And I will give you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36: 26

 

Hopelessness can be an easy place to get to. Yet, it is a very hard place to be. It is a condition of the heart and the mind that can also become our total state of being. Even when it is connected to some specific area or aspect of life, this loss of faith in the possibility of healing and personal surrender to the inevitable failure of restoration tends to dominate our perception of life. However, even in these most difficult of times in our lives, God is present, and He is totally aware of our condition and desires to provide answers. When God seems so distant and His voice is silent, this is usually the result of our unreadiness or unwillingness to turn fully to Him and to listen carefully to His voice and to accept what He says.

 

God’s promise to restore and to heal is not dependant upon our state of mind or our actions. He is faithful to His word, and God desires to walk through each and every aspect of our lives in intimate relationship with us. The Lord will never depart from us, but He will not force us to turn to Him until we are ready to allow Him to work within our hearts. This is the point in our day where we have a decision to make. Do we want to continue to go through life carrying around the weight of a heart that is hardened into stone or are we willing to face the pain and the hard work of allowing God to transplant His new heart of living flesh into us? It seems to me that the only rational answer is to admit that we are so worn out by going through the things that we are dealing with without the wisdom, strength, and encouragement of the Spirit of Christ that we are willing to endure any momentary pain that is needed in order to gain His promised change.

 

Although it may seem frightening at first, one of the ways that we can begin this transplant process involves opening up of our inner selves to God’s searching and revealing. As you enter into a time of meditation and prayer, ask God to reveal Himself and His presence to you. Ask that He would show you how and where He is truly engaged in your daily life. Allow the Spirit to show you the ways that you are closing yourself off from God’s desired transformative work in your attitudes, thinking, and actions. As you do this, consider how that, despite God’s total presence, your life is not one in which Christ is evident and the fruit of His Spirit is not flowing from you. These areas of hardness of heart, of sin, are aspects of yourself that should be laid upon the altar of Christ and confessed to Him. Now you can fully accept Christ’s grace and forgiveness and set out on the new course that God has revealed to you. In the light of Christ’s mercy and grace hope is restored and true living is found.

 

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Yet even now, declares the Lord,

return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

and rend your hearts and not your garments.

Joel 2: 12

 

God is not very demanding in what He asks from His people. The Lord simply wants all of us. He wants the portion of our lives that is dedicated to serving Him to be counted as every hour that we draw breath. God desires that this absolute commitment would be driven by the complete surrender of our hearts to His loving grace. The Lord asks His followers to be all-in all of the time with nothing held back and no reserve.

 

Jesus became God’s perfect demonstration of this when He lived among us as one of us. Christ held nothing back as He followed the Father’s will in everything. His heart was surrendered to God’s will, and God’s love, mercy, and grace poured out of Christ onto the people that He touched. Then He commanded those of us who know Him to go out into our world and to do the same and to do it out of the same motivation. We are to give our lives to Christ as that living sacrifice that Jesus fully embodied.

 

Surrender that is this profound and that empties us of all that we have been requires determination, focus, and an attitude of humility on our parts. It generally occurs at a time when our spirits are broken of our drive to control and to manage our lives. Deep surrender is always an act of worship, and God accepts it and responds to it in that same reverential manner. Our Lord cares for us with all of His great and mighty being. God enters into all aspects of our lives with this same totality of engagement. As we respond to Him with open hands, humble hearts, and confession on our lips; Christ pours Himself into us and His Spirit provides all of the love and the strength that we will need to live today as a person whose heart is fully committed to serving the Lord.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12: 28, 29

 

God does want us to express our gratitude to Him. Yet, He is very different from most of the people that we have known in the way that He would like for us to do this. A nice, hand-written note or even expensive and carefully arranged flowers are meaningless to God. Words of thanksgiving and even those of praise fall far short of bringing joy to God’s heart if they are all we have to offer. Throughout history God has wanted and sought after much more from His people. God seeks our actions before our words, and He desires our hearts before our minds.

 

On view in the verses around these in Hebrews is God’s engagement with Moses and the Israelites during the period of the exodus and also a picture of God’s restorative promise for the time of Christ’s return. The author’s point is that God is unchanging in His engagement with humanity and unyielding in what He desires from us. God desires for people to be committed, surrendered, and submitted totally to Him. We are to bow down our prideful hearts before our Lord in absolute awe at His majesty and grace. Yet, we are also to stand boldly before the world as we proclaim the risen Christ as King and Lord over all.

 

So what is acceptable worship? It is something that is expressed as a liturgy of life. By this I mean that the sort of worship that delights God is spoken by the actions of our days. It is defined in justice granted to all and by grace extended to the least deserving. Worship happens when we grant kindness to our world and as we humbly accept it. God is delighted when we confess our wrongs to Him and to those we have harmed, and He is joyous as we turn from our sinfulness and grant His Spirit access to our darkest recesses so that God’s righteous fire of truth can purify and restore our hearts. Worship is a life lived in active submission to God’s will, and this is a life that is highly acceptable to God.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Philippians 4: 23

 

Here is a blessing that cuts to the very heart of our ability and our capacity to live with the peace, joy, strength, and purpose that God desires for each of His children. Although we may understand grace as that uniquely God given gift of His love and forgiveness that comes our way despite our total lack of merit, most of us don’t do such a good job of taking in that grace so that it resides deep within us and acts as a continual agent for transformative change in our hearts and minds. Yet, that is God’s real intent when He grants His grace to us.

 

When I realize that no matter how big a mess I make of my life, how far I wander from God’s righteousness, and how difficult I am to love that my Lord will remain faithful to His promise to never leave me, I am, at first, humbled; then, His Spirit works within me to start to change the ways that I think and act so that I am made more like the God-image bearer that I was created to be. As grace works in and on us, we should begin to see that it also cries out to be shared with the world around us. The Spirit of Christ filling our spirits with His love and grace should be leading us to need to pour out this same grace upon our families, friends, neighbors, and communities.

 

The transformation that receiving grace can accomplish in our own lives can also be the force that brings about true change in our world. Grace needs to be taken in deeply, but it should never be held onto as if it is a finite and irreplaceable commodity. Instead, we should make it the filter through which we view the rest of our world. Then grace can become the way that we connect with others in a way that brings the living Christ into their lives.

 

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me;

Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.

Jonah 2: 1

 

Let’s start with the premise that no one and no situation is beyond redemption. Most Christians would say that this is true. Yet, based upon our words and actions, we don’t seem to really believe it. Jonah’s situation was based upon a sort of double portion of doubt and desperation. He doubted that God’s sending of him to Nineveh was going to serve any good purpose. In fact, he thought that going there would result in nothing more than his own injury and death. Now, as Jonah cries out to the Lord from inside of the big fish’s belly, he was certain that death was the best outcome that he could anticipate. Still, if we examine this story well, isn’t the fish actually an agent of literal salvation? Without God’s appointed fish Jonah would have been drowned. Now, inside of that same fish, he had been alive for three days longer than he deserved.

 

As an aside, there is absolutely nothing normal about the story of Jonah. This entire book is strange, unbelievable, and even otherworldly; and that might be the main point. God’s view of this world is quite different from ours. His approach to things can take us along paths that we would never have selected for ourselves. The Lord is rather singular in His purposes, and I admit that my view of things tends to become divergent from His. This is especially true when the Lord’s desire is for me to say or do something, or go somewhere that I believe to be threatening or that makes me feel uncomfortable. This was Jonah’s problem. God desires that all people would come to know Him in the deepest way possible and that He, in the person of Christ, would rule all of Creation. As we people were given temporary control and management of this world by God, if Christ is to rule it in these in between times, we need to allow Him to rule in our lives.

 

Essentially this is what Jonah was sent to proclaim to the people of Nineveh. He was sent to the most unrepentantly sinful place on earth to speak the truth of God’s righteousness to them in order to grant them the opportunity to surrender to the Lord of their salvation. Jonah was sent to speak the painful truths that could, if accepted and followed, set these people free from the death grip of sin. God knew what Jonah feared. God sent him to care for and to love those people who Jonah despised in order to bring those Ninevites into the presence of the Holy King and to bring Jonah to his knees in humble submission to and total trust of His King. All of us who live in this world can identify Nineveh in our midst. It seems to me that God might be doing with us exactly what He did with Jonah. Christ is sending His people into those fearful places in order that his love, grace, mercy, and truth would be proclaimed. The Lord wants us to set aside our concerns and reluctance and allow His heart of salvation and redemption to speak of His glory through our mouths into the lostness of our world. As I said at the beginning, in Christ’s view there is no one and no situation that is beyond His redemption.

Thus says the Lord:

“This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

Isaiah 66: 2b

 

There is an unending dialogue that takes place inside of my own mind. This sort of self conversation happens on a rather continual basis, and it revolves around the tension that exists between my own skills and competency and my deep-seated insecurities. On the one hand I am drawn toward the strengths that God has allowed me to gain, but on the other stands insecurity, doubt and fear. The human tendency in these situations is to either charge ahead trusting my own abilities or it is to shrink away from the task at hand doing nothing. Neither of these approaches guarantees the best of outcomes.

 

As I look at this functional conflict in life, I am faced with another practical dichotomy. It is true to state that the Lord equips and empowers us with what we need to face all that life brings our way. It is also true that God desires for us to continually and fully recognize and be submissive to our total neediness, to our complete reliance upon Him. We are fully equipped, capable and confident; yet, we are absolutely incapable of living righteously on our own. The solution to this quandary is found in the fact that God did not create us to be on our own. He desires for people to be involved with Him in a loving and a totally committed relationship. The Lord possesses great gifts that He desires to grant to us as we seek His face and submit to His will.

 

Perhaps the key to living in a righteously bold manner is found in the resolution of this tension. People need to contemplate and to recognize the many ways that God has gifted us with the blessing of all that we require to follow His will in this life. However, we must also remain completely submitted to that will and to God’s word. True submission is not something to be taken lightly or to be assumed. It is contrary to much of what we are taught and to the way that our culture operates. It is certainly not the language of our public discourse. Yet, in fact, real strength and lasting confidence are based upon an attitude in which we yield our hearts and minds to God in humble submission and recognition of our complete brokenness. As I come before the King with my hands trembling in recognition of my inadequacy in relation to His glory, my Lord takes hold of them, steadies me, and goes forward with me into life.