Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Keeping a Heart from Growing Cold

The prophets were not very popular people. Have you ever been friends with someone who insisted on seeing the glass half empty? They found the negative in every situation, when you thought things were going along just fine. We tire quickly of people like this, and we begin to avoid spending time with them; they are a “downer.” I imagine the people of Isaiah’s day felt the same about him. While they lived in prosperity and relative peace, Isaiah continually preached the same message of coming doom and judgment. However, Isaiah was no ordinary pessimist. He was relating a message from God.

Isaiah opens his book with a wake-up call. “Alas, sinful nation, people weighted down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him.” (Is 1:4) Back when the Israelites first prepared to enter the Promised Land, God made a covenant with His chosen people. He gave them the Law, which would set them apart from the nations surrounding them. The Law was a reflection of the character of God, and in their obedience to it, Israel would be a testimony to their neighbors about God Himself: “So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statues and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him?”(Deuteronomy 4:6-7)

Apparently in Isaiah’s time, the people continued to fulfill the letter of the Law with their sacrifices. Yet this did not please God. “ ‘What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats . . . bring your worthless offerings no longer.’ ” What was the problem? They were only going through the motions. Paul succinctly explains it like this: “They did not pursue [the Law] by faith, but as though it were by works.” (Romans 9:32)

The Lord had warned His people of this before they ever entered the land. God knew that their coming prosperity would cause the people to turn away from Him: “Then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God.” (Deut 8:14) God wanted their hearts, not their pious actions. “Now Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. . . so circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” (Deut 10:12, 16; italics added)

Jim Elliot, martyred missionary, once wrote in his journal that while he spent time with the Lord before going to work in the mornings, he would again go to the Lord at lunchtime, because he knew his heart had grown cold during the morning hours. Jim’s honesty correctly identified the problem we all have. Keeping our hearts turned toward God can very quickly turn into just going through the motions.

I have found this to be a challenge even while in seminary, of all places. I go to school each day and learn about the Word of God. Wouldn’t you think that with my nose in its pages every day as it is, my heart would have no problem seeking God? Yet even the study of Scripture can easily become just an academic endeavor. How quickly my heart grows cold! How quickly I become a “stiff-necked” woman!

How do you all fight this battle? I’d love to hear your comments on strategies you use to have a heart that loves God.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Jeepers, girl! Slow down a bit, so those of us who are mere mortals have some time to read and ponder your writings, huh? :-)

Seriously, this is a very interesting meditation. You sent me right back to Isaiah chapter 1 for a careful (re)reading. It's a heck of a chapter.

Thanks for a very thoughtful and thought-provoking blog entry.