Our Hidden Hearts

We all have a hidden heart. Much of what we actually trust and feel is unknown to us. This seems weird. Why would this be true? How could we not know what is going on deep inside us? We may think we have great worth because the Bible tells us so. But does our heart trust it’s true when we are treated with disrespect? Or, do we rely on the fact God loves and wants an intimate relationship with us? Then why are we so afraid of many things since experiencing his love drives out fears (1 John 4:18).

Deep within us, we harbor many false beliefs and evil desires which were formed in a sinful world. They don’t go away just because we become Christians. Only God can gradually free us from their power as we do our part.

One of our responsibilities is to seek the Holy Spirit to reveal what is going on deep inside. We can’t know our hearts without his help for they are too messy and deceitful to read accurately. That’s why David asked the Holy Spirit to “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). We need to know what’s in our hearts – the good, the bad, and the ugly – if we want transformation.

Many of us try to be important, adequate and loved in a variety of false ways to avoid having to trust God to meet them as a gift. We would rather earn them. Often we are not aware we are clinging to idols because we have trusted in them for many years to make life work and found some success. Now, God offers us a better way but we aren’t sure we want to take the leap of faith and embrace a whole new set of truths that conflicts with our past. So, we repress the conflict and hang on to the old ways.

We tolerate this hidden world because we don’t know it exists. We have never learned how important it is to assess and face this darken world. Yet, Proverbs 23:4 warns us to “Watch over your hearts with all diligence for from it flows the springs of life.”

We prefer to focus on behavior and knowledge that are easier to control and measure. The deeper things of the heart are easily ignored even though they determine our destiny. Like the Pharisees, we can “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24).

So how do we know and change our hidden hearts? We can’t. Our hearts are too messy, deceitful and evil to clearly understand and change. But the Holy Spirit can.

We can also look at the spiritual fruit in our lives. To what extent are we growing in experiencing peace, joy, and love? We are often deceived by looking at activities and credentials to assess spiritual health rather than the condition of our hearts.

The Holy Spirt must lead the way to close the gap between the condition of our hearts and one which reflects the life of Jesus. He identifies the gaps as we pray for revelation and then closes the gaps when we cooperate with him.

Going to deep places of our  hearts can be painful. There is trauma there and some bad memories and sin we have repressed. We will need courage and a firm belief it’s better to face our sins than to hide and refuse to follow God in developing an intimate love relationship with him. God loves us deeply and will not condemn us for the bad we discover. He knows already and still welcomes our fellowship.

Identifying what we feel can be useful in discovering what our hearts believe. We can ask ourselves, “What do I believe that causes me to feel so devastated for not getting promoted.” We may be shocked to discover what’s there. We may believe our worth is determined by what we achieve and not by being an adopted child of God Almighty. We may know this is false in our heads, but trust it in our hearts.

Let’s not be content with just knowing the Bible. May we also seek to trust it in our hidden hearts. Only then will we be transformed into having the beautiful life of Jesus living through us.

We all have suffered through disappointment from expecting a blessing and then having it taken away. What was that all about, God? Why did you allow me to get my hopes up then close the door?

Recently, I had a dream ministry offered to me to help out in. It has been my passion to see this ministry develop at our church for at least six years. Now, I was being offered an opportunity to assist in developing this ministry in a significant way. But there was no follow-through. No explanation as to why the delay – just silence. The only guidance from God was “Wait patiently” while feeling disappointed, bewildered, and sorrowful. I assumed there was a good reason for no action, but it still left me perplexed.

So why does God allow us to be offered something we have desired for a long time, and then apparently close the door?

Often, we will never know why for sure. It’s not because he is toying with us, for he’s not that way.

It may be to show us we wanted it too much, perhaps at the expense of an intimate relationship with  him. He loves us and will often keep us from receiving anything which will distract us from our relationship.

It may not be the right timing. It may seem right to us and others but God knows if we are ready to receive the blessing now or need to wait patiently for it (Psalm 40). I had to wait five long years before he fulfilled his promise of bringing me a wife if marriage was his choice for me. Looking back, there were many good reasons God closed the door on getting married sooner.

Other times, he may be teaching us obedience, even when we don’t understand. “Do it because you trust Me,” he says to us in Proverbs 3:5-6. God treats us as his children in gently teaching us to obey even when we don’t comprehend why. He wants us to know that sometimes we wouldn’t understand if he did explain.

Closed doors are always God’s doing. He either causes the door to close or allows it. “He rules over everything” (Psalm 103:19, NLT). We may rail against the person God uses to close the door, but ultimately our business is with God. I can trust God’s dealings with me a lot easier than people’s anyway.

Thus, we can say, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, NLT). We can turn away from such thoughts as, God, you closed the door on my dream job. You are robbing me of fulfilling my passion.We may feel like a fool thanking him for the closed door but it helps to remember he loves us more than we can imagine. Paul expresses this in Ephesians 3:18:

“And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of his love and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”

God greatly loves and delights in us. We belong to him. We are his possession. We exist for him and his purposes. Many times, our desires are his desires. But not always and when they’re not, when he closes a door, we are to pray as Jesus did when he said to God, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42,NLT).

 

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We may think, I don’t have distorted thinking. I’m rational. My thinking is biblical. But is it?

We should not be surprised if some of our thoughts are distorted, exaggerated, or based upon lies. This is because we live in a world dominated by Satan and his deceitful influences.  “The world around us is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19. NLT).

Distorted thinking is what occurs in our hearts. It’s not necessarily what we think in our heads. “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7, KJV). 

Satan has planted many lies in our hearts which will result in distorted thinking. We tend to stubbornly cling to these false beliefs even after becoming a Christian and learning the truth. Only by working hard with Jesus can reality proceed from our heads to our hearts. Then, our thinking becomes more rational as God transforms our hearts.

As we work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12) with Jesus, we begin to let go of false beliefs, such as people can rob us our dignity. Instead, we learn to trust we are precious to God, no matter how much human rejection we have to bear.

I have little problem knowing the thoughts of my head, but can be fooled about the beliefs of my heart. The thoughts of my head are usually rational, but the thinking of my heart is often distorted. Jeremiah warns us about the dangers of our hearts. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB).

How can we discover what our hearts are trusting in to make sure it’s truth, and allowing the Holy Spirit to change us if necessary?

One way that has been useful to me is to experience my feelings about various circumstances. I focus on situations which seem particularly emotional, knowing feelings are tied closely to my heart. In experiencing my emotions, I ask God to help me discern what thoughts are triggering these feelings. If not consistent with God’s perspective, they are brought to the Lord for change. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, ….as the heavens are higher than the earth, are My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV).

Another practice to be more rational has been to focus on an upsetting event and list the negative feelings tied to it. Then, I write down my automatic thoughts associated with the event. These would be thoughts like I will never get rid of this; This should not be; and No good will come from this. I then analyze the thoughts for different types of distorted thinking. These types include All or Nothing Reasoning, Ignoring the Positive, and Predicting a Negative Outcome without Facts. The last action is rewriting the thoughts eliminating the distorted thinking. For a full description of this practice, read The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns, M.D.

Overcoming faulty thinking that keeps us from reaching our full potential is part of the growth process Paul describes in Ephesians 4:22-24. It is putting off the old and putting on the new. We can’t be lazy and tolerate being dominated by distorted thinking if we are to become the people God created us to be. May we allow God to transformed us by the Holy Spirit to think like Jesus in all of life’s circumstances.

 

Power to Live

Many of us act like we believe the Christian life can be lived by human effort. We don’t pray much and don’t takes risks that require God’s help. But living the Christian life is supernatural.

I used to lead small groups by relying on my skills as a facilitator. But I now realize for the time to transform lives the Holy Spirit must be free to work. He can be hindered by relying on myself instead of his presence.

For years, my wife complained she didn’t feel I loved her deeply. This led me to try harder. But it wasn’t enough. Finally, I gave up trying and committed  the problem to God to enable me to rely on his power to love her – and it worked. She feels more loved today than she ever has.

Often we are exhorted not to ask why we are the way we are. The reason is  we are complex and often can’t figure out what the twisted motives of our hearts are. “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”(Jeremiah 17:9, NLT). But the Holy Spirit knows our hearts and will often reveal them to us if we ask. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24, NLT).

We need the Holy Spirit to free us from the lies and bad habits that continually block us from embracing the fulfilling life God offers us. We don’t have to keep striving to be safe, loved, and important. We already are.

The Holy Spirit helps us when we give him control. This is scary because many of us can only trust ourselves to protect us. How do we know God can be trusted? We may think,  He has allowed many hurtful things to happen to me in the past., how can I rely on his protection this time?

When I was twenty-six, I gave up trying to find a wife. I had dated extensively for six years and was frustrated because I couldn’t find a person I wanted to marry. So, I gave the problem to God. After a five-year wait, he finally brought her into my life. After forty-one years of marriage, I am convinced a better pick couldn’t have been made.

We get his help through trust. “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17, ESV). Knowing the Bible is good. Obeying the Bible is better. But unless we have the courage to trust the God in the Bible, we will never live a supernatural life.

He tells us that we are important without achievement. He loves us regardless of how we perform. He comforts us by assuring us we are safe in spite of living in a dangerous world. But unless we rely on these life-giving truths, we will continue to be a slave to performance, pleasing people, and worrying about life.

The Holy Spirit can help us to trust in these truths and be transformed. May we escape being described as “they will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (2 Timothy 3:5, NLT). May our lives have supernatural power as we rely on the Holy Spirit to help us think, feel, and do as Jesus would.

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine living in the presence of someone who is very strong, but is head-over-heels in love with you.

Picture someone whose smile slowly melts away your fears and tensions, for “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18, NAS). Imagine someone who is always there for you, but gives you space when you need it.

Visualize someone who will never reject you no matter how weak and unbelieving you are, for he says, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, NAS). Picture someone who enjoys being with you and delights in who you actually are.

Such is the love God has for us, his children. There are no strings attached. He gives love as a gift. It is too good to be true, yet it is true. We can do nothing to cause God to stop loving us, and we can do nothing to cause him to love us more, for it is already “as high as the heavens are above the earth” (Psalm 103:11, NAS).

Even though he knows our every weakness and sin, he still loves us. His love comes from who he is, not our performance. He wants us to rest in his love, and let him satisfy our needs for worth, safety, and acceptance. He doesn’t want us to keep striving to earn what he has freely given us.

But it will take work to enter this rest as he says to us, “Be diligent to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11, NAS). We have considerable distorted thinking and believing to overcome.

I have often considered this kind of love as too good to be true and  have largely tried to earn it by pleasing others. In recent years, I have grown more aware of his loving interventions in my daily life.

God wants us to live in this reality of his intimate love for us. He wants us to soak in it and be transformed by it. “Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18, paraphrased). He yearns to transform our lives from striving to be loved, to resting in the glory of being his beloved children.

Imagine how different our lives could be to live more fully in the reality of God’s love for us. Our striving to be approved of would be gone. Our fears would melt away. Our pessimism about the future would change to eager anticipation for his good things.

Comprehending God’s immense love for us is supernatural. Paul prayed we would comprehend the extent of his love for us in Ephesians 3:17-19. Let’s meditate on and pray over the many passages of scripture that describe his love for us, including John 3:16, Romans 8:37-39, and 1 John 3:1. May God then enable us to experience a deeper awareness of his great love.

 

 

Are you a perfectionist? Being deliberately bad at a number of things fooled me into thinking I wasn’t. But that was only so I could have the energy to be a perfectionist at what was important to me.

Things like my spiritual maturity, being a husband and father, and my ministry have been the focus with some success. But it’s never enough. Being a good father seemed to morph into being a perfect one. Being productive in ministry increased to being even more fruitful. Good was not good enough.

When I graduated from seminary eight years ago I envisioned myself as a Movement leader. Unless God used me to turn the hearts and minds of hundreds or even thousands toward the deeper spiritual walk I had experienced in seminary, I was falling short. This was perfectionism in action.

I am slowly learning to be content with fulfilling the roles that God has assigned for me, even if it feels like a third of a loaf instead of a whole one. Each new project is now carefully evaluated  to insure it comes from God. Seeking to be perfect in my eyes is a waste of time because it is unnecessary, for God has already said to each of us, “You are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4, NLT). By accomplishing more, we will never be valued or loved more than we are today.

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Many of us are taught to aim high and if we fall short, we still have accomplished a lot. But failure can cause discontent and the fear of trying. Several times in my career I have accepted jobs that were over-my-head and suffered the pain of failure. It helps us to remember our importance does not depend on how impressive the job we hold is to us or others but on it being God’s assignment.

I recently decided to stay involved in a ministry that was only doing a fraction of what I hoped it’s impact would be some day. I wanted to accomplish a fuller impact sooner. But God usually doesn’t work that way. It’s “little by little” and “step by step. ”A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies has no sense” (Proverbs 12:11, NLT). Let us lay aside our fantasies and follow God in pursuit of his ministry.

Ninety-two percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. Perfectionism often drives us to make unrealistic goals and when we fail, we give up. We never think of  cutting our goals in half.

Let us be content with who we are and what we do. After trusting God for his power and doing our best, may we rest in who we are to God. We need to let go of trying to earn importance and approval from God and others by being perfect.

We are already important and approved of by him. We have a perfect standing with him. Let’s look forward to the day in heaven when our performance will be perfect as well. In the meantime, we are still important, accepted, and loved by God, despite being imperfect.

 

 

We all suffer. It’s amazing the variety of ways we do. Backaches, heartbreaks, and pressures to perform are common sources of our pain.

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Suffering is made easier when it has meaning. Most of my periods of pain as adult do have meaning. I can look back and see some of what God was doing in the situations. However, I still struggle to understand what God was doing through my difficult childhood. But that’s okay. I accept there were reasons the suffering took place.

Sometimes others don’t seem to be struggling that much. But my confidence is God has worked together  difficulties to make me more like himself in ways that would never have happened in easier times.

If we are Christians, we know God loves and watches over us. Yet, we suffer. How do we explain that? There are a number of possibilities. God is a loving father and disciplines us so we will grow more like him. This process often is painful as he allows us to suffer the consequences of failing to live life his way.

Pain comes because we live in a fallen world. How could it be otherwise? We can’t expect this to be a “heaven on earth” experience when our world is in rebellion against God.

He allows suffering so we can experience his comfort and encouragement. This develops our dependence on him and deepens our intimacy. Pain makes us desperate and more inclined to throw ourselves on his mercy, otherwise, we prefer to rely on ourselves. But it’s in our struggles we recognize our weakness and grow strong in the Lord. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

The difficulties encourage me to look forward to heaven where there will be no pain. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4, NLT).As long as we are here, we are promised trouble (Job 5:7).

Regardless of the good reasons to suffer, I don’t like it. Many times, my choice would be comfort over difficult growth.

How do we please the Lord in our pain? What does godliness look like?

Joseph was shipped off to a foreign land as a slave by his jealous brothers. He was put into prison when he was falsely accused of wrong-doing. Yet, he served his masters well, saw God in his circumstances and did not become bitter by his harsh treatment. He saw God’s good purposes in his circumstances. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good” (Genesis 50:20, NLT). Like Joseph, we need to develop God’s perspective on pain by applying scripture to our suffering.

We may feel God doesn’t love us much when we are going through hard times. But he does. Pain can deceive us. God promises us that hard times will never mean he has stopped loving us (1 Peter 5:10).

Several years ago, I went through a period of intense chronic pain. I was confused and didn’t know what to do. In my darkness, I focused on doing the responsible thing in God’s eyes, regardless of the pain. This helped me to face my fears instead of running from them. I learned avoiding trials was not always the responsible thing to do. The commitment to do the responsible thing despite pain was the light God used to lead me out of the darkness.

May God give us his perspective on pain- it’s for a purpose, it’s for our good, and he will help us through it. Let’s give thanks for what he is doing through our suffering today.