6:5).

God wants our insides. Even the most pleasing Old Testament sacrifices involved giving God the kidneys of the animals (Leviticus 3:4) - which, due to their hidden position in the body made them a symbol for the most secret and intimate part of man e.g. the heart.

Some people in Jesus’ time were clearly struggling with the same questions I was: what am I supposed to be doing? And Jesus says to them: ‘Do not work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you’ (John 6:25).

But these people didn’t like this intangible guidance about what God wants (much like the way we graduates would quite like a direct word from God about where and what to do) and so asked: ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ (28).

So Jesus said: ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ (29)

It’s an internal work because God wants internal things: a work of the heart, not the work of our hands. God doesn’t want offerings of community service, charity, or even reading the bible with a friend… He first and foremost wants the work of belief (which can, and should, manifest as those things).

(And so how do we do this work of belief? ‘…which the Son of man will give you.’ (25) We give our hearts to Jesus, who will give eternity to us. The work of belief is seeking Jesus and receiving his gift: God himself (John 17:3). It is not trying to earn it for ourselves by keeping our hearts and giving God some token ‘good works’.)

David, the psalmist and King, got it too: ‘You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring I; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart’ (Psalm 51:16-17).

And God doesn’t just want any heart. He wants a true, dedicated, wholehearted heart:

I was at a Pentecostal Church last Sunday - a very different experience to my home church: the worship was enthusiastic and long, there were words and prophecies etc… - and it made me think: does God want this kind of worship more than an Anglican sort? Have these guys got it right and other styles haven’t?

But then I quickly came to the conclusion that the only thing that would make me uncomfortable about this style of worship was if it wasn’t genuine. 

If people were putting their hands in the air and speaking words falsely, if their heart wasn’t in it and they were just pretending because that’s what you do in Church, that’s what other people would like to see… It would be uncomfortable because then it would all be a show. But, if it was genuine, then it would be a wonderful display of worship - Because our God deserves passion like this! He deserves joyful, loud, enthusiastic worshippers!

(And sadly, even if it wasn’t genuine, we see the same hypocrisy in every style of Church - even in Anglican, Baptist, Catholic churches etc, people can sing the words robotically and not engage with the God we are singing about. Hypocrisy.)

And I realised that I, as a human being created in God’s image, felt that way about inauthentic worship because God feels that way: ‘Away with the noise of your songs!’ (Amos 5:23). This showed me that, before any kind of act of worship, God wants our hearts. And he wants true hearts: hearts of integrity - whose actions will match up with their claims.

God wants our hearts. He wants our hearts truly loving him.

And a heart that truly loves God will result in actions that show it. Jesus said: ‘If you love me, you will obey my commands’ (John 14:15). Obedience to God’s word reveals a true love for God. And Jesus himself was the perfect example of a heart that truly, unconditionally loved God, as he obeyed him even to lowering himself into our sin-ridden, deathly world and into death itself: (Matthew 26:39). All because he loved and wanted to obey God.

So, life is God having our hearts, not what we do. It is relinquishing our deathly desire to save and keep ourselves by ‘doing’ externally, and instead ‘doing’ internally with God by going to Jesus.

God wants our whole hearts. And so the main question is: where is yours?

Is it seeking him? Is it at Jesus’ feet, ready to receive?

If it is not safely turned towards the heavenly Father with open palms, then lean on his generous grace and mercy, and, as the repeated refrain on almost every page of scripture says: ‘Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness and relenting of evil’ (Joel 2:13).

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