Are We Brokenhearted for God?

I still remember the year that I did not make the cut for the little league baseball team when I tried out. I could catch, throw, and run, but, to be honest, my batting skills were not something to marvel at. I wanted so badly to be a part of that team with my friends but it didn’t happen that first year. I was brokenhearted.

It is one thing to be brokenhearted about things we care about, but it is something quite different to be brokenhearted about things God cares about. Nehemiah was a leader of God’s people in the later years of the Old Testament. Years after the people of God went into exile from their homeland in Palestine, Nehemiah rose to the position of cupbearer for King Artaxerxes.

When some friends visit from Jerusalem, Nehemiah becomes brokenhearted when he hears that his homeland is in ruins. He writes: “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept” (Nehemiah 1:4a). Nehemiah is sad because his homeland is devastated and at risk from enemies. Nehemiah is sad because the glorious city of God is just a pale shadow of its former beauty.

But more than just personal sadness is welling up within Nehemiah. He is brokenhearted for God’s glory and God’s purposes to be revealed in real life. He says, “For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (1:4b). In Nehemiah 1:5-11, Nehemiah then goes on to voice one of the most moving prayers of repentance and intercession in all of Scripture. He is asking God to powerfully help His people. He is asking for God to shine His glory into all the earth through, at that time, restoration for Jerusalem. Then, as a follow-up to that prayer, Nehemiah offers himself in service to God for that end. As you read his story in the book named after him, Nehemiah stands out as one of the most dedicated and capable leaders in the Bible.

It is one thing to be brokenhearted about our own loss, but it is another thing to be brokenhearted about God’s loss and glory. It does something different within us. It turns us back to God, to seek His help and power to be at work. But it also turns us outward to serve God as an answer to our own prayers.

Not too long ago I was at a prayer gathering where someone talked about having our hearts broken for the things that break God’s heart. I always love hearing that sort of prayer. It’s the sort of prayer God loves to answer. As we see with Nehemiah, God loves to have us brokenhearted for Him.

What is the Heart of the Spiritual Life with God?

Jesus takes us beyond outward observation into the very heart of our lives. A special envoy of Pharisees from Jerusalem has come to interrogate Jesus but He confronts them with their confusion about what defiles and the heart of true spirituality with God:

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:10b-11)

Jesus wants to take His hearers, and us, deeper than mere outward observance. While there is so much more to Jesus’ ministry, there are three things that Jesus intends to do through His teaching and ministry here:

  1. to bring us to the end of ourselves and our power where we know we need an intervention from God
  2. to transform us from the inside out through the saving intervention of Jesus Christ on the Cross 
  3. to grow us in the abundant life with God through obedience as we walk by faith under the influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit

The Pharisees have missed the point about what defiles human life. To have something defiled, meant that it was not holy and could not be in God’s presence or was displeasing to God. The Pharisees had become so enamored with ritual purity that they thought it was primarily what came into a person that defiled them. Now, it wasn’t just food that could defile someone. One could also be defiled by skin diseases, bodily fluids, or contact with someone who was unclean. But the principle the Pharisees lived by was that the external was what defiled. They are blind guides who will lead the blind astray.

Jesus brings it back to a deeper level. He says it’s what comes out of us that defiles us. Our words, yes, but more deeply, what comes from our hearts; our inner life. Hear those words again:

But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:18-19)

We must turn to our hearts. Again and again, Jesus drives toward the human heart. In Matthew 12, He says:

The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. (Matthew 12:34b-35)

Jesus is a spiritual cardiologist of sorts, a spiritual heart doctor, and He is trying to get us back to that place with the living God. So how would Jesus diagnose our hearts? What soul-surgery would He recommend? How might we invite Him to do what’s necessary in the deep places of our lives?

What Happens When the Church is Activated on Mission?

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

In the book of Acts we see the Holy Spirit set the early believers ablaze for the work of God. We encounter Peter, who steps forth with boldness to preach the good news and thousands come to believe Jesus is the Messiah. We see bold people like Stephen, who speaks of Christ and it costs him his life, and Philip, who shares across cultural and religious barriers to bring the Samaritans to Jesus. We see an enemy of Christ, Saul of Tarsus, become a passionate evangelist and bold church planter, the Apostle Paul.

Acts is an active book where we see the church activated on mission. What does it look like when individual believers and church communities are activated by God for His work? Suffice it to say that things happen.

But let’s look at something we could miss here. Acts is an active book but we also see two things in Acts that Christianity is not about.

Christianity—following Jesus—does not leave us much space for being boring or apathetic. Sometimes in the midst of the world, with all the needs, all the challenges, all the serious situations, we can become overwhelmed by the needs. This sometimes leads us to turn away from the needs of the world, focusing on our own lives and challenges. Essentially, we become apathetic. But activated churches and Christians are not apathetic or boring. They are engaged with the needs of the world because God cares about people and the needs of the world. God is an active, giving missionary God.

At the same time, even though Acts is an active book, it is not a busy book. In fact, there is a big difference between being busy and being active. The early church was activated by the Holy Spirit to join in with God in a focused way for God’s mission. But the early church was not meaninglessly busy. Some of us, when we become Christians, think that we are to become busy for the kingdom. But there is not a lot of space for busyness in the activated church. Some of us need to remember that God is not all that interested in uncommanded work. He wants us to join in with His kingdom mission but not to be aimlessly rushing around with whatever captures our attention in the moment. In fact, what captures our attention may lead us away from the activated mission God has for us. As a wise mentor once shared with me: we may need to consider whether we are more in love with the work of the Lord than we are in love with the Lord of the work.

Activated Christianity is not about being boring and neither is it about being busy. Activated Christianity is not about apathy to the world’s need nor is it about frenzied activity. The book of Acts shows us that the church is activated by the power of the Holy Spirit for the mission of God in the world.

Living in the Waves

waves.jpg

One of the most well-known stories in the New Testament must be when Jesus invites Peter to walk on water in Matthew 14:22-33. Peter is often held up as either an example of bold faith in stepping out of the boat or faltering faith in sinking into the waves.

However, there is another part of the story that captures my attention and it has to do with the waves. When this memorable episode from the life of Jesus and the life of Peter takes place, it is surrounded by waves of challenge.

The first type of waves is the waves of people. Immediately before this, Jesus miraculously feeds a crowd of more than five thousand people. This crowd was pressing in around Jesus. Jesus dismissed them, but, even after the walking on water episode, they hunted Him down and asked for more. It is likely, from what we read in parallel accounts, that the crowds actually hoped to make Jesus king. The waves of people surrounded Him.

Along with the waves of people came the waves of emotions. After an exciting yet stressful ministry day with people, the disciples were exhausted. They seem not only exhausted by the work they were doing with Jesus, but also by the fact that Jesus Himself was difficult to understand. This led to a sort of emotional exhaustion and anticipation that always kept the disciples on their toes. They needed to get away.  It seems that Jesus also needed to get away. The pressures on Him to live into a human-defined image of Messiah-ship, yet pushing against that in obedience to the Father, lead Him to want to draw away with the Father again.

Of course, along with these waves of human pressure and emotional pressure come a third type: the waves of natural life. The literal winds and waves that beat against the boat threaten everyone in this situation. The natural order was not on their side and could not be easily controlled. This heightened physical circumstance augments the other more subtle waves around Jesus and His disciples.

Attention to the waves in this situation tells me one important thing to keep in focus. The waves – the challenges we face – are a normal part of life.

I want to draw this out because so many of us are waiting for “someday.” We all do this at times. We have that tendency to wait for a day when we believe that everything will become calm or everything will be at perfect peaceful. If not that, many of us are simply looking for the day when everything feels “normal,” even if we have never defined what that is.

When that normal day comes, many of us say, we will then be ready to follow Christ or take some dramatic step of faith. Until then, we are on hold in fear or confusion.

However, the very setting in which Peter makes his bold step of faith is in the waves. This is important to pay attention to because the Lord is reminding us through the context of this story that waves are normal.

The challenges of people and relationships that Jesus and the apostles faced are similar to the waves with people that we face.  The challenges of emotions and pressures that Jesus and the apostles faced are similar to the emotional waves that we face. The challenges of the natural things that happen – natural life changes, natural aging, natural circumstances of the environment – are similar to the natural waves that we face.

And this is what strikes me today: these waves are the normal setting in which faith rises up. Because of this, we don’t need to wait for someday.  Someday will not come because it does not exist. The waves in which we find ourselves are the setting in which we must take a step of faith.

When Blessing Atrophies [Psalm 1, part 5]

Psalm 1

While the first three verses of Psalm 1 provide us with a description of God’s blessing, the last three verses offer an alternative vision that is distressing.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Chaff is that part of the harvest that is separated out in the process of winnowing or threshing. There is no vitality in the chaff. It has no significance, other than to be blown away from the fruits of the harvest and burned.

Apart from God’s blessing and grace, the psalmist tells us, human beings are “like chaff.” This means, on the one hand, the wicked have lost life. The blessing that God intends for human life found in Him, His instruction, and godly relationships does not exist in the wicked and so their life is no longer life at all.  On the other hand, this means the wicked have no weight or substance. They are insubstantial in their lives, regardless of appearances, and the afternoon winds of life will quickly blow them away, let alone the hurricane winds of trouble that may come down upon us.

At the end of time, the psalmist says, the wicked will not be able to stand in God’s judgment. In the present time, the wicked will find it hard to stand in the presence of righteous people who walk with God.

There is a clear distinction between two ways of life and the blessing of God: one leads toward growth in blessing and the other leads toward atrophy of blessing. May God strengthen us to walk toward the fullness of His blessing in our lives.

What stands out to you about the description of the wicked here at the end of Psalm 1?

In what areas of your life might atrophy be taking root?

What would it look like to be a messenger of God’s blessing to those experiencing atrophy today?

This is the fifth and final post in a series of posts on Psalm 1. You can read the other posts here: