Saturday, February 16, 2013

How God Changed this Heart of Stone

     

How do I begin...where do I begin? It's so hard to know. I have been wanting for about a week now to sit down and share with you all my learning and growing process and where God has brought me at this season in my life. I want to be open so that He can work in and through me, and maybe encourage some of you where you are at right now. But openness is hard...it's easy to be misunderstood, especially in written word. It's also easy to be afraid of what people think, but that is becoming less of an issue for me these days. So I will start with a prayer in my heart that God will give me the words, and we'll go from there.

 I think it may appear to many that I seem a bit "extreme" when it comes to my walk with Christ. I assure you that over the course of my life, I have looked at people who were sold out for Him and thought the same thing. "Wow, they are really taking this a bit far." And, well, if you think that about me, you'd be right! I'm taking it as far as I possibly can...because my walk with God should encompass every part of my life, every nook and cranny, every single moment. 


The newsflash about this is......I didn't get it until about 3 or 4 years ago.


I don't know if I ever truly grasped what it meant to be a follower of Christ before this. And yes, I do wonder if I was one of the people Jesus was talking about in this passage:
"And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ "

Luke 13:23-25

So, how does this happen? How does a girl who has been raised in the church hearing the gospel message from the age of 4 grow up to be an adult who just plain doesn't get it? I have wondered this myself, more times than I can count. Whenever I saw someone who truly desired to walk with Christ, I just figured they must be faking it. I really did not understand what it meant. Now, after all this time, I finally realize that the answer is simple. I missed out on Christ being my LIFE because I was taught to obey a set of rules. Man made ones, yes, but also God's. Rules aren't bad at all, especially if they are from the Bible. But when we are taught the rules but never the reason; or the fact that it's about the heart, not about performance, we are dangerously wrong. Like pointing-people-straight-towards-hell wrong. We often go about our lives like there is no eternity. Like life does not carry on after these bodies expire. I assure you, it does carry on, and our bodies will expire. And where will that leave us? Will our education, career, good works, possessions, friends, or family matter in light of eternity? Once again, I assure you that it will not. None of it. When this life is gone, it's gone....and I don't know about you, but I'd much rather be serving the King of the kingdom that is to come. The one who sent His only Son to die to pay the ultimate price for my sin so that I could spend eternity with Him.

I was talking with a friend many years ago about this topic. We were both very young, and neither one of us were taught well enough, or our conversation would have had a different outcome. I told her that I often think about eternity and want to focus more of my time and energy on things in light of the fact that life is temporary. Her response was something along the lines of, "Well yeah, that's good, but don't let yourself get consumed by it." I had no idea how profoundly wrong she was, but I often remember that conversation and wonder what would have happened if she had said something more like, "Well, of course! Living for Christ is all that matters, we should be focusing on serving Him every day!" Anyway, I guess it doesn't accomplish anything to do hypotheticals like that, but I do wonder at times if life would be different.

Recently I rediscovered Psalm 119. Basically the writer is just writing this long poem devoted to how much he loves God's law. Here is a passage that stood out to me:



(Psalm 119:33-37)

"Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in your ways.


I think one of the reasons it stood out to me was how differently I was looking at it. As a young person I would look at stuff like this and wonder what was really so great about God's law? I get that I'm supposed to follow it, but why should I love and desire it? That just didn't make sense to me. Especially since I had always believed that following God's ways meant a life of blessing and protection. So of course, when I went through a really low and dark time in my life, I felt like God abandoned me. Like Job, I felt like I had been treated unfairly. When he lost his children and just about everything he owned, all he could do was go on about how righteous he had been and how he didn't deserve this. I felt similar feelings. "How could You do this to me, God?" I wanted to cry out. "I have tried so hard to follow You....You're supposed to keep me safe!" For a long time there just didn't seem to be answers. So I did what made the most sense to me. I just started giving up on doing things His way. It wasn't an obvious change, more slow and gradual, but my heart was hard. This went on for most of my adult life, up until a few years ago. I found myself broken before God, as I finally realized that doing things my way had done nothing but turn me into a depressed, anxious, angry, bitter, selfish mess. I remember literally crying out to God to do whatever it takes to bring me back to Him. I was done with my old self and my old life and wanted to be made new. And boy, did He answer! A month later, I heard this song for the first time:



Come Home Running

Oh heart of mine, why must you stray?
From one so fair you run away
And one more time you have to pay
The heaviness of needless shame



Oh heart of mine, come back home
You've been too long out on your own
And He's been there all along
Watching for you down the road



So come home running
His arms are open wide
His name is Jesus
He understands
He is the answer
You are looking for
So come home running
Just as you are



Oh child of God so dearly loved
And ransomed by the Savior's blood
And called by name, daughter and son
Wrapped in the robe of righteousness

Suddenly God wasn't this domineering tyrant watching over my shoulder and waiting for me to mess up anymore....(and yes, I laid awake at night many times as a child trying to remember everything I had done wrong so I could ask forgiveness and make sure I was truly "saved")....He was a loving Father, who had been there all along, watching and waiting for me to come home. And so I didn't just walk back into His arms.....I ran.

I think....well I know this is when the change began. But growing in Christ is a process, and I definitely didn't get it all right away...I still haven't gotten it all, and I'm sure I never will until I'm with Him. But it was the start. This morning I heard this passage and I just saw it in a completely new light. I realized that this was not just meant for the nation of Israel, but for all believers, and it just rings so true in my life, as I can now truly say that I love to obey Him and it is all because of His Spirit within me! 

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. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
(Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

See, I had it all backwards. I was trying to serve God on the outside, but on the inside I wanted to keep living for myself. But what I needed was a new heart, one that can only come from God, that would cause me to desire to obey! I can't do that myself, and that is why I always found the Christian life oppressive and frustrating. But now, as someone who has been changed from the inside out, I can truly say I LOVE to follow Christ, and His rules. In fact, just as the Psalmist said, I even delight in them! 

Let me just end for now by saying that this is not the end..... it' the beginning! The beginning of the rest of my walk with Christ on earth. I am excited to see what He will do in my heart and life, now that I am sold out for Him. And I have to say, because my citizenship is in Heaven, I am just not concerned with things on the earth. I pay attention to what is going on around me, I am aware of other people and their physical needs as well as spiritual. But I don't worry about the things I used to worry about. I don't stress out about who is in leadership positions in our government, or about laws being made. Why does it matter? Do these things change hearts? Of course not! Believer, we are too often consumed by these "issues" that just really aren't issues. Let's get to know people, and love them where they are at, just like Jesus, and let God do the work. I also no longer think about having enough money. God has always provided, and will always provide. In this country we are way too comfortable anyway, and even though Derrick and I choose to live a very simple lifestyle (some would even probably consider it extreme, which is just silly to me, when I think about how people in 3rd world countries are forced to live), we are learning all the time that we could be just fine with even less. Not to mention the fact that less is MORE, oh it's so much more!! Less "stuff" means less distractions....and more time to focus on what truly matters. More time to invest in people's lives; to learn, study and grow, and to enjoy each other's company. I'll take these things any day over all the material wealth the world can offer!!

I could go on, but I won't. I think I will write again later and give some details on how this is all playing out in a practical way. But I am too tired to keep writing, not to mention you are probably getting very tired of reading! :)

I'll leave you with another passage of Scripture. I pray that you all have been changed from the inside out by the Holy Spirit and that you are standing firm in Him!

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

(Philippians 3:18--4:1 ESV)