“Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord…” Acts 11:23 (NAU)[i]
We all laugh when we think about the changes we contemplate every New Year and yet never seem to follow through on. Somewhere along the way I believe I swore off French fries; however, the little salty buggers simply cannot be resisted. J
Perhaps this year we should forget about resolutions and focus on being resolute.
The moral and cultural drift around about us has accelerated; maybe you have noticed. Its influence on us is subtle and often we are unaware of its power. Ever notice the magazines in the grocery store checkout? I was in the grocery the other day; a barely clad woman proclaims, “Sex tips so hot…” Such fare should outrage us, and would have but a few years ago, but now we shrug our shoulders and hardly blush. We are daily saturated with the lies of a culture radically committed to throwing off all restraint. This cultural attitude is the “water of our fish tank” and we are immersed in its pervasive influence.
Therefore, unless we are actively countering it in our minds and hearts, we will drift from the Truth. Heb. 2:1 captures this, “So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.” We are swimming upstream and it requires our greatest concentration and effort.[ii] In other words, we must be resolute. How can we be so?
Biblically speaking, our culture is idolatrous, as are all cultures. In some places in the world, people actually bow down to worship their false gods. However unlikely would such happen in Western culture, still, tragically, our hearts are given to things that are not God – to idols.[iii] So what is an idol?
An idol is anything that substitutes for or distracts from the place in our hearts and affections which belongs only to God.
It was Israel’s repeated idolatry, their failure to love God wholeheartedly, that broke His heart in the OT. The NT continually challenges God’s people to be sure about their “first love” (Rev. 2:24)[iv] and to “not love the world.” It is when we “love the world,” says John, that the drift of our heart is revealed, “for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you.”[v]
I am not suggesting that we withdraw from the world around us, like some of the monks and ascetics of old; quite the opposite! While some believers are rightly accused of “being so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good;” the American church is hardly in danger of that! Rather, it seems we have become so “worldly minded that we are no heavenly good.” What I am suggesting is that we carefully evaluate our values, priorities and focus so that God can display His life through us into every arena of life.[vi]
How can we know if we are living resolutely? First, we must really want to know. Do we? Are we ready to make the changes that such knowledge will surely require?
Second, God longs for us with a passion that is hard to comprehend.[vii] Because He is in constant pursuit of our hearts, we can, we must, ask God – doing so with full confidence that He will reveal our hearts to us.
Third, we can ask others to help us to know our own hearts. Ah, here it gets a little more interesting – and risky! Go to a friend, your spouse, another believer and ask them to be brutally honest (it is a life and death issue after all) – “When you look at my life, do you see someone who is without idols? As you look at my priorities, my value system, how I spend my time, money, my life – what would you say you see about my heart?”
Finally, here are few questions we might ask yourself (with the Holy Spirit at your side), if you would know your own heart. “What consumes my thought life? What am I giving my time to? Where does my money go?” All of these things can reveal our hearts.
While we are told, rightly, that we are not to live by our feelings, but our feelings do say something about what we truly love.[viii] Our passions tell us something about our hearts. “What excites me? What stirs me? What do I look forward to? Are the things of God really the passion of my life – with no competitors, no distractions? What things compete in my heart for the affections that are to belong only to Jesus?”
To be resolute is to be sure of our hearts. We will never experience heaven-sent revival until we take seriously the condition of our own hearts. As we move into 2016, which I believe may be one the most significant years in a long time, it is time for us to be resolute – to know our hearts and to adjust our lives to His great heart.
In the American revivals of a hundred years ago, those whose hearts were aflame would ask one another, “Have you been seized by the power of a great affection?”[ix] Have we?
Copyright by Mike Huckins January 2016
[i] The immediate context is Acts 11:19-31 where Luke details the large scale conversion to Jesus of the Gentiles at Syrian Antioch. This was a new development and despite Peter’s “mission” to Cornelius, it left many Jewish Christians with questions about what “in the world” God was doing. Barnabas is sent from the Jerusalem church to check things out.
[ii] We are the “counter-culture” of our time!
[iii] Although I think our devotion to sports and our “team” is close. 😉 Have you ever considered the fact that all of our major cities have expensive and enormous stadiums devoted primarily to what? Is this where people in our culture gather to – “worship”?? Mmm. That all idolatry is unacceptable seems to go without saying. God deserves our full devotion, “love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” Yet we seem oblivious to this in our own time and hearts.
[iv] The believers at Ephesus had left their first love – clearly it is a dangerous possibility!
[v] 1 John 2:15-17.
[vi] We are called to be “in the world, but not of it,” sent “into the world” as was Jesus (John 17). What this means is that we are called to live fully engaged in the world around us filled with God’s life in us. No one should ever be able to say that we not “worldly” in this sense and they should be able to point to us as those who know how to live full and meaning-filled lives.
[vii] The Bible calls this “jealousy,” but it is no human green-eyed monster. Rather it is a zealous love that longs to bring about in our lives His greatest good for us and will allow no others to steal us away. His jealousy should melt our hearts!
[viii] The things on which we focus, what we cultivate in our lives, will determine what we “feel” toward.
[ix] Mark Stibbe, On Revival, 38. Affection here is not simply emotion, but a deeply settled love for God, a desire to follow hard after Him and do His will.