Priority on the Heart - Part 2
In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the concept of prioritizing our hearts in our personal sanctification by providing a tea bag analogy. In that post I gave an example of a difficult day, but I didn’t spend time unpacking it. (If you haven’t read that post, I recommend you do that first before proceeding with this one.)
We all know what it means to experience difficulties and trials. We know what it means to feel anxiety and pressure. But perhaps we are not as familiar with assessing and overcoming our negative responses to these trials. We often go after the negative behavior or emotion and stop before getting to the root cause. In other words, we whack the weed off at the surface instead of extracting it from the soil. Let’s look at the following principles to help us unpack our negative responses to difficult life circumstances.
1. All Trials will tempt us to sin.
Difficulties will cause us to come to a crossroads - to respond with our own way and wisdom or submit to God’s way and wisdom. God is not intimidated by this reality. Remember, God is the ultimate hot water pourer, meaning he has a divine purpose for each circumstance in our life. For example, Deuteronomy 8:2-3 gives insight into his purpose for the wilderness wanderings. Did you notice it? It’s all about the heart. Likewise, James 1:2-5 shows us that God intends the trials we face to test our faith, to lead us to perseverance, and to invite us into his wisdom. James 1:13-15 further illustrates that we cannot blame God for our pursuit of sin in the midst of trials. As we will see in the next principle, we do not have to choose a negative response to a difficulty or trial.
Ask yourself: What are the current hot waters in my life?
2. Trials, no matter how severe, cannot make us sin.
This is an important principle because it is so easy to incorrectly associate our circumstances as the reason for our responses. The reality is we have a choice for our response when faced with difficulties. Take the example given in the last article. I justified my blowup towards my family based on the circumstances of my day. The truth is that I had a choice throughout my day on how I would allow those circumstances to affect me, and I had a choice the moment before the blowup. The reason for my blowup was not the circumstances of my day. The real reason for my response originated within me and my heart condition - not externally in the circumstances I encountered. There was a narrative going on inside my heart all day that I believed to be true, and my belief of that narrative impacted my actions. We must take ownership of our heart conditions and pursue truth in our failures instead of blame shifting. (See Genesis 3:11-13 to see the origin of blame shifting)
Ask yourself: As hot water steeps my tea bag, what comes out?
3. Negative responses to trials often reveal the idols, or distorted affections, of the heart.
Most often when we make mistakes, we identify only the unpleasant behavior, ignoring the underlying idol of our heart. In other words, we only see the tip of the iceberg when the overwhelming majority of the mass lives under the surface. For instance, yelling at my children and being harsh towards my wife are behaviors. I can easily see that those responses are wrong and that I should not do those things. But if my aim is to simply not do that again, I have not dealt with the reason for the behavior. The behavior is connected to an idol, or a distorted affection in my heart. This distorted affection informs the narrative I listen to and believe, and it drives my behavior. If the distorted affection is not identified and dealt with, the freeing touch of the Messiah does not happen because the idol will cause more negative responses until it is properly dealt with.
Personally, I find this principle to be the most difficult. Because my heart is deceptive and often skewed, I find it hard to put my finger on the underlying distorted affection. If this becomes true for you also, be patient. Allow the Holy Spirit room to direct this process. Ask God what is below the surface of your behavior or response. Ask God to help you know what you are believing about who he is. This is the ultimate question we are seeking to answer because our beliefs about God inform everything else in our lives. Therefore, you may need to persist in going before the Lord until you gain clarity. You may even need to process with a brother or sister in Christ to identify your distorted affection. It is important that we don’t avoid this principle simply because it is hard.
Ask yourself: Why did I respond that way? What am I believing about myself, the other person, or God that causes that response?
4. True change begins with heart repentance.
I am guilty of recognizing my failure and pursuing pseudo-reconciliation, meaning I ask for forgiveness, but my heart is not truly repentant. I see the behavior as wrong, but I don’t feel the weight of the behavior as an infraction towards God and the one that I wronged. Because I don’t feel the weight of it, I don’t actually turn from that sinful behavior towards God and his truth. So, repentance is not just saying “I’m sorry”.
Also, repentance is not just transparency. Sometimes we can confuse the identification and acknowledgment of our brokenness for repentance. It is biblical to confess our struggle or sin to a brother or sister in Christ. But transparency before a brother or sister is not synonymous with repentance.
Our church catechism (Q39) states, “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, by which a sinner, being aware of his sinfulness, understands the mercy of God in Christ, grieves for and hates his sins, and turns from them to God, intending and striving for a new obedience.” We can see from this statement that repentance is an action based on both acknowledgement of personal sin (Principle 4) and understanding that God offers us more satisfying mercies in Jesus, which leads us to our last and final principle.
Ask yourself: What specific distorted affection(s) do I need to repent of?
5. True change continues when we gaze steadily on the Lord's glory and are transformed into his likeness.
Beholding the beauty and worth of Jesus leads us to both repentance (Principle 4) and continual transformation (Principle 5). Gazing upon the beauty of Jesus reminds us of his infinite value and worth compared to the distorted affections in which we tend to seek satisfaction. In a psalm filled with “hot waters”, David echoes this truth when he describes the desire of his life culminating in gazing upon the beauty of the Lord (Ps. 27:4).
But what does it practically mean to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord? Simply put, it starts by going to the real source of authority that defines who God is and who we are - the Bible. We must be increasingly familiar with the Word of God in order to properly gaze upon the glory and beauty of the Lord. To replace our distorted affections, we must have something to replace them with, and that something is found in God’s revelation to us in the Bible.
Honestly, this step is also challenging because of the commitment it takes to search the Word for truth, not to mention the need to consistently return to these truths so that they can be massaged deeper into our hearts. If part of our repentance means intending and striving for a new obedience, then we must consider ways to make Principle 5 a spiritual discipline in our lives.
Ask yourself: What biblical truth applies to the identified distorted affection(s)?
In the final post of this series, I will share an activity that helps apply these principles. In the meantime, refer back to the questions following each principle. Take time to think about each question; perhaps, even write down some initial thoughts to each.
Review the following questions often:
- What are the current hot waters in my life?
- As hot water steeps my tea bag, what comes out?
- Why did I respond that way? What am I believing about myself, the other person, or God that causes that response?
- What are the specific distorted affections I need to repent of?
- What biblical truth applies to the distorted affections of my heart?