“I had to wonder if the grace I lived in would be sufficient if that was all I had left; if my faith would see me through even the prospect of life in prison.”
He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts Mark 3:5
I want to talk about the heart some more this week, the bible certainly talks a great deal about the heart as the heart is really who we are deep down inside, the us beyond the surface, beyond the mind of reason and function, past the veneer of the flesh that we put out there for the world to see. The heart, as we looked at last week, is the core of our being, the home of our souls and the place the Spirit of the Lord has chosen to dwell. The Lord looks at the heart and knows us even better then we know ourselves. And he loves us because of, and in spite of, what he finds there.
But, as evidenced by our opening verse, he doesn’t always like what he sees there, for the heart is also the home of our attitudes and, we have to admit, we are often lacking in the attitude department. A good attitude is an indicator of a healthy joyful, grateful and optimistic heart, a heart that actually trusts the Lord and doesn’t just say it does. While a bad attitude only sees the bad, expects and focuses on the worst in any and all situations and usually wants everyone else to share their point of view. Misery loves company— boy aint that the truth.
That miserable attitude is a heart issue that is often the result of a hard heart
Part of the assignment the Lord gave me in pastoring was to make our church a place that would bring healing to wounded hearts. That is a tall order, a very tall order, because I am finding out more and more that a wounded heart is often also a hard heart. Jesus ran into this same issue.
His disciples asked him one day why he always taught the people in parables and in response he quoted from Isaiah:
Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have clos
ed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ Mat 13:15
I believe Jesus is saying here; ‘if people want to understand they will.’ ‘If their hearts are open to receive truth then they will see with their eyes and hear with their ears and receive the blessing and the healing in my words.’ ‘But if their attitudes are selfish and they assume they already know everything, they will profit nothing from my teaching and miss the healing their hearts need.’
A person has to want to be healed, has to want to get over and get on—and you might ask, “Why would a person not want to be healed from a wounded heart?” The answer is quite simple; because they are angry and the anger blinds them to the truth—the truth of their hardness. A hard heart does not want to see.
A angry heart is an unforgiving heart that cannot receive forgiveness because it cannot give it, an angry heart revels in the anger, seeks only revenge and appeasement, becomes cognizant only of self-preservation, and even seeks the hurt of others, the hurt of those who hurt them or who are perceived as threatening to hurt them—real or imagined.
A hard heart sees ill intent where there is none and throws up barriers between them and any who would try to point out the selfishness and darkness that is threatening, and following, them. A hard heart is nearly impossible to break through because the anger is always justified by pointing back to the hurt. And the hurt will always be there as long as there is justification. A wounded heart becomes a hard heart. A hard heart is a dark heart and is a lonely place to be.
God’s biggest challenge in revealing himself to the human heart, is getting past that hardness. Fortunately he never stops trying and can even use our own stupid choices to get us back on track. It sometimes takes extraordinary measures, attention getters that can come in many forms.
I remember years ago, when I was doing Bible studies in the Yellowstone County jail, talking to a broken young man who was coming truly seeking the Lord. There were always those who came just to make it look good to the court, or seeking an opportunity to play someone. There is no one more clever than someone who has devoted all their time and energy to pulling one over on someone, and in jail all you have is time. And I had been duped a few times.
But this young man came truly seeking. I can still see his face, he looked like he as barely out of his teens, long curly blonde hair, a wisp of a beard, and blue eyes that looked like they had seen hell and escaped only yesterday. Eyes full of pain and sorrow and gratefulness all at once. What he told me has stuck with me ever since. “I thank God every day that I am in jail so that I cannot hurt anyone else.”
You have heard the saying that everyone in jail is innocent? That isn’t entirely true, usually it’s just someone else’s fault that they did what they did, so this really struck me. Here was someone taking full responsibility. He confessed to us that he had killed someone who didn’t deserve to die, because of a drug deal gone sour, and he knew that he deserved to be in jail.
He said he was glad he had gotten caught because the Lord had used jail to get his attention, that he had met Jesus, and knew that he was forgiven. But, he said, I thank God that I am here, and will probably be here for a very long time—he was awaiting sentencing.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Ezekiel 36
There was someone who had a heart of stone replaced with a heart of flesh, who had received forgiveness and knew that aside from Jesus, he might fall back into the pit of darkness. His thoughts were no longer for himself but his heart was now seeing the good in others. In his mind, in his newly healed heart, his way of loving others was to protect them from himself. He also said that he felt free for the first time in his life, sitting there in jail, because he had been delivered from darkness and loneliness by Jesus.
I don’t know what transpired in his life to get him to a place of darkness that had so ensnared and hardened
him that he would resort to drugs and violence, even murder, to try and appease the pain, but I knew he was now on the right track. Perhaps another reason it struck me so was because I had to wonder if the grace I lived in would be sufficient if that was all I had left; if my faith would see me through even the prospect of life in prison.
Lord, keep in me a heart for you, a heart of love, a heart that both receives and offers healing.