Anyone who wants to do his will can test this teaching and know whether it's from God or whether I'm making it up. (John 7:17)
We have come to a central topic - the renovation of the heart. It is so exciting to think that God has made this new way of life possible through Christ. However, as learned in the previous Parts, we cannot experience a transformation of our hearts without experiencing a transformation of the other four dimensions of our lives - our minds, bodies, social lives, and souls. We also must remember that God is with us, providing insight and power to carry out this awesome work in us.
Prayer: Dear God, we open our hearts to You so we can learn how to renovate them by walking the path revealed in Your Word. We surrender our hearts to Your loving hands and ask You to give us all we need to do this transforming work. We intend to let You renovate our hearts so we can learn to really live.
Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. (Galatians 2:20-21)
God has a vision to renovate our hearts, and when our hearts undergo a divine renovation, our character changes as well. Our character is that internal structure of our self that is revealed by outward patterns of behavior.
For example: Say you have a Christian friend who constantly talks about others. For this reason you stay completely away from this person, not wanting to be in conversation with them. But then this friend gets really sick and ends up in the hospital fighting for their life. You go to visit them and begin to feel really bad for all the times you ignored their company, knowing you should have been a better friend. Your thoughts and feelings toward this person will have to change. This is part of the transformation needed for your mind and heart.
Our heart is the executive center of our life. It's where we choose and make decisions about what we will or will not think or do. Our heart (will or spirit) is what makes us distinct from other living things. It makes us most like God.
Our heart is not the same as our character, but our character reflects the contents of our heart. Our character results from the decisions of our heart - actions that can become habitual and almost automatic in response to life around us. Our character is revealed most of all in what we feel and do without thinking.
We're created by God with a drive in our heart to do good, but this drive has been splintered by sin. So instead of asking, "What good can I bring about?" the question becomes, "How can I get my way?" This happens as an automatic response to certain situations. Our hearts, because of their sinful nature, are full of complexity, deceit, and darkness. Through our relationship with God, all this can be sorted out.
God will not force us to do what is right as freedom of choice is what makes us God's most precious creation. We are free to do what is good or what is destructive to others and ourselves. God valued so highly our freedom to choose that He will preserve this uniqueness at all costs. He loves us so much that instead of taking away our freedom so we'd be sure to obey Him, He paid the ultimate sacrifice. He allowed us the freedom to sin in the Garden of Eden, fully aware that it would cost Him His Son, Jesus, whom He sent to die for us - to redeem our hearts from their fallen state (see Isaiah 53:11-12).
The hidden darkness, duplicity, and deceitfulness of our heart is totally transparent to God and brought straight into His light. Without God we have no hope of a renovation. We must passionately invite Him into our heart. When we truly reach out to God as God, no longer looking to ourselves or others, He will hear and respond with the gift of "life from above." The only hope of a permanent transformation is for us to completely identify our will with God's will. To achieve this, there are some things we have to do.
Pray the Atheist's Prayer - "O God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul." Renovation begins by recognizing our need for God. When we cry out to Him in complete hopelessness to save us from ourselves and from complete destruction, He will hear our humble cries and make His home in us.
Surrender - When we surrender our wills to God, we consent to His supremacy in all things. We may not like this humble acknowledgement of God's supremacy at first, and parts of us may still resist. But at this point in our progress toward the renovation of our hearts, even though we may not be able to do His will, we are willing to will it.
Quote to ponder: "We find the Christian life so difficult because we seek for God's blessing while we live in our own will. We should be glad to live the Christian life according to our own liking."
At his stage of renovation, the center of the self, the heart, lets God be God - even if it's with little hope or enthusiasm. This might not seem like much, but many people are unable to understand the truth of Jesus because they don't trust in God's will (see John 7:17). When people are not willing to trust and obey His will, God does not open their understanding. Of course, they may reproach God for not giving them more light, even though they are unwilling to act on the light they have.
Abandonment - This takes our initial surrender to God's will to the next level. There is no longer any part of us that is held back from God's will. This abandonment includes all the circumstances and relationships of our lives. Complete abandonment doesn't happen all at once, and we often drift back into the need to cry out for God's merciful help in surrendering to Him.
Contentment - As we continue to experience increased abandonment to God's will in all areas of our life, contentment will begin to settle in our heart. We will become content with who God is, acknowledging that God ordains what He wants to and gives us the lot in life that has fallen to us. At this point in our progression toward complete identification with the will of God, a spirit of gratitude and joy becomes the steady tone of our life. We are now assured that God has done and will always to well by us - no matter what.
At this state in the renovation process, we are content with and even excited about our life - the good and the bad. As our confidence in God's will for our life increases, we no longer need to strive so hard to protect or build up our own identity and selfish will at the expense of others.
Participation - With contentment, we can move forward by participating in God's will. We are no longer spectators, but have an essential role. We embrace our imposed circumstances, no matter how tragic they may seem, and we act for the good with a power beyond ourselves. We take action to accomplish the will of God by relying on His power. Our tiny willpower is no longer the source of our strength. It is God's power working through us. While most Christians will not fully realize this full identification of their wills with God's will in this life, our part is to begin the process now as best we can. God wants our hearts' desire to be focused on His will, not entangled and enslaved by habit to our own wills.
Prayer: Oh God, we cry out to You for true renovation that will change everything about us. We thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus Christ, to save us, and we choose to accept Him as Your gift of eternal life and the only way to renovation of our hearts. We will look in Your Word and to Your Spirit for what we need to make this change happen. We will begin today to take the steps we must take to be transformed.
THE MEANS TO TRANSFORM MY HEART
Vision - We have looked at God's vision to transform our heart. The other four dimensions of our selves need transformation as well, but the renovation of our heart is especially crucial as this is the executive center of our life, where all our choices are made. Achieving this vision includes praying the Atheist's Prayer (or something like it), consistently surrendering and abandoning our wills to God, and being content with and actually participating in His will. Do you understand this vision? Do you embrace this vision?
Intention - In order to carry this vision through to where God transforms our heart and identifies our will with His, we've got to intend this transformation - we must choose it. Our hearts may be sluggish, bringing forth duplicity and deceit, making it impossible for us to choose God's ways all the time. All we have to do is make a firm commitment to confess our neediness and surrender our wills. As we proceed in dependence on God, He will help us along the way and give us great vision for the rest.
Means - Let's turn our attention to practical steps we can take to do our part in accomplishing the vision we intend.
Spiritual Discipline - These are disciplines we can practice in our life and in community with others that will facilitate transformation. When we make room for the Word and the Spirit to work in us through these disciplines, our destructive feelings - feelings we may not be conscious of that don't necessarily exhibit themselves in action - are brought to the surface and dealt with for what they are. They are our wills, not God's will. These destructive feelings are typically clothed in layer upon layer of habitual self-deception and rationalizations. Usually, they have enslaved our wills and coerced our minds to conceal or rationalize what is really going on. You'll find your mind will really "talk to you" when you begin to deny fulfillment of your desires.
1 - Solitude - This is exactly what you think it is - spending time alone with God. We intentionally abstain from spending time with others to focus on God alone. Our busyness keeps us from spending time with God. When we are alone, we step out of the noise of life, including the radio and television (ouch!), so the patterns of our lives that move against God's will can be brought to the surface and addressed. As long as we keep moving at a fast pace, we will never take this closer look at our hearts. The practice of solitude helped Jesus - and will help us as well - to cooperate with the Father.
There is no right or wrong way to do this. Find an 'alone with God' place and review your day. Recall actions and conversations and make a note of your responses. Think about the people you ran into during the day and what their needs and issues were. Confess, feel God's forgiveness, and pray for others. Just be silent before God, doing nothing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Sense His peace. Start with five minutes, and after some success at this level, you may want to add to this time by including reading and meditating on Scripture, and maybe journaling. Solitude is an awesome spiritual experience with potentially great results.
2 - Fasting - This discipline has great value. When we abstain from food in some significant way, we discover a lot about ourselves very quickly. This is a practice in which we "starve" ourselves from getting our own way. It will provide spiritual strength that we can draw on as we turn other aspects of our wills over to God's will. Fasting is a tangible way to remind ourselves that our lives are not held together by food alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (see Matthew 4:4). Living out God's will is what gives us health and a solid purpose. Practicing a fast is really an act of self-denial and as we gain experience and success in the self-denial of food, we will find that it helps in denying other desires that seek to move us away from God's will.
The purpose of a fast is to help us focus on Christ, so use the time you'd normally spend eating to seek God. We may skip one meal a week, eat only fruit and vegetables for one week, or consume only water for twenty-four hours. However, when fasting, please use discernment when health issues or medications are a factor.
3 - Worship - This discipline simply gets the focus off of us and onto God and His will. However, worship is not just listening to music but engaging in that music through participation and focus. Worship inspires our hearts and causes us to choose actions aligned with the vision to become like Christ. In worship we are reminded that His ways are always right and always lead to joy, as we reflect on God's involvement in our lives. We thank Him for what is good and bring to Him that which is hard or confusing in our current circumstances, knowing and trusting that He is working it all out for our good. The habitual practice of worship, without question, facilitates the renovation of our hearts.
Practice the discipline of worship by listening and singing along to worship music, journaling prayers of worship to God, and attending a weekly corporate worship service in your church.
4 - Service - This discipline calls us to regularly use our gifts, resources, and time to serve others for their good. The key here is motive - serving others in a tangible way for their own sake. In doing so, we train ourselves away from arrogance, possessiveness, envy, and resentment. God loves this humble act of focusing on others. It helps us discipline ourselves in the surrendering and abandonment of our wills to God's. And, almost without exception, those who give their lives in habitual service to others, particularly to those who can't give anything in return, find great joy and contentment from that service. In this kind of action, God cleanses us from selfishness and gives us a vision for other people.
The possibilities for service are endless: visit a retirement home and develop a relationship with at least one person, and spend time with that person on a regular basis, serve at your local night shelter or mission, or volunteer at your church.
When we pursue a path of clear intention with spiritual disciplines and the grace that accompanies them to illumine our faults and correct us when we fail, a kingdom way of life is not as far away as many would suppose. The duplicities, entanglements, and evil intents that infect our wills can be clarified and eliminated as we keep our eyes on Jesus.
Prayer: Father God, our hearts are where all of our choices are made. We choose You as God of all and Savior of our souls. We choose to accept Your gift of salvation. We choose Your will for our lives, and even though it may be hard, we will take the steps required. We will begin our journey by spending time alone with You, by fasting to build our spiritual muscles, by worshiping You, and by serving others. The path is clear, and we have decided to walk it in Your grace.
Let's review the principles from this Part:
The Vision To Transform My Heart
There are five ways we can identify our wills to God's will:
1. Pray the Atheist's Prayer
2. Surrender to God's will, even though we may not feel like it
3. Abandonment - a full surrender to God's will, knowing that God is working out His good plan in
and through us
4, Contentment - our abandonment to God's will leads to a stage of contentment with our lives
that is expressed in gratitude and joy
5. Participation - content with God's will for our lives, we now give our lives to full participation in
The Means To Transform My Heart
There are four spiritual disciplines we can participate in to transform our hearts:
1. Solitude - being alone with God for long periods of time
2. Fasting - learning freedom from food and other desires
3. Worship - adoration of God
4. Service - doing good for others with no thought of ourselves
Prayer: Lord God, when we embrace Your vision for renovation of our hearts, our focus becomes clearer. We long to move from receiving You into our hearts to surrender, abandonment, contentment, and participation. We will practice the disciplines in our personal renovation plans as the means You've given us for transformation. And our hearts will be renovated!
Next week: Transforming My Body