The Training Table: The Heart of the Matter…

Story of the Stone graphicWelcome to the Training Table where you can depend on some spiritually-nourishing sustenance, carefully prepared, to help you run the Godly and good race! For what good is a good race, unless it’s a Godly race (1 Corinthians 9:24)?

This feast of the heart for running the good race (2 Timothy 4:7) consists of an excerpt from my book, The Weeping, the Window and the Way. The reason I’ve selected this particular piece from my book is this:

There is lots and lots of chaos going on in the world today. And it all boils down to one main thing: The heart of the mater is a matter of the heart. AND it’s far more complicated than ANY explanation you or I will find via the normal forms of media… Even in the more sophisticated, nuanced, or sources that tout offering a “deeper analysis”. And yes, even in the majority of churches which rarely drill down to the deeper realms of reality.

I’ll repeat this again to make sure you get this down: Unless any human being [or couple, community, society, culture, or civilization of human beings] begins afresh like God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of the Bible has offered us 1) spiritually, 2) emotionally, 3) psychologically, and 4) physically, we WILL approach any challenge in life on an incredibly and foolishly simplistic or reductionistic [reducing a very complex problem to one or two solutions] level. Ergo, the problems of life will not just stay unresolved, but will [axiomatically] get far, far worse!

From W.W.W.: The Spirit as the Supernatural Heart-Changer: Deconstructing and Reconstructing

“Most renovations begin with a process of tearing down the old so that the new can emerge. One can’t happen without the other. God intends to use the deconstruction of our hearts caused by suffering [and chaos] as the first phase in His deconstructing and reconstructing… the renovation… of our hearts.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

The degree of deconstruction is usually proportional to the intensity of our suffering and the level of denial we might live in at the time. The daily woes and speed-bumps of life may make only a slight impact on our hardened hearts, but events as sudden and shocking as the death of a family member can shatter a person’s heart. Suffering like this can mark the first phase or the continuation of God’s renovation process.

We cannot insist on maintaining the compartmentalization of our hearts if we want to mature in our faith relationship with God. It is impossible to keep the compartments of our hearts intact while, on the other hand, having a desire to become more like Jesus Christ. In times of deep fear and pain like the one I experienced with the suicide of my dad, the first sensation of a frightening freefall marks our sudden heartbreak. We remain sinfully focused on two things: pride and maintaining control.

Why do I say pride? If we were to release our hearts completely to the saving lordship of Jesus Christ, we could no longer look down on other people in their differences and vulnerabilities. Pride keeps us from seeing our sin and depending on the one who saved us from it. Why do I say maintaining control? If we were to release our hearts completely to Jesus’ saving lordship, it would also mean giving up the right to direct our own lives. Instead, we would relinquish it to Christ and thrive in the freedom of obedience to Him. To hearts that are suspicious of God’s motives and methods, this feels downright… and ironically… suicidal! But this is exactly what the Bible commands. We must die to self in order to fully live for Christ (Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21).

A Basic Necessity of Warfare: Know Your Enemy

Even for the born-again, supernaturally changed Christian, the devil seeks to tempt us into sin. Sin is the enemy of the heart.

There was a time about fifteen years ago when I prayed ardently that our Lord would grow me in His way, in His truth, and His life. I prayed that He would give me the gift of His wisdom and obedience so that I could love and serve him more fully. Ironically enough, within one week I received the answer: an opportunity to participate in an in-depth study of sin and of my own heart. I spent nearly six months in the study of Romans 1:18-32, the text I now consider the grandest passage in all of Scripture dealing with sin and the consequences of our separation from God.

Two essential lessons from that study were a basic definition of what sin really is and the way it manifests itself in human hearts. Let me personalize that definition from verse 18: My sin suppresses the truth of who God is. In pride, I demand the right to control my life in every way. At the end of the day, in the very heart of my heart, I hate God.

That truth was not easy to take, but it was the medicine for my heart for which I had prayed. That’s what Adam did. That is what I do. That’s what all of humankind does as a direct result of our sin-filled hearts: Inherited Sin, and habitual, everyday sinning, makes the heart thoroughly depraved. That’s the condition from which Christ came to redeem us.

We live in a culture of misguided self-centeredness. The world seeks to improve itself by intensifying the focus on education, improving social engineering, and emphasizing family values, all through conservative and liberal approaches alike. All these avoid getting to the heart of the matter and are, at best, half-measures. At worst, they bury the root cause of our problems until we become unrecognizable to ourselves.

Praise God… Praise God I saw both extremes of my true existence:

a) I was far more sinful than I ever dared to imagine and yet, and yet,
b) I was loved far more deeply than I could have ever dared hope for.

God did answer my prayer, but not at all in the way I could have or would have expected. The deeper understanding of sin’s destructive power helped prepare me for that snowy night in my dad’s garden kneeling over his body. I had the amazing benefit of having a heart re-made by the Word of God. That night with Dad crushed my heart, but… and this is a big but… it opened it still further to God in amazing and miraculous ways.

The Holy Spirit has used all of this and more to give me “a heart for the heart of the heart” as God places me in the midst of other broken hearts to minister to. Like all surgery performed on the physical body, the work of the Spirit in our hearts hurts, but it also heals.

Praise the Spirit, He is a supernatural heart surgeon beyond compare! You can trust him completely, with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Once dead in sin, now alive by the Holy Spirit you can choose to live as God intended, no longer harboring idols in your heart, mis-prioritizing your affections, and restrained by your heart’s misplaced priorities. You can be free to live in accordance with God’s perfect and intimate love for you and His plan for your life.

The answer must be some-one, not just something. For the problem suffering is about someone (“God—why does He . . . why doesn’t He . . .?”) rather than just some-thing. To question God’s goodness is not just an intellectual experiment. It is either rebellion or weeping. It is a little child with tears in its eyes looking up at Daddy and weeping, “Why?” This is not merely the philosophers’ “why?” Not only does it add the emotion of tears but also it is asked in the context of relationship. It is a question put to the Father, not a question asked in a vacuum.

The hurt child needs not so much explanations as reassurances. And that is what we get: the reassurance of the Father in the person of Jesus Christ, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

The answer is not just a word… but The Word; not an idea but a person.
(Peter Kreeft, What is God’s Answer to Human Suffering?)

Now let’s take a closer look at another vital aspect of how God has designed you to glorify him and to bless others.

Going Deeper . . .

If you would like to go deeper in your study of the fallen human heart and the ways in which our emotions serve as a key indicator concerning the state of the heart, I recommend these five resources to help you along:

1. The Book of Psalms.
At no other place in the Bible does God speak more clearly to the intensity and range of human emotions than here. Psalms expresses the gamut of our affections, thereby freeing our anger, sadness, surprise, perplexity, disillusionment, outrage, and delight by standing unashamed and adopted before God who loves us. Praying the Psalms opens our hearts to our heavenly Father for His help and healing. Further, the Psalms encourage us to work through our emotions with honesty and persistence. By doing this, the Holy Spirit will produce in us a whole-hearted allegiance to God, a deeper love for our neighbor, and a fuller submission to our Lord’s good and gracious reign. The Book of Psalms denies no emotion from us, or from God himself. The psalmists open their hearts fully to God so that we might open our own hearts to God in the same way.

2. Allender, D.B., & Longman, T. The Cry Of The Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. 1994.
As the Forward to this book points out, “Rather than explaining our emotions in order to help us gain control over them, Drs. Allender and Longman take us into new country. Their central idea . . . is that our emotional life, including those emotions we shouldn’t feel, forms a window that lets us see deep into the heart of God. Their rather surprising suggestion is that we explore our emotions not to get rid of the bad ones and replace them with good ones but rather to know God more fully” (p. 10; emphasis added). The Cry of the Soul explores in depth how our emotions must inescapably reflect God’s true and rightful place within our hearts, because that’s how we’re designed to really LIVE!

3. Colbert, D. Deadly Emotions: Understand The Mind-Body-Spirit Connection That Can Heal Or Destroy You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2003.
Colbert, a medical doctor, shows the connection between the truths to which our hearts cling, and how our emotions, our spirituality, and our mental and physical selves are inextricably intertwined. He outlines these connections in ways that are scientifically verifiable, deeply convicting, and also commonsensical.

Colbert asserts that we begin to heal only when we see, accept, and reconnect the dots in ways that lead to truth and hope. Like the Bible, Colbert proposes that only the love of God experienced through an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ can holistically heal deadly emotions, making it possible for us to replace the idols and falsehoods of our hearts.

4. Goleman, D. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. New York: Bantum Books. 1995
Goleman writes, “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far. When I say manage emotions, I only mean the really distressing, incapacitating emotions. Knowing and feeling your emotions is what makes life rich. You need your passions” (Jennifer Fox, Your Child’s Strengths, New York: Viking, 2008, Daniel Goleman is quoted, page 275)

“Emotional Intelligence” has gained increasing acceptance in the marketplace of ideas. It is becoming the standard by which great leadership is identified, measured, and modeled Proverbs, the Wisdom Literature of the Bible, reiterates many of Goleman’s assertions. Having the worldview and the concepts of the books of Psalms and Proverbs in mind makes reading Goleman’s work fascinating, and highly practical as well.

Goleman has proposed that the four broad dimensions of Emotional Intelligence are self- awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social-skills. These four categories are interdependent and, to some degree, hierarchical.

5. The Book of Proverbs.
In this book, Solomon expresses his own sense of “holistic self-awareness,” while at the same time offering us amazing, multifaceted insights as well. This Bible book plumbs the depths of the human heart (those core truths that lie at the center of our lives and on which we base our life’s agendas) and the human spirit (our emotions). The Bible claims again and again that true wisdom is the key to transforming life’s tragedies into triumphs (See, for example, James 1:2-8).

The following verses from Proverbs offer some amazing examples of the mind-boggling complexity as well as the depth and breadth emotions one can experience. Several of them also suggest keys for mitigating conditions that often beset and bewilder the human heart.

Anxiety and worry are heavy burdens to bear; love and encouragement can bear any burden. “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” (Proverbs 12:15—NIV)

Hopelessness creates heart disease; the good news of the Gospel restores the heart to its Garden of Eden state. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12—NLT)

Every story, every heart, every emotion is unique; being ultimately alone is a shared experience. “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” (Proverbs 14:10—ESV)

Putting on a happy face works for a time, but the heart desires deeper healing. “Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.” (Proverbs 14:13—NLT)

Truth at peace is powerful and pervasive, while discontentedness is as deadly as a fast-spreading cancer. “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30—NIV)

True words of Eden-like creativity heal; deception deals a deathblow to the emotions. “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4—NIV)

A happy heart makes for happy demeanor; wisdom and foolishness perpetually vie for control through the journey of faith. “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.” (Proverbs 15:13-14—NIV)

Subjectivity is never innocent. God is a God who knows all and intervenes to help us discern our true intentions. “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:2—NIV)

A guilty conscience is all-consuming; being right with God creates a humbly confident heart the world will never understand. “The wicked are edgy with guilt, ready to run off even when no one’s after them; Honest people are relaxed and confident, bold as lions.” (Proverbs 28:1—The Message)”

(John Dozier, The Weeping, the Window, and the Way)

I’ll repeat this again to make sure you get this down: Unless any human being [or couple, community, society, culture, or civilization of human beings] begins afresh like God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of the Bible has offered us 1) spiritually, 2) emotionally, 3) psychologically, and 4) physically, we WILL approach any challenge in life on an incredibly and foolishly simplistic or reductionistic [reducing a very complex problem to one or two solutions] level. Ergo, the problems of life will not just stay unresolved, but will [axiomatically] get far, far worse!

Get to Know the Heart… Your Heart: Be Born-Again and the Journey Will Begin!

The heart-spirit-life connection is indeed complicated yet oh so amazing and well-worth a decision based upon repentance and a life-long commitment to discipleship and serving others in Jesus name… To pursue, Beloved of God!

And—please hear this—devoid of making this decision for Christ, your life, my life, will not only be filled with confusion and deception and a lack of purpose about the reality in which you live, it will leave out the form and function of abundant love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control the Holy Spirit has in store for those who have been born-again and pursuing a life more and more akin to Jesus Christ’s life:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11 ESV)

Amen. And Amen!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *