Orienting the heart toward love

Brad over at 21st Century Reformation shares his personal journey into the heart of meekness and mercy:

When I was a new believer I took the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount very seriously. We are to forgive every one always. We are to turn the other cheek. We are to rejoice when we are wronged. We are to never say “what an idiot” in our hearts. Anger is sin and must be dealt with ruthlessly. To maintain this standard of heart purity, I worshipped and prayed very regularly and if I felt I had quenched the spirit in any way I would mourn deeply. In many instances, I could not sleep unless I know my heart was totally surrendered. I remember when I was in seminary that if I felt I was somehow unrepentant or lacked conscious contact with God, I would leave class at break and go pray in my room. Little did I know at the time that this life of extreme sensitivity to the orientation of my heart toward love was a good thing.

What a reminder of my need to keep my heart oriented always toward the grace and love of God, and uncluttered with the ugly tatters and heavy baggage of envy, resentment and bitterness. Learning to unburden my heart and cast these upon God is a lifelong education.

The weight of His word

This awesome post by the ever-excellent Mr Standfast led me to Nehemiah 8, where I read these words:

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

– Nehemiah 8:5-6

The weight of God’s word was upon them.

““This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. – verse 9b.

Mourning and joy mingled together into what we call worship. Worship. Celebration. Peace.

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. – verses 10-12

They celebrated. They gave to those who had nothing. And, although the weight of the word had brought grief, they rejoiced. The joy of the Lord was their strength!

May it be so with me.

Lord, thank you for joy!

Do not be grieved,

for the joy of the Lord is your strength!

Restoration

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.

Psalm 126:1-3 (ESV)

Have you ever had a dream come true?

I have. I know the dreamlike feeling of seeing God begin to work out His restoration in my life and the lives of those I love. And, almost without warning, I find myself in a place that seemed unattainable just a few days earlier.

Sometimes trials last for years and take us past the limits of our endurance. Sometimes we are left brokenhearted and scavenging for hope in a situation that the world sees as hopeless. But I am convinced that, for the child of God, the end result of all trials, all testings, and all tragedies is the full restoration of all of His promises.

Sometimes this happens in a place the world cannot see, because it happens in our first blinking moments in the beautiful morning of His presence in eternity. And sometimes, before an earthly throng of sceptics and the hopeless, Lazarus comes forth.

But restoration always happens for the child of God. For the wounded soul it can start with words spoken from the Father into the dark night:

“I love you, child.”

Simple words, yes, but they echo through eternity, from a cool garden in the deeps of time to a scourging post and nail-pitted cross, to a tomb newly abandoned, to the uttermost end of all ages. These words signify His very nature, and there is absolutely nothing that can withstand the love of the Father for His beloved.

And the day begins to dawn as hope resurrects.

The Lord has done great things for us. We are glad!

“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten . . . ”

Joel 2:25a (ESV)

Behold, you are beautiful, my love

Behold, you are beautiful, my love;

behold, you are beautiful;

your eyes are doves.

– Song of Solomon 1:15 (ESV)

At about this time of the day, twenty years ago, on a mountainside in New Mexico, I met the love of my life.

When I met her she was laughing.

I will never, ever forget that moment. After almost seventeen years of marriage and four wonderful kids, I love her more now than I ever would have thought possible. I have been blessed so much through this marriage to my best friend.

I love you sweetie. You have captivated my heart, and I fall down that mountain again every time I see you.

“He has delivered us . . . “

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you,

asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will

in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,

so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,

bearing fruit in every good work

and increasing in the knowledge of God.

May you be strengthened with all power,

according to his glorious might,

for all endurance and patience with joy,

giving thanks to the Father,

who has qualified you to share

in the inheritance of the saints in light.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness

and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,

in whom we have redemption,

the forgiveness

of

sins.

– Colossians 1:9-14 (ESV)



Lord – Your love is amazing!

“The goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior”

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.

– Titus 3:3 (ESV)

Yes, I remember those days well. And I don’t claim to be completely out of their grip. The “old man” rears his ugly head often. But I am now free to live, away from the pain and sin of my past described here.

I remember it well.

I was foolish, disbelieving in God, disobedient to Him, led astray by my own faulty judgment and crooked dreams. I was living to stimulate my nerve endings and my passions. I was envying others, I was unhappy, and I entertained terrible thoughts about myself and those around me.

I live in freedom now. But not because of anything I’ve done. I didn’t do a single thing to earn this freedom. I was not freed because I had met anyone’s expectations, or because I had lived up to any standard.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy . . .

– Titus 3:4-5a

It’s easy to picture God as a cruel taskmaster; as a perfect patriarch who is impossible to please. Many Christians (including me) do, at least some of the time. But is He presented in scripture this way? Descriptions of God throughout both Testaments are rife with terms like “loving-kindness”, “mercy”, “loyal love”, “steadfast love”. And that’s what He is. His nature is one rich in mercy, love and kindness toward His fallen creation. I know this because He went to the cross for me, rose again, and has forgiven me and given me His Holy Spirit.

. . . by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

– Titus 3:5b-7

Such grace! Washing and renewal, poured out on us richly! Imagine that! Justified by His grace so that we might become heirs of the King of the universe!

But doesn’t God have a standard? Absolutely. Was I ever able to keep it? Never. Without His loyal love and mercy, I’m without hope. But because of His mercy, I’m free. Free now to be who He’s created me to be, to do the good works I was never able to do before. As Titus 3:8 states:

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

I’m so blessed to be free. Free to pursue the excellent and profitable actions the Lord has ordained for me to do.

May I now, in freedom, do them.