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Friday, September 9, 2011

Weekly Snippet: The Contents of a Shaken Heart

My sister's college pastor once illustrated one of his sermons in an unusual and memorable way.  He brought out a half-empty water bottle, removed the lid, and proceeded to shake it around vigorously.  Water splashed everywhere.  Finally he asked his audience, "Why did the water come out just now?"

Several people raised their hands and said, "Because you shook it."  A few said, "Because you took the lid off."  He didn't accept any of these answers.

At last, one person raised a hand and said, "Because there was water in the bottle."

"Right," he said.  "Water came out because I shook it without the lid on it; that's true enough.  But nothing would have come out at all if there hadn't been water in there in the first place.  The human heart is the same way; what comes out when we are shaken is what is inside us."

I don't know about you, but when I think of what the inside of my heart must look like, I feel ashamed.  I can look back over my life and see the kind of nonsense that has come out of it before.  I remember telling lies when I was caught doing something wrong, or put on the spot by peers I was afraid to displease (Leviticus 19: 11); I have disobeyed my parents and elders when I really wanted to do what they had forbidden (Ephesians 6: 1); I have refused to share my faith, for fear it could jeopardize my job, my life, my friendships, or other things I valued, or because I found the other person unlovable (Matthew 10: 33; Matthew 23: 13).

The Bible says, "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of," (Luke 6: 45 NIV 2011).  By this verse, and the whole weight of Scripture behind it, all human beings, including myself, are judged and found lacking.

I am not a nice person who has merely an imperfect heart.  I am evil at the core, and riddled with weakness and a tendency toward sin!  If you only saw me when I was at ease, you might be deceived, and of course I would love you to think I am better than I am.  However, the way I behave when I'm shaken--when I'm angry, frustrated, afraid, intimidated, sad, or defeated--is the way my heart actually looks.  If something ugly percolates out of me in these extreme situations, it is because it was there in the first place!

That's a grim statement, and I'm not proud of my weakness, but I am glad to say that Jesus redeemed me when I believed in Him, and by His guidance and conviction, He is uncovering these imperfections and sins and refining me.  I believe that He is making me more like Himself--good, not inclined toward evil--with each passing lesson.  He is purifying the contents of my heart.

This religion I follow does not require merely an outward goodness, because that is falsehood.  If it only required goodness during times of peace and safety, when the foundations of our world are not being shaken, then it would be a false, farcical thing that no one should believe.  Instead of that, God requires fresh and pure things to flow from poison springs inside of us (Matthew 25: 24-30), an impossible thing within the power of human beings.

God takes a heart of stone and makes living water flow from it, not by human physical effort, but first by the discipline of the law, and secondly by the Word of God, who came to us in the flesh as Jesus (Exodus 17: 1-5; Numbers 20: 6-11).  By the Holy Spirit we are enabled to produce this pure overflow from our hearts, when we believe in Jesus and open ourselves to His cleansing power (John 7: 37-39).  This way the good things inside us neither came from us nor were put there by our efforts.

In practice, this means that when we are shaken, we have to willfully obey and believe in the power of God, and let His power be shown through our words and deeds.  That means that when we are afraid, we have to willfully, at that moment, believe that God is greater than the things we fear, and do what we know He would have us do (contrary to our human impulses)(Psalm 91: 4-8).  When we are angry, we have to willfully, in the moment, submit to God's ruling that we cannot commit sin and use that anger as an excuse (Ephesians 4: 26).  When we are frustrated or defeated, we are not to give up on what is right, despite the odds (Galatians 6:9).  When we are sad, we cannot blame God and curse Him for our grief (Job 2: 9, 10).

At the core of me, there is no stable thing, so I know that I will crumble when I am put to the test.  The only way I can be good when my heart is shaken is to let God put a new heart and a new Spirit in me (Ezekiel 11: 19, 20).  He is stronger than my weak heart, and I know He can help you, too!