It's a new week. A new week in an old world, a scary world, a world that seems, like a basketball on a wavering on the rim of the basket, to be wavering between righting itself, recovering from the upheaval of Covid and the charged elections, and plunging headfirst into further chaos and darkness.
We get up. We have coffee. We breathe. We waver between hope and despair. We push the thoughts to the back of our minds and embrace the familiar, comfortable humdrum of our everyday normal. No way of knowing what the future holds.
We set ourselves down to doing our work. Some of us go into the office. Some of us pop open our laptops and get comfortable on the living room couch. Some of us work alone. Some of us work in front of people. Some of us work with our hands. Some of us work with our minds. Some of us, a little of each. Some with numbers, some with words. Some with people, some with things. Everywhere, the world over, Monday morning we make our way to our work, and do it, well or otherwise.
In heaven, God watches. He moves the pieces and the players in time with the pulsing of our thoughts and emotions. The spilled drink on the keyboard. The annoying coworker walks by. The family member who texts us a tidbit of gossip. The insulting email. The incorrigible child. Hunger pangs. Boredom. Too much to do in too little time. God watches our hearts as we respond to each tiny, orchestrated detail of our lives, from the temperature of our environment to the car that stopped too short in front of us and the number of water droplets that it splashed onto our windshield. He is looking to see who is fully devoted to Him. He is looking to give us strong support.
For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.
2 CHRONICLES 16:9a (NIV)
A fully devoted heart is concerned with worshiping God, bringing Him glory, pleasing Him. We often think we are fully devoted, and yet find ourselves doing things that carry the scent of self-worship, self-glorification, and self-satisfaction. We need to be constantly aware that our old self is pulling us in the opposite direction of full devotion to God. We need to be fully, down-to-our-toes aware that if we don't spend time in prayer and in reading - no, soaking in - the Bible every single day this week, we will not have the strength to resist its pull and we will fall into pursuing ourselves. As such, we will miss out on the strong support that God has promised to those fully devoted to Him.
Even if we do our devotions daily and draw strength from the Word of God, we will still find ourselves slipping out of total devotion. "The heart is deceitful," Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, "and desperately wicked: who can know it?" The good news is that you don't have to rely on yourself to "catch" the mistakes, the moments when you slip out of devotion to God and begin pouring energy into your own ends. Oftentimes, too much looking inward and analyzing our own thoughts and intentions is the opposite of what is healthy for us, and that is looking out and up towards God. Thankfully, God searches our hearts for us, and we can rely on His Spirit to reveal to us when we are slipping into self-glorification rather than God-glorification.
I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.
JEREMIAH 17:10 (NIV)
A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.
PROVERBS 21:2 (NIV)
These verses sound a little threatening, like God is there with His omniscient magnifying glass stripping through our double motives and discerning the evil in the good we do. And maybe it should be, to the unsaved. But to us, His beloved children, desiring and seeking full devotion, it is a blessed encouragement. Instead of avoiding His x-ray gaze, we can seek it. We can welcome it, run to it. Ask for it, together with the psalmist David:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
PSALM 139:23-24 (NIV)
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
JAMES 4:8 (ESV)
You see, we know that we have nothing to prove, so we don't fear that the Spirit will reveal gross double-mindedness, deplorable self-pursuit. We expect it. We are those who have stopped running from the truth that we are filthy, dead, utterly depraved in our old flesh and when we sin, we don't have to be filled with shame. Rather, pained that we have pained Him yet again, we humbly go before Him and ask for change, for cleansing, for true devotion. And we rely on His promises that He will, and that already, we have a new heart that totally and completely beats for His glory and His alone.
"And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh...."
EZEKIEL 11:19 (ESV).
One heart. Not double-minded or double-motived. One heart seeking one thing. His glory for the love of His heart.
I've gotten into the habit of confessing my sins more freely. It didn't just happen; I've been intentionally doing it in obedience to the James 5:16 passage: "Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed." So I want to share three ways that the Spirit has lately revealed "double-mindedness" in my heart.
Rejoicing At Evil
When I was in school, a teacher shared the Galatians passage that says "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up" (6:7-9 ESV). My whole Christian school education was centered around this concept and I took it very seriously, as an absolute truth. I tried (obviously sometimes failed, but the point is, it was my goal) to sow to the Spirit. It has continued to be my goal, especially as at one point, I started to see the promise here pop up in my reality.
The first time I felt that I was reaping what I had sown was in the area of academics. I'm not naturally very smart at math and some branches of science, but I worked really hard throughout middle school and high school to wrap my mind around concepts that made my brain hurt (imaginary numbers wutttt). Meanwhile, I saw other students in the school that I to this day think were absolutely brilliant and gifted in these areas be irresponsible with homework, classwork, and studying the material. By the time we got to late high school, something crazy happened. All the hard work I had been putting into developing weak areas of my brain and laying a good conceptual foundation for these subjects suddenly started paying off. I remember taking Physics at the time and actually enjoying it because I had such a strong foundation and a trained mind that I was picking things up much more easily and connecting a bunch of dots with things I had been learning for years. Meanwhile, students that were honestly way smarter than me were struggling with concept deficits and what I would call brain lag (from simply not using that part of their brain). I finally felt like my hard work was paying off.
Unfortunately, I did not stuff the feeling of pride and triumph that came with that. As life has progressed and I've seen this verse come true in many more ways, the Spirit has been revealing to me a dangerous self-seeking way that I have been reacting to the truth that "you reap what you sow." Feeling that I suffered loss for trying to follow God, I am tempted to feel pride, triumph, and even pleasure when I see people who have disregarded God's commands for years finally overcome by the consequences of their mistakes. My heart is tempted to rejoice when I see someone that has been materialistic experience financial troubles or someone that has been extremely prideful get thrown into a deeply humbling circumstance. God's Spirit has been gently and compassionately revealing to me the sordid condition of my own heart that would rejoice in the misfortunes of others.
Maybe I should be ashamed of confessing this. I'm not feeling too ashamed. Like I mentioned before, I've abandoned hope that I am truly good at heart as long as I live out of my flesh. I know confidently that this is a fleshly reaction and that the simple solution is to reckon myself dead to it and to live by the Spirit in the fullness of Christ's life. You see, Christ actually loves these people that have sown to the flesh and are now reaping consequences.
I'm not only confessing; my goal is also to challenge you as a Christ-follower to analyze your own heart. The truth is that if I rejoice at my brother or sister reaping consequences for their sins, I am committing grave errors. First of all, I am exposed as concerned with my own glory. I'm happy that they are struggling because it casts me in a good light, justifies my conduct over theirs, enables me to prop myself up as morally superior, shake my head, and pat myself on the back that I made better choices. Secondly, I am, in a sense, making an enemy of God. You see, I have misjudged His character. He resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. I am forcing God's hand into removing whatever grace He has given me to make better choices to prove that it is His grace, and not my own goodness, that is the cause of that. After all, as Paul asks, what do we have that we have not been given? I am furthermore denying that I have made bad choices and sown bad things - which I most assuredly have. I am asking for a similar fall in response to my sins. Thirdly, I am convicted of not being devoted to God. Devotion to God requires that I devotedly align my heart with His. And His heart is beating for the fallen brother or sister, a part of the church body of Christ, in need of healing, correcting, comfort, and re-direction. Rather than being a coworker with Christ, praying for that person, or reaching out to them, I am missing my calling and watching them from a distance to gloat.
God has been challenging me to whole-hearted devotion to Him, which includes considering each and every person in the body of Christ as vitally important to my spiritual health and seeking their good at all costs, for the glory of God, not of myself. My job as a devotee of God is to seek the thriving and restoring of every part, weak or strong, without reference to myself at all, forgetting myself and comparison, leaving that to fade into the background of meaninglessness because the only important thing is that God be glorified.
The second way that I fall into self-devotion over God-devotion is in the area of seeking attention.
As some of you know, I quit Instagram for the month of February. I had many different reasons, but one of them was that I was upset with my attention-seeking behavior. I tied it to social media because many people often complain that social media is a platform for people to "show off" just the highlights of their life and consequently get a lot of attention and admiration for their beautiful lives.
I am somewhat shocked to discover that it's actually not Instagram's fault. The sad thing I found as I stepped away from the showiness of social media is that I took myself with me. Showing off was still a part of my life in February, through the things I said, the way I dressed, the way I acted, etc. Showing off was pouring out of my old flesh. I considered talking less, dressing blandly and differently than my tastes are, being more passive and less active. I think the extreme version of this would be to just shut down completely, for fear of "showing off."
The Spirit has been gently and revealing to me that this is a heart condition and that maybe the solution is not changing the things I'm doing so much as addressing my heart problem with repentance. I am not fully devoted to God when I show off. Instead, I am devoted to gaining glory for myself. There are two things at work here: first of all, a sinful desire to worship myself and get worship from others. The heart of my old flesh is driven to prove to itself and everyone that it is justified in dethroning God and becoming its own god and so has a constant drive to get glory. Secondly, God created me with a deep need for the approval of someone other than myself. It's just simply not enough that I like what I do and am. I seek this approval constantly and subconsciously hunger for it; and rightly so. The Spirit is revealing that I am seeking it in the wrong quarters, in a place that will never satisfy and will always leave me needing more. More Instagram posts, changing my style again, saying smarter and more shocking things, etc.
Here's the truth. I - you - we are created to yearn from the deepest wellspring of our soul "Well done, good and faithful servant." We ache for His gaze to fall upon us and that He be filled with pleasure and approval at what He finds. We foundationally, at our core, need Him to like and love us. That is what I refocus on when I am falling into attention-seeking. Whole-hearted devotion means that His approval is what I seek, and His approval comes with my pursuing His glory and the growth and health of His body, the Church, through everything I do and say, the ways I dress and the places I go, the friends and opinions and beliefs I have.
Lifestyle Over Ministry
The third way in which I slip out of whole-hearted devotion to God is in the area of my lifestyle. I think many of us have been lately challenged to think of the political future and what it may hold for us as Christians. I find myself growing anxious at the thought that my lifestyle may be challenged by my faith; that I may be limited in what I can do because of, or worse, outright persecuted for, my love of God. There are honestly so many ways in which our lifestyle takes precedence over our life of faith, so I will brush over this quickly in the hopes of writing a future, longer post on this topic, but the key thought that I want to leave here now is that of comfort.
Whole-hearted devotion to God means that your priorities in life are arranged like this:
Enjoying/delighting in God.
Seeking after what He values: the health of His church. Read: DOING YOUR MINISTRY.
Seeking after a comfortable and enjoyable lifestyle for you and your family.
In the wake of Covid, faced with a new world that is unfriendly to true followers of Christ, as we plan for a perhaps dark future and think about saving money for hard times, maybe moving to a more conservative state, maybe pulling back from certain friendships that could be uncomfortable because of different political opinions, let's remember that whole-hearted devotion to Christ values ministry over comfort. We are called to use our money to support God's kingdom, to be in the place where He has called us to minister, dangerous or not, and to be a light on a hill, not under a basket. This doesn't mean that these changes are not justified - but they must be made entirely with rightly ordered priorities. You use your money to build God's kingdom; it is His money anyways. You move because you are called to go. You keep your mouth shut because the Spirit is leading you to.
Covid aside, we often seek comfort over ministry. The Spirit has been teaching me that whole-hearted devotion to God may mean a very busy, exhausting week where my free time often goes to attending church or church activities, balancing personal life, work, and ministries I am involved in. It may mean spending money on supporting causes that glorify God rather than buying something off my Amazon wishlist. It may mean that I simply never attain to a lifestyle I idealize here on earth, because that's not my priority, and I'll have that in heaven.
A heart whole-heartedly devoted to God rests in the fact that heaven is its home. As such, it puts ministry over absolutely any other lifestyle concern here on earth; from financial status, to material possessions, to physical comfort, to weather, to activities.
Adjusting and Readjusting
When I was learning to drive, I was told that driving in a straight line requires "a constant adjusting and re-adjusting of the wheel." So it is with our Christian walk. We desire to soar in whole-heartedly devotion to God, but our old flesh is like gravity, pulling us down. Be encouraged that God watching and He is there to give us strong support through His Spirit. It is required of us that we listen and make adjustments and readjustments, through repentance, in according to the convicting, revealing, pointed directing of His Spirit. No shame accompanies the revelation of new disloyalties to Him; we identify not with the old but with the new, the heart of flesh that wholly desires to obey. This week, I want to encourage you that your whole heart wants to seek Him. He is there to give you strong support and strength. His heart swells as you pray, like David,
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
PSALM 119:10 (ESV)
May your week bring Him the greatest possible glory!
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