No Room for God in a Heart of Stone

     In American culture independence is a valued trait. Frank Sinatra sings, “I did it my way,” and everyone cheers.

     But in the Kingdom of God, we bow our will to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the Bible, when people live outside of God’s will their heart is described as “darkened, rebellious, callous, unfeeling, or idolatrous.” Such a heart has grown hard, and resistant to God.

     “It is in this context that hardening, or hardness of the heart must be understood. The heart represents the total response of a person to life around him or her and to the religious and moral demands of God. Hardness of heart thus describes a negative condition in which the person ignores, spurns, or rejects the gracious offer of God to be a part of his or her life.”1

     In the parable of the sower, the conditions of the heart are covered in terms of soil. Seed is unable to penetrate hard soil and grow. The seed only flourished in the good soil. This is equivalent to the person who hears God’s Word, learns its meaning, and then puts it into practice so it accomplishes much.

     *Be ready to hear God’s Word.

     Ears to hear is of utmost importance in preventing the hardening of our hearts.

     “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” is tagged on the end of several parables in the New Testament. This warning is found at Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8 and 14:35. The person with ears to hear is willing to spend the time needed to comprehend the text and uncover its application.

     The book we selected for women’s Bible study at the church I attend emphasizes the importance of taking time to study the Word of God. Often, we read the Bible as if it were written for an audience of one… us. Yet each book of the Bible was written in a certain place and time, by an author inspired by the Holy Spirit, for a particular segment of the population. Without the ancient context, there is no modern point to God’s Word.

The soil in the parable of the Sower is prepared by tilling to receive the seed and the heart must also be prepared through prayer to receive the Word.

“Without prayer, our study is nothing but an intellectual pursuit. With prayer, it is a means of communing with the Lord. Prayer is what changes our study from the pursuit of knowledge to the pursuit of God himself,” writes Jen Wilken.2

     *Put the Word into practice.

Once the Word of God is planted in our hearts by hearing it, we can tend it as a farmer does his crop so it will flourish and grow. The planted Word takes root in our hearts when we comprehend what the text says, interpret it correctly, and determine its application. For the text to be transformative, we approach it with a willingness to change. We begin to practice what it says, often imperfectly at first but we get better as we live it.

And we can change if we do not harden our heart. Refuse to obey God’s Word.

In Ezekiel 11:19 God tells the Israelites he will replace their heart of stone with a heart of flesh. This promise is for the time Israel collectively recognizes Jesus Christ as her Messiah. But those of us who have received the Holy Spirit have been given this heart of flesh, the ability to receive the Word of God and practice it.

What might prevent us from putting into practice God’s Word which is obeying it?

     We dismiss the consequences. I often hear people who don’t want to follow a particular commandment say, “God will love me anyway.” He does love us even when we sin, but there are consequences to disobedience. It is not so much “punishment” as the unavoidable result of the conduct. If you embrace this behavior, this will happen.

Adam and Eve did die when they ate the forbidden fruit. First spiritually, separated from God, and later physically.

     What was the command?

     “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17

     Everything God teaches us is for our good. But when we are told to forgive, and someone harms us, our heart balks at such a command. Surely, this can’t be the “best” for us. We have freewill, God gave us choice. Our heart begins to harden when we reject God’s Word and say, “I will not.”

     *Guard against deception.

     In Jeremiah 17:9 we are told the heart is deceitful above all things but hardening of heart goes beyond this condition. Instead of creating that pliable heart ready to receive and follow God’s Word, we can harden our hearts. Bitterness over circumstances can cause our hearts to become hard.1

     To have a right response to the commands of God, (the ability to put it into practice), after we prepare our heart to receive the Word we guard against deception.

     Proverbs 4:23 instructs: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (NIV)

     We know sin entered the world through Satan’s deception and we too can be deceived. Paul tells us to gear up for war in Ephesians 6:14-18. What is our armor?

     –The belt of truth. “Truth is the objective standard by which reality is measured. God’s Word is truth.” Satan “can’t function in an environment of integrity.”3

     –The breastplate of righteousness. “This is the righteousness of Christ, imputed by God and received by faith, which guards our hearts against the accusations and charges of Satan and secures our innermost being from his attacks.”4

     –The shoes of the gospel of peace. Our feet need to be anchored on the Rock (Jesus) in hand-to-hand combat. “Christ is our foundation in this world.”5

       –The shield of faith. This piece of armor “makes Satan’s sowing of doubt about the faithfulness of God and His Word ineffective.”4

     –The helmet of salvation. The fact we are saved, our spirit has come alive to Christ, gives us the ability to discern spiritual truth and not be deceived by Satan’s lies.

     –The sword of the Spirit. This piece of armor is named as the word of God in the Bible. While the other pieces of armor are defensive weapons, the sword is an offensive weapon. 

     –Pray at all times in the Spirit.

     A heart that has not been turned to stone is a receptive heart. It is ready to respond to God. It is the type of heart needed for relationship.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Let’s Talk:

1-If you have ever hardened your heart, refused to obey a command, what were the consequences? What caused your heart to soften?

2-What are some good ways to always remember that God has the very best for us? I learn about God, His attributes and character and make note when I personally experience them. Then when doubt of his faithfulness or goodness begins to get a foothold, I recall how God has proved that He is who He says He is. In this way I avoid hardness of heart.

References:

1-Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Copyright © 1996 by Baker Books.

2-“Women of the Word, How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds” by Jen Wilken. Published by Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois.

3-The Tony Evans Bible Commentary by Tony Evans. Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee.

4-GotQuestions.Org. Got Questions Ministries answers questions about the interpretation of God’s Word on its website.

5-Ephesians, Thru the Bible Commentary Series by J. Vernon McGee. Publisher Thomas Nelson Nashville, Tennessee. 

Barriers that Prevent us From Receiving God’s Word

     Sometimes we just aren’t ready to receive God’s Word and practice it. Our heart just isn’t prepared to accept it and respond.

     In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23), Jesus discusses conditions of the heart that prevent a person from receiving the Truth and acting on it.

     Matt 13:3-9

“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.” ESV

Hard Soil

     Christians who spread the good news of salvation are familiar with the first example, for they know not everyone who listens comprehends the message right away. Satan takes this opportunity to snatch the Word of God from the nonbeliever.

In the parable the Word is described as seed that falls on a footpath, which is compact soil, and thus is unable to penetrate and sprout. Birds swoop down and gobble it up.

Rocky Ground

     The second example is shallow soil with underlying rock preventing a plant from growing deep roots. Such plants are susceptible to the scorching sun and wither.

     We are deeply rooted when our trust is the Lord. We read in Jeremiah 17:8 that when this is true of us we are like a tree planted by water that remains green when it is hot and even in drought continues to bear fruit.

Plants in shallow soil are also easily uprooted. They have not yet experienced the Lord as trustworthy.

     It is not enough to profess Christ as Lord and Savior; we must attach ourselves to Him putting into practice what He teaches. Jesus tells us how in Scripture.

–We become yoked to Him. [Matthew 11:29]

This is to become Christ’s disciple, learn from Him and submit to Him.

–We abide in Him. [John 15:1-7]

True disciples are connected to Jesus. This is a fixed reality. We live life out of our connection with Jesus.1

As we live life in this manner, we come to know He is everything the Bible tells us He is, and we can trust that His grace is sufficient for any circumstance [2 Corinthians 12:9]. He will never leave us nor forsake us [Hebrews 13:5], and he loves us [Ephesians 3:18-19].

     If we are not firmly rooted and grounded in Christ according to His Word, such heart issues as doubt, fear, or self-pity can separate us from Him. We walk away.

Soil Growing Thorns

     The third type of soil is already growing thorns, therefore any seed that sprouts must share the field and the nutrients of the soil. The tender plants that poke up are soon choked out by the dominant plant species and unable to produce.

     This describes Christians who hear the Word but fail to practice it. They are still worldly. This group may sit in church some Sundays or maybe listen to a Bible teaching podcast on the way to work but they are busy. Their allegiance is to their careers, the possessions they have accumulated such as a house, boat, or RV, the finer things in life such as trips, or a dinner at a good restaurant, and shopping at high-end stores. It isn’t wrong to have material possessions or have a good time, but we can pursue them instead of God.

     If it isn’t personal accomplishment, materialism, and pleasurable activities that preoccupies the person with this type of heart, it is the worries of the world. We may find ourselves striving to make sure our pantries are filled with food, and we have money in the bank in case of disaster. While planning isn’t wrong, we often do these things because we are worried that God won’t provide. We count God out and count on ourselves.

Jesus spoke about these worries in Matthew 6:25-33. He said “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

“To seek His kingdom is to seek to live in accordance with His standards, His guidelines.”2

Good Soil

     The fourth soil, the good soil, hears the word, understands it, and produces much fruit. So first we approach the Bible with ears to hear whether we are reading it or listening to a teaching. Our goal is to understand it in such a way we can apply it. If we don’t understand how to apply a verse after studying it, we can ask the Holy Spirit to show us.

     It was my husband who first set this example for me. He went to God in prayer and asked what it meant to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. [“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”] The Holy Spirit prompted him to watch children and he noticed they were trusting, joyful, dependent, and humble.

     One way to have good soil is to ask God to reveal to us anything we need to pull out or plow up, all the issues that keep us from being wholly committed to God. (To learn how to examine your heart read the blog posted Jan. 10).

Also, our hearts are prepared by studying Scripture, so we know what God expects of us. And remember, the love of God is agape meaning He intelligently, intensely wills the best for us.3

If we want to have a receptive mind, have an attitude that is other focused rather than self-focused, and a desire to do God’s will rather than our own we will prepare the soil. In that way we will identify anything that is preventing us from faithfully practicing God’s Word which will produce fruit.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Let’s Talk:

1-Which of these soils currently describes your heart? What is your evidence?

2-What do you do to ensure your heart is the good soil, ready to hear the word, understand it and produce fruit?

References:

1-New Testament Commentary “Christ-Centered Exposition Exalting Jesus in John” by Matt Carter and Josh Wredberg. B&H Publishing Group Nashville, Tennessee.

2-“The Tony Evans Bible Commentary” by Tony Evans. Holman Bible Publishers Nashville, Tennessee.

3-“The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words” by Terry L. Miethe. Bethany House Publishers Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Developing a Willing Heart

     Sometimes during prayer, I catch my breath before saying certain things because I do not want those things to happen—that is one of the indications that my life is not fully surrendered.

     What keeps us from surrendering? I have found one reason is fear.

     –Fear that if we surrender God will ask us to give up our life or our health.

     What if God sends me onto the mission field in a country where Christians can be executed for their beliefs?

     What if God asks me to spend my life in a wheelchair like Joni Eareckson Tada?

     –Fear that if we surrender God might take a personal possession or personal relationship from us.

     What if God asks me to give the money I have been saving for an emergency need to a struggling family or a missionary?

     What if God asks me to give up something I treasure?

     –Fear that if we surrender, our life will be void of pleasure.

     What if God tells me a favorite pastime is not productive, such as watching home improvement shows on TV?  

     What if God tells me the money I spend on that cold brew coffee with sweet cream could be better spent in a monthly donation to a charity?

     These fears cause me to catch my breath, hesitant to surrender.

     What does a surrendered life look like?

“Christian surrender means that a person lifts his or her hands and says to God, ‘Here I am, I surrender, You take over, I belong to You, You dispose of me!’” states Josef Tson, a Romanian pastor and Christian leader.

     According to Helen Roseveare, a missionary doctor who served in the Belgian Congo in the 1950s and 60s, surrender is to be a living sacrifice.

“To be a living sacrifice will involve all my time. God wants me to live every minute for Him in accordance with His will and purpose… No time can be considered as my own, or as ‘off-duty’ or ‘free.’

     To be a living sacrifice will involve all my possessions… All should be available to God for the furtherance of His Kingdom. My money is His penny… I must consider that I own nothing. All is God’s, and what I have, I have on trust from Him, to be used as He wishes.”

     Those definitions sound daunting. Yes, they can strike fear in our hearts!

     They confirm our understanding of a surrendered life. It is a life like the one Mother Theresa lived. But we all aren’t used of God in the same way. We aren’t faced with a big decision to leave what we know, all that is familiar, and go to the slums of India to serve the poor as she did.

     For most of us, surrender happens one situation at a time. I once came across a description that helped me gain a clearer picture.

     Most people think of surrender, offering up all we are and all we have to the Lord, as taking a $1000 bill and laying it on the table. A life like Mother Theresa.

     But for most the Lord sends us to the bank and has us cash the money in for quarters. Throughout our life we are asked to surrender quarters one, two, maybe 50 or 100 at a time.

     We might be asked to open our home to a foster child, cook a meal once a week for someone who is homebound, regularly encourage a friend with a negative mindset, volunteer to chaperone an overnight outing with the youth group at our church, or offer to babysit for our neighbor while she writes or paints for an hour.

     Surrender is a situation-by-situation decision, but it begins with a willing heart. How does this willing heart come about?

     Psalm 37:4-5

     “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

     Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this.”

     **Delight yourself in the Lord.

     When I read this directive, I think of grandmothers. Every grandmother I have met is eager to tell stories about their grandchildren. They tell about the things they do that show how smart they are and how cute they are. Grandmothers are also eager to show pictures.

     Do we show that we are delighted in the Lord by telling stories of his work in our lives?

     Do we show people pictures of God because we have come to know Him and understand that we give people a correct view of Him when we reveal His attributes through our behavior, such as being merciful, kind, and loving?

     To be delighted in the Lord is to be in love with Him. We fall in love with God when we come to know God and understand just how much he loves us. And when we embrace God’s love His love pours out of us.

     The Apostle Paul loved the Lord Jesus Christ so much he described himself as a bondslave of Christ. The concept of a bondslave is described in Exodus chapter 21. Among the Jews, fellow Hebrews who had been purchased had to be set free in the seventh year, however they could choose to stay and continue to serve their master. If they chose to become a bondslave their ear would be pierced with an awl, and they would become a servant for life.

     When we come to know Jesus our love for Him becomes so strong we want Him to be our master, we want to have our ear pierced so we are identified as His bondslave.

     **Commit your way to the Lord.

     In Hebrew this English word commit means to roll your way upon the Lord. The idea is rolling a heavy burden from ourselves onto another.

     In Barnes Notes it states the reference is to the whole course of life, or all that can affect life. This is all our plans or conduct and all the issues or results of those plans. It is equivalent here to ‘lot’ or ‘destiny.’ Everything, regarding the way we live, and all its results are to be committed to the Lord.

     The term “way” means the act of treading or going, a path, a course of life– the manner in which we live.

     **Trust in Him.

     How do we come to trust God? By coming to know Him so we know that He is trustworthy.

     This is accomplished by reading our Bibles, the book where God reveals His attributes and characteristics. We learn that He is compassionate, good, all-powerful, merciful, righteous, gracious, just, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. Also, we learn that He is our refuge, our savior, our provider, and our strength.

     Knowing this, we place our faith in Him and thus learn He is who He says He is. All we have read about Him in the Bible is true.

     Growth in Godly desires results in a willing heart. Hannah Whitall Smith describes this process in her book “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.”2

     “God’s promise is that He will work in us to will as well as to do His good pleasure. This means He will take possession of our will and work it for us; that His suggestions will come to us not so much commands from the outside as desires springing up within. They will originate in our will; we shall feel as though we desired to do so and so not as though we must.”

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Let’s Talk:

1-What keeps you from surrendering all?

2-If you live a surrendered life, share something that has helped you to accomplish this lifestyle.

References:

1- Barnes’ Notes, Electronic Database Copyright © 1997-2014 by Biblesoft, Inc.

2-“A Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life” by Hannah Whitall Smith. Published 1983 by Whitaker House.

The Benefits of Asking the Holy Spirit to Examine our Heart

     On the front page of my prayer journal, I keep notes from a teaching I heard decades ago. I gathered them at an informal gathering of ladies at the church I attended. We met so a couple of women who went to a workshop on prayer could share what they had learned.

     As part of the preparation process for prayer, we were encouraged to pray Psalm 139:23-24 so the Holy Spirit could reveal those heart issues that need correction.

     “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”  Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

     Another Scripture that invites the Holy Spirit to search our hearts is Psalm 26:2-3.

     “Test me, Lord, and try me; examine my heart and mind. For Your faithful love is before my eyes, and I live by Your truth. HCSB

     When we ask God to test our heart and uncover all that should not be there, it is good to know what types of heart issues we might discover. If we are unaware, we may miss something important in our sanctification.

Last week I explained the Biblical concept of the heart and how it is more than emotional reactions but also thought processes and acts of the will. Based on all the heart encompasses what might we expect the Holy Spirit to reveal?

     –The Holy Spirit uncovers motives.

     We can take all we intend to do before the Holy Spirit and ask for a fresh revelation of our motives. Why are we doing what we are doing, do we have pure motives?

Perhaps if Ananias had taken the time to ask the Lord to examine his heart, he would not have decided to sell property and claim he was donating the full amount to the church when he had kept part of the proceeds for himself. (Acts 5:1-6)

     We do not know his motives. We do know that in the early church Christians who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.

Perhaps he wanted to look generous, become an esteemed member of the church. We are told that Barnabas sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles. Did he envy the standing Barnabas had in the church?

His motive for not giving all the money may have been the need for financial security, not yet fully trusting God to meet his needs. Or perhaps pride, afraid of becoming one of the members of the church relying on the charity of others.

     As we sit before the Lord, we can consider our thought processes. How are we making our decisions? What are we thinking about the people around us and how does that impact our interactions with them? What is the reasoning behind our actions?

The other morning, I looked at a container of plastic wrap that had been left on the counter and I reasoned that if I kept putting things back where they belonged no one would put anything away. But the Holy Spirit caught the flawed reasoning.

We are not to “pay back” but do what is honorable (Romans 12:17) and we are not to become tired of doing what is good (Galatians 6:9).

     –The Holy Spirit uncovers what is displeasing to God.

     When we ask the Holy Spirit to show us any grievous way in us, He will uncover such things as envy, jealousy, bitterness, and discontentment before they have a chance to take root. Negative attributes are so much easier to deal with when small, rather than after they have been left to grow.

     Let’s consider the positions we hold as we ask the Holy Spirit to examine our heart. Did we just miss a promotion at work? Was someone else chosen to speak at a conference although we submitted our resume?

     In the winter months I need to fight discontentment and a bent towards complaining. One Saturday this December, the snow was building at a rapid rate. Periodically it would slide from the roof with the roar of an avalanche. At dusk, as a section tumbled off near the back of the house the lights began to flicker and dim. The wire connecting our house to the power pole in the alley had been pulled loose. Items not on a surge protector, such as the coffeepot and treadmill, were damaged and had to be replaced. Yes, complaints were on my lips at first. But the Holy Spirit showed me all God did on our behalf during the situation. He changed my heart attitude.

     Yes, asking to be shown any grievous way in us helps us change course.

     –The Holy Spirit uncovers areas where our will is out of alignment with God.

     Since the will is a heart issue, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us align our will with God’s will. In the Garden of Gethsemane, before Jesus was arrested, He prayed “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Matthew 26:39 NLT

     Jesus submitted to the will of God, taking up the cross on which he would be crucified. To follow Jesus, become like Him, we submit to the will of God.

     “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 NLT

     In some Bible versions “give up your own way” is translated “deny yourself” which is to place Jesus’s glory ahead of our own. To take up our cross daily is to submit to Christ’s authority in our lives daily. Disciples live according to God’s kingdom agenda, which is the visible manifestation of the comprehensive rule of God over every area of life.”1

     I often discover obstinance in my heart. I silently declare, “I will not” and then the Holy Spirit brings to mind scripture verses that reveal the proper response. In His Word, God tells us the right heart attitude and because we have a new heart, we can walk according.

     Therefore, let us spend time in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the heart issues that need to be addressed for us to be more Christ-like.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Let’s Talk:

1-What Bible verses do you find helpful for uncovering heart issues that do not lineup with God’s Word?

2-What do you do once you have uncovered these heart issues?

References:

1-The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, Advancing God’s Kingdom Agenda by Tony Evans. Holman Bible Publishers Nashville, Tennessee.

How to Experience Spiritual Transformation in 2023

     How do I become more like Jesus. This is my quest in 2023. Sure, like you, I can list scripture verses that tell me.

     I can walk in love— “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. Eph 5:2 ESV

     I can be ready for every good work— “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” Titus 3:1-2 ESV

     I can look out for others— “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Phil 2:3-4 ESV

     I can avoid worldly behavior— “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Col 3:5 ESV

     I can lay down my life for fellow Christians— “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” 1 John 3:16-17 ESV

     But how does this head knowledge become heart knowledge? For example, what does it mean to lay down our life for another? What does it look like when implemented and how does it become a natural part of who we are, something we automatically do rather than something we know we should do? Really my quest is for a better grasp of the transformation that takes place in the spiritual realm. How is this accomplished?

     When I learned to ski, I spent one day on the beginner’s hill moving back and forth across the slope trying to master turns. Each time I reached the tree line, I would attempt a turn either to the right or left only to fall. Pushing myself up from the snow I continued to work my way down the run. At the end of the day, exhausted, wet, and cold, I returned to the ski lodge defeated. I could turn right but the left turn eluded me.

     The next morning, back on the beginner’s slope I was quite surprised to make a left turn. Soon I would swoosh down the slope without any thought to turns for I had mastered them.

     I suppose there is some physical explanation for this victory in learning how to ski. Perhaps muscle memory. But what is the transformation process in the spiritual realm? Often we refer to it as a matter of the heart, therefore I want to lay a foundation by first exploring the concept of “the heart.”

In the Hawker’s Poor Man’s Dictionary, we read: “The heart in all languages is considered as the leading principle of action and of character.”1

     I tend to shrink the heart concept to emotional issues, but research shows Biblically it is much more.

According to Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, references to heart Biblically often encompasses the intellect, affections, and will. “Scripture implies that the heart and the head act and react on one another.”2

     Holman Bible Dictionary states that “as the center of physical life, the heart came to stand for the person as a whole.”3 Just as the body organ referred to as our heart governs our ability to function physically, the term heart refers to all aspects of humanity. Our modern, secular dictionary recognizes the word heart describes a multitude of human attributes such as personality, disposition, and intellect. Also, the emotional and moral nature of people such as compassion, affection, courage, and enthusiasm.4

     But let’s get back to Biblical references. According to the Holman resource the heart is the seat of intelligence (Matt. 13:15) and relates to thinking (Proverbs 23:7). Functions of the mind are frequently linked with the heart in the Bible. For example, Mary treasured up all the things the shepherds relayed about her child, “pondering them in her heart,” which is to consider carefully. (Luke 2:19)

     Acts of the will, conscious or deliberate decisions, are often heart issues as well according to the Holman Bible Dictionary. For example, when Ananias lied to God, we read that he contrived the deed in his heart (Acts 5:4).

     Of course, emotions spring from the heart as well. These might be negative, such as fear, discouragement, despair, sorrow, and jealousy. But also positive, such as joy and love.

     “The heart is spoken of in Scripture as the center of the moral and spiritual life,” writes Gerald Cowen who authored the piece in the Holman Dictionary.

     It is not too difficult to assess our spiritual state. It exposes itself in thoughts, words (expressed or held back), and actions.

     Matthew 15:18-19: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

     This is the fallen condition of our hearts according to Jesus. This condition was passed down to all humans by Adam and Eve when they disobeyed the explicit command of God not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thus bringing sin into the world.

     A short piece on the heart posted on GotQuestions.org states: “The human heart, in its natural condition, is evil, treacherous and deceitful. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” In other words, the Fall has affected us at the deepest level; our mind, emotions and desires have been tainted by sin—and we are blind to just how pervasive the problem is.”5

     But those of us who have been born again know that when Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins we commit we weren’t just saved from God’s wrath. Also, we were freed from the bondage of sin that prevents us from becoming who God created us to be… the image of His Son just as the Son is the image of the Father.

     Because the heart is at the root of the problem, this is the place where God does His work in the individual. And transformation is possible for all who are in Christ.

NOTE **First post in a series on the role of the heart in spiritual transformation.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Let’s Talk:

1-Has God ever revealed a heart issue to you? How did this happen?

2-What “how” questions pertaining to the heart have you asked and not yet uncovered the answer?

References:

1-Hawker’s Poor Man’s Dictionary. Biblesoft formatted electronic database. Copyright © 2015 by Biblesoft, Inc.

2- Fausset’s Bible Dictionary. Electronic Database Copyright © 1998, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc.

3- Holman Bible Dictionary. Copyright © 1991 by Holman Bible Publishers.

4-merriam-webster.com

5-GotQuestions.com

Developing Good Bible Study Habits

     I came across a question that requires time to contemplate. It asked how church exposure, or lack of it, had shaped the way I view Bible study.

     When I began attending church as an adult, receiving Christ as my Lord and Savior at age 33, my choice for a place to fellowship was a body of believers where the pastor taught verse-by-verse through the Bible covering one book at a time. A Monday night Bible study covered another book, and I went to that as well.

     At that point I sat and listened to the teachers, growing in knowledge and understanding, but real growth and change occurred when my church instituted a women’s Bible study. Once a week we met for teaching on the passages we had studied as we worked our way through a book of the Bible. Also, we broke into small groups to discuss questions we had answered about those passages.

     Later I enrolled in an inductive Bible study class at my church to learn how to interpret Scripture accurately. Here’s a point made from the class: “Careful observation is the basis for interpretation. If one has done a careful job of observing what the passage says, then determining what the passage means will usually fall out naturally. If one jumps into interpretation before doing the work of observation, then the interpretation will be based on what you bring to the text, rather than what the text brings to you.”1

     In answer to the question posed at the beginning of this blog, I would have to say the church God led me to resulted in great insight into the importance of proper study and appropriate application of God’s Word. I have learned the best way to interpret one Scripture within a book of the Bible is to begin by reading the entire book.

     I enjoy completing Bible studies that have been written by authors of this genre. I appreciate their research, creativity, and insight into the books of the Bible. I probably complete at least three a year. The last study I did was on Ephesians and the author had us repeatedly read the book in its entirety.

     Yes, I can say a good foundation for the study of God’s Word was built at the first church I attended. The second church, which I now attend, continues to build on that firm foundation. My husband was sent out to pastor this church 22 years ago. I am part of a team of three women who facilitate the women’s Bible study, which I love. We select studies from various authors that usually include teaching on DVD.

     However, this winter we are doing something a little different. We will be reading a book titled “Women of the Word, How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds” by Jen Wilkin. I think it will be refreshing, uncovering bad habits I have developed. It is easy to become lazy when reading the Bible. Returning to favorite passages and books but skipping the full counsel of God. Or always choosing written Bible studies instead of doing our own research.

     I view Bible study of utmost importance for several reasons.

     1-The Bible reveals God, His character, and attributes.

     2-Scripture changes us.

3-Scripture provides clarity between God’s ways and the ways of the world.

Let’s Talk:

1-How would you answer the question at the beginning of the blog? What is your view of Bible study?

2-Name one way the church you first attended brought clarity to God’s Word and its application.

References:

1-Living by the Book by Howard G. Hendricks.

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Awestruck, Expect to be Astonished by God

     “Let’s stop and look at the stars,” my friend suggested as we drove home from a Christmas performance of the Susanville Symphony. The violins, cellos, French horns, tubas, trumpets, flutes, and percussion had reverberated through the old church that evening enveloping us with the magnificence of God. Our hearts joined with the instruments in praise during such pieces as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “O Holy Night.” Piling up God’s magnificence with a stop to view the stars sounded good.

We pulled into a turnout scraped clear by snowplows, next to an expansive meadow. There was no moon to diminish the luster of the night sky, it stretched above us like a bolt of midnight velvet unfurled and stitched with translucent sequins.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1

I do not have much knowledge of astronomy, but I do know that God placed the stars in the heavens, He remembers them, and sustains them.

“He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.” Psalm 147:4

We looked upwards in awe. It was just for a few minutes, one very cold winter night before Christmas. But that seems to be the way we see God’s magnificence. It is a delightful surprise because it manifests when we least expect it.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines magnificent as “impressive to the mind and spirit; strikingly beautiful; exceptionally fine.”

In July I wrote a blog about a television episode of “From the Source” with Chef Katie Button, when she explored the unique aspects of maple syrup. I was awestruck to learn sap from Sugar Maple trees is not all the same. In fact, the sap from each individual tree changes, tasting different every time it is extracted because it is impacted by the seasons, temperature, barometric pressure, and even the phases of the moon.

I wrote: “God is so creative He never has to repeat what He has done. I have always read there are no two snowflakes alike, but now I know if the maple syrup I pour on my pancakes from one bottle tastes like the syrup I pour from another bottle, the unique flavor the tree produced when the sap was drained has been masked. There are no two maple syrups alike. God only does extraordinary things.”

The show had me mesmerized because I saw the magnificence of God, just as I did during the Christmas concert and looking up at the brilliant stars on a moonless night. In the summer the hummingbirds in my garden bring awe. I read they are the most agile birds on the planet and can hover, fly backward, and even upside down for brief periods.

My husband came across a book on health that so amazed him he had to share it with me. The author was discussing the benefits of broccoli… all the usual stuff like the fact it is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K. But wait… here’s the surprise that magnifies the magnificence of God. Broccoli provides a chemical called sulforaphane, a sulfur compound. “This substance doesn’t exist in broccoli, but when we chew it, enzymes in our saliva combine with sulforaphane’s precursors contained in the vegetable, and, presto, there it is, like a magic trick,” writes author Darin Olien. “The sulforaphane then activates two hundred different genes, some of them protecting us from cancer and others preventing the disease’s spread.”1

I love to be delighted by God. To be stunned by His magnificence. I will wait expectantly each day to see what unfolds. Please join me!

Let’s Talk:

1-Have you ever been astonished by God? If so, share your experience in the comment section.

2-In your opinion what prevents us from being awestruck? How might we prepare our hearts to see the magnificence of God daily?

References:

1-“Superlife: The 5 Simple Fixes that will Make you Healthy, Fit, and Eternally Awesome” by Darin Olien. HarperCollins Publisher New York, NY.

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Five Reasons We Can Rejoice at Christmas

     “Don’t let Satan rob you of the joy of the season.” I read this exhortation in an advent devotional the first week of December. How might this happen? By taking our focus from Jesus Christ.

     When the deceiver points to meager gifts, disappointing festivities, burned sugar cookies, or… remember:

     –Jesus came so we can live in the presence of God.

When my heart opened to Jesus Christ it was as if a veil lifted from my eyes and I saw Him, I knew who He was, and I was in His presence. I don’t know if Adam and Eve’s ability to walk with God was like mine before they doubted His goodness and challenged His sovereignty. However, I do know I walk with God for I am no longer at enmity with Him.

Romans 5:10-11

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” ESV

He is never distant. Although I don’t always see Him in the details my ability to notice is becoming more and more refined. One winter morning I awoke thinking it was the middle of the night. Then I heard the fire crackling in the stove near the kitchen and knew my husband was up. Before I went to bed, I had asked God to help me sleep all night instead of awakening at two or three o’clock. God heard my request and responded.

     –Jesus came that we may have life abundantly.

     John 10:10 reads: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

     An abundant life. If you are anything like me, you quote that Scripture a lot. But what does it really mean? I have crossed paths with brothers and sisters in Christ whom I have not seen in a while. To catch me up on all that has occurred since we last talked, they tell me they are living the “good life.” Usually, that means everything is going their way. But is this the life Jesus was talking about?

     The Greek word translated “abundantly” is “perissos.” It means superabundant–in quantity, or superior—in quality; excessive, beyond measure.

     Tony Evans comments: “Jesus doesn’t want you merely to possess eternal life but also to possess the full experience of life. Following the shepherd leads to blessing and joy and a growing experience of eternal life. It allows him to rebuke and reverse the enemy’s attempts at blocking the blessings, purpose, and spiritual fulfillment God has for your life.”1

     –Jesus came to set us free.

Sin no longer has the hold it once did. But that’s not all. Neither does worry, anxiety, other people’s opinions of us, or difficult situations.

When I was a little girl, I used to carry my burdens to my mother. I went through a time when I had insomnia so I would call for her and she would come to me, sit on the edge of my bed and calm my anxious thoughts by redirecting them to the good and pleasant things in my life.

Now I run to Jesus. He corrects my thinking through His Word and as I apply it, I experience its validity. In obedience I also abide in Him which gives me the ability to bear fruit.

During one of our discussions of God’s Word, my husband, Terry, said that when people realize Jesus only has the best for them, they begin to do what He says. “That’s because we always do what is best for us,” he stated.

Satan tells us we are free when we go our own way, but that is the exact opposite of freedom. In obedience to Jesus Christ, we walk with confidence, free from worry about the outcome.

     –Jesus came to give us hope and a future.

     We will one day see Jesus face to face, but eternal life begins when our spirit comes alive and we experience the second birth. (John chapter 3)

Scripture tells us “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3 ESV

Our future is now, each moment we have here on this earth to fellowship with God, learn His ways, glorify Him as we are transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

No matter what happens in life, we are secure in our salvation. Also, we can be assured that God is revealed in the Bible, and He can be our refuge, our comforter, our sustainer, our conqueror, and our strength.

But we need to seek Him in all these capacities. For example, when we make God our refuge, He becomes our refuge. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 ESV

     –Jesus came so we can be the masterpiece he envisions.

     We are masterfully created. I am not talking about how our body works (although amazing), but our individual talent, skills, personality traits, viewpoint, and spiritual insight. All that makes us unique, one of a kind.

     In Christ, we become the person God envisioned, fit for the Master’s use. Ephesian 2:10 explains— “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

     We become the masterpiece God created through many methods. God uses the circumstances we go through to hone us into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28-29). He gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 16:13-14).

     I have discovered that what is being chipped away is all that is me, not Him. This is anything that is self-absorbed.

     My self-focus appears ever so readily. I wrote an announcement for the church bulletin about the upcoming women’s Bible study. When the bulletin was read, the person reading the copy stumbled over the sentence. Immediately, in my heart I prepared to defend my writing. Quickly the Holy Spirit convicted me of my less than gracious attitude. To blame the reader, rather than simply offering to redo the copy, did not reflect Christ-like beauty.

     My list of reasons to rejoice is very short compared to what it might be. I hope you will join me and create a list of your own, based on Jesus Christ and all that He has done for us. This is the joy of Christmas that can never be taken, not even by Satan.

Let’s Talk:

1-What steals your joy at Christmas?

2-Do you rely on the world to bring you the joy of Christmas? If so, how? If not, how do you prevent the world from encroaching?

**Share in the comments!

References:

1-“The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, Advancing God’s Kingdom Agenda” published by Holman Bible Publishers Nashville, Tennessee.

Anticipating Christmas

     Life is best when filled with anticipation. We look forward to something that is about to happen, could happen, holds promise… and thus we live in a state of expectancy.

What does the day hold? Maybe a cappuccino made by a skilled barista, a word from a stranger that is so personal we know it is God’s voice, a rainbow painted on the clouds marking the end of a storm.

Sometimes it is a special date that holds anticipation. I went to the DMV to take a driving test on my 16th birthday, excited for the adventures and freedom being a licensed driver would bring.

It could be a wedding, birth of a child, educational degree, mastery of a craft, or upcoming trip.  

     The definition of anticipation is “the act or state of looking forward to some occurrence.”1

     And this is Christmas, the season of advent. All the earth waited to receive a Savior born at the appointed time in Bethlehem. Then they waited for Him to conquer death on the cross. We now join all the earth waiting for the return of Christ as our triumphant King.

     Christmas is “less than” if we only anticipate opening presents December 25, attending a production of Scrooge at the local theater or Handel’s Messiah, decorating festive cookies or constructing gingerbread houses, and driving through a neighborhood known for elaborate light displays.  

     Therefore, I am sharing in this post a few websites that offer free advent reading plans. These plans help us stay focused on the reason for Christmas and live with expectation. Hopefully not just this December as we celebrate the birth of Christ but into the New Year, 2023, living daily as if it were the date of His return.

     Free Advent Reading Plans:

     –Cissie Graham Lynch Advent Devotional, a four-part series posted weekly at billygraham.org. Week one is “Christ the Conqueror.” This series is from “Born to You This Day: Christmas Reflections on the Savior.”

     –Lovegodgreatly.com is posting a four-week advent devotional titled “All His Promises” by Melissa Fuller. The first week focuses on Isaiah 2:5—“Let us walk in the Lord’s guiding light.”

     –“Hope Rekindled” a free four-week advent reading plan written by Sarah Koontz can be downloaded in its entirety at livingbydesign.org/advent. Week one is “Promise,” week two is “Preparation,” week three is “Peace,” and week four is “Praise.”

     –Navigators offers “Celebrate Advent: 4 Weeks of Welcoming Jesus! The readings are based on four phrases from a hymn written by Charles Wesley titled “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” You can download a copy at navlink.org/celebrateadvent.

     December can be a month of despair if we focus on the passing pleasures of this world. Or if we allow the losses and disappointments of 2022 to consume our thoughts. But our hope and future are not of this world. Making time for advent devotionals will give us the right perspective. Help us to not only approach each December day with expectancy, but every day with this attitude as we anticipate the return of Christ.

Let’s Talk:

1-If you have a special advent devotional that has blessed you, please share it in the comment section!

References:

1-Definition from merriam-webster.com.  

Three Reasons to Give Thanks No Matter What

1 Thessalonians 5:18

     … in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

     Amid everything we can give thanks. No matter how chaotic our season of life happens to be or how traumatic it is. Why would this be so?

     Let’s ponder the verse and ask for a fresh revelation from the Holy Spirit who came to teach us and remind us of everything Jesus said.

     **God has plans for us that are not just for the here and now but for our eternal future.

     Hebrews chapter 11 gives examples of men and women of faith who lived as foreigners and nomads here on earth looking forward to a heavenly homeland. (Hebrews 11:13-16) We can be stumbled when we forget we are just passing through this world.

     In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes extensively about our future hope. We are to fix our gaze on the things we cannot see for the things we can see will soon be gone (4:18). We will be given heavenly bodies and heavenly homes.

     **God is right there with us in all circumstances.

     One of my favorite passages is Isaiah 43:2-3.

     “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” ESV  

     During trials and tribulations, we can feel forgotten. But God is omnipresent and can be all places at once. Whether or not we “feel” His presence He is near. But action is required on our part as well. We are told to draw near to God, and He will draw near to us. (James 4:8a) Tony Evans writes in his Bible Commentary, “To draw near to God is to come into his presence with prayer, praise, and obedience.” 

     **God’s grace is sufficient.

     Paul writes in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 about a mysterious “thorn in his flesh” that tormented him. When he begged for God to remove it, he was told, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (12:9a)

     In The Message, a version of the Bible author Eugene Peterson wrote in simpler language, this section of Scripture reads:

“My grace is enough; it’s all you need.

My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. 10 Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size — abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” 2 Cor 12:9-10

     Grace, from the Greek charis, is unmerited favor. It brings forth the idea of a favor, kindness, or gift which brings pleasure to another.1

     I find that an attitude of gratefulness takes thought. It is easy to be grateful for all the things in life we like… a warm fire on a cold day, good conversation with a friend as we sip a cappuccino, a bouquet of flowers brought to our door. But in a hard situation it gets tough, until we take our eyes off ourselves and our circumstances and place them firmly on Jesus.

Let’s Talk:

1-Do you find it difficult to give thanks in everything? Why/why not?

2-During trials and tribulations what brings praise to your lips?

References:

1-Holman Bible Dictionary. Copyright © 1991 by Holman Bible Publishers.