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October 20, 2015, 12:00 AM

A Matter of the Heart

One of the latest Tuesday night small groups we had was held at Evan and Jenna's house, which is our neighboring house. We had a great time of laughing and talking about struggles we had concerning patience, the lesson of the evening. We prayed and talked together for another hour afterwards. My mind felt like it was in the right place. I was leaving their house encouraged that night with a good frame of mind and a true desire and determination to love on people in my life through patience. I had even wrote about having patience in one of my previous articles for the newsletter. It was a subject that had been on my heart even before that Tuesday night lesson. As I crossed our adjoining lawns to my doorway in the warm evening, I felt good about my life. I stepped through the doorway of our house, and without a thought, without realizing the change in my spirit, I instantaneously found something to be irritable with Shane about. It obviously was not a huge faux pas on Shane's part, because as I'm thinking in this moment, I cannot remember what happened to provoke such an embarrassing display of my impatience. A fellow believer could try to comfort me with various thoughts: "Satan is a manipulative person. He knows just how to make us stumble." "A person cannot change overnight. It takes failure, pain, and practice to remove sinful habits from our lives." Although these things may be true, I was so disgusted with myself. No, I didn't just murder someone, but it was a single seemingly minor habit in my life I was trying to reform and I couldn't. Even in the immediate moments before my first opportunity to be patient, I felt confident in myself. I felt like patience was something I could do - at least with the smaller irritants in life. But I stumbled upon my first step. Why is that? I can tell you. A few things have spoken to me in these past couple of weeks.


I am reading a great book called Fresh Faith by Jim Cymbala. The introductory paragraph to the third chapter answered it for me directly: "When most of us think about how we are doing spiritually, we think about surface things. We zero in on behavior patterns, such as have we been gossipping, have we been staying true to our marriage, have we been reading our Bibles, have we been tithing? We concentrate on outward works while forgetting that they are simply the fruit of a deeper spiritual factor." I may desire to change something with all my mind and heart and even pray, pleading with God, to help me, but as soon as I say "amen" or walk across the yard from a Bible study, I default to [Cheryl] will accomplish this. Without realizing it, I try to change the behaviors in my life with my own human will-power and efforts. And it just doesn't work! The Bible says even our best behavior in comparison to His holiness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). And my best isn't very good! So as Cymbala (and Galations 5) said, these behaviors are fruits, products of healthy spiritual roots beneath the surface, which comes from abiding in God's Spirit and being convinced of the secure identity Christ has given you. He will produce patience in you from the inside out or from the soil up. I was striving to force the fruit of patience to grow without obtaining it through time with the Spirit. I am involved in church activities, hearing his Word, and listening to Christian music all week long. But the busyness of life - work, our one-year old, bills, text messages, letting the dog out, cleaning the house, ministry - presents more than enough distractions to keep me from genuinely spending intimate time with my Father. And it'll show ... in this instance, through my impatience. Luke 6:45b reminds us that our works come from the inside out: " For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."


One of my favorite scriptures is I Corinthians 2:11, which says: "No one can know a person's thoughts except that person's own spirit, and no one can know God's thoughts except God's own Spirit." We are so privileged to have God's Spirit accessible to us so we can know his thoughts and understand Him to new depths. The word know in the Bible has a slightly different meaning than just "the knowledge of or about" that we use the word for in English. In Hebrew interpretation, it meant even deeper knowledge, as to understand or to experience. Most of us have heard what it means when a man in the Bible "knew" a woman. It was an intimate encounter, not that they were Facebook friends! In the same way, to know God's Spirit we must take advantage of the fact that He is inside of our hearts, those of us who have accepted Him. If we want to understand how He feels about things and to have his qualities rub off on us, we need to experience Him and be completed by His love. When we sin, it often derives from trying to meet our own emotional/spiritual needs with things of this world. The only thing on this earth that will complete us is His refreshing love on a daily basis. You may think that the humbling come-to-Jesus meeting from last week will spill over into the closeness you feel with God this week, but it won't. You are saved permanently once you've made that decision, but transforming yourself, going further on your walk with the Lord, will require a daily surrendering. When you put so much effort in disciplining your thoughts and trying to correct your own behavior only to fail time after time, it is discouraging. And this world, these sins, that you are supposed to be freed from, feel like chains that may never be broken. You may be free in the book at Heaven's gates, but here in Satan's domain you feel chained and defeated to habits that haven't changed since you gave your life to Christ. Living in freedom from chains means knowing His Spirit on a daily basis. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 says, "For the Lord is the Spirit and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom... And the Lord - who is the Spirit - makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image." So we can change...through Him.


This isn't a struggle that is new to mankind. Paul expressed the same frustrations in Romans 7, "And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can't... I love God's law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind." But all throughout the Bible we are encouraged that hope is not lost! Ephesians 3 says, "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us." The chains of even lifelong habits can be released, but it has to be His Spirit "the power" working in us. Failure hurts. And even if this week you do well, next week you may allow yourself to not "abide in His vine" (John 15:5) and you will be weaker and fail. But instead of letting it destroy you and cause you to give up entirely, use failure and weakness to drive you to reach to the One who can change you. In the past several months, I have gained a considerable amount of weight since our son Atticus was eight months old. There are days I have been so mad that it has gotten this out of control. But a few months ago, I realized I was going to need some supplementary help to get me up and moving. I was failing miserably left to my own efforts. If I would've been thin and had my clothes still fit, I am almost positive I would've been content with not exercising, even though I always had before. My day was busy enough after all! It has taken an embarrassing failure to motivate me to reach out for help - through my sister-in-law and a gym. Now I enjoy exercising every day. In the same way, use your failures, the things in your life that have gotten out of control or that you're embarrassed of, to realize you need to allow a big God to help you. A well-behaved polite person may not realize their need to depend on God just as a skinny girl isn't motivated to diet and exercise (at least this one wouldn't). But a hot-tempered chunky girl knows the need!


If you are struggling to remove bad habits from your life, take a moment to evaluate yourself. How are your spiritual roots? You can sit under great teaching and moving lyrics, but a callused heart will remain unchanged. You may even think you're going about it the right way, but you haven't spent the personal time with the Lord that you need. Don't just intellectually think about Him. Don't just mechanically pray to Him. Open your heart to Him. Dwell on the nature of who He is and the unfathomable depth of His love for you. I love this quote Shane shared on a Sunday morning from the book A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson:

"It is wonderful to revel in the love of God. Truly to experience that love, to live in the warmth of its glow, invests all of life with new meaning and purpose... Forgiving others becomes almost natural, because we ourselves, thanks to God's immeasurably rich love, have been forgiven so much. Others may despise us, but that makes little difference if God loves us... Our speech, our thoughts, our actions, our reactions, our relationships, our goals, our values - all are transformed if only we live in the self-conscious enjoyment of God's love."

That says it all.

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