Highways of the Heart

 “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.” “And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;.. they shall not go astray... The redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Psalm 84:5-7; Isaiah 35:8-10

Many roads are frenzied, filled with people rushing to get somewhere or nowhere fast, mental and metal traffic poking, edging along with edgy drivers. Road ribbons turn over underpasses, swoop around and along, wind from point to point along the way. We choose starting points and destinations, yet on the road, the journey is master.

Highways and rushing river, CO

Every day, all life long, we move along highways, whether tangible ones or those through the interior of our souls. We are never completely stagnant. Even if home-bound, or physically debilitated, we still have roads of the heart and mind that are traveled upon continually and sometimes wander. The ransomed of the Lord, whose hope is set on Zion, travel apart from the rest.

We live among them. Those whose destination is the Lord Himself have a different cadence, a unique joy, an unordinary, supernatural strength and unshakeable hope the world does not own, understand, or desire. When they traverse a valley of sorrow– and those vales can be dark, and long, and dry– they make it a place of springs, they find deep wells of peace that is other-worldly. Each day they trust for just enough, going by faith from strength to strength, steady, joyful, fixed on the ultimate end. Their perspective is eternal, their tempo divinely controlled. The way they take is not only known by God their Maker, but particularly designed and inscribed by His sovereign, gracious hand on their hearts to span all their numbered days. (Job 23:10; John 14:27)

The Way of Holiness, the Road of the Redeemed, is at times lonely, but always, always a highway of gladness. We can make it our byway, no matter our life path, because it is a road unlike any other, determined by submission to the all-wise Master Planner. Wherever my location, have I set the destination of my heart? What detours tempt and distract? Whatever my career path, my ministry, my place of residence, my ‘crowd,’ is my interior paved with pure motives, Spirit-led thinking, an undivided heart?

“Oh, to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.”  ~Robert 
Robinson (1758)

Good Master, in every place You lead me on this earth, keep me on Your Highway of Holiness, singing with joy Your highest praise.

Coming Out Changed

When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, he who enters by the north gate to worship shall go out by the south gate, and he who enters by the south gate shall go out by the north gate: no one shall return by way of the gate by which he entered… When they enter, the prince shall enter with them, and when they go out, he shall go out.” Ezekiel 46:9-10

When we come to Almighty God in worship, we get up changed. We cannot spend time with Him and return to life the same way. Thoughtful moments in the presence of the Lord, the Prince of Peace, alter our perspective, motivations, mindset, and methods. We rise from worship and He abides with us, now different from the encounter.

Istanbul gateway from the Phosphorus RIver

Sometimes the changes are obvious and immediate: a new breath of patience, a lifting of the soul in hope, a cheerier disposition, kinder tone of voice, ready words that bless. Facing the Lord Who forgave, and held His tongue, and did not complain, and tended to His mother’s care on the cross, infuses with fresh mercy, self-control, vision of the bigger picture, compassion, and tenderness. Contemplating His suffering and limitless love for me expands my heart in gratitude and love back, and love mingled with understanding for others. For what changes in heart, in my actions and reactions, can I presently thank God? How does worship affect the way I see those around me in my family, community, workplace? The way they see me? How does it adjust my view of and attitude toward the media, the church, those in God-ordained authority over me?

Sometimes changes take longer, but regular and consistent time with the Lord gradually softens hardened attitudes, dissolves life-long prejudices, tugs softly at ingrained habits until I see them with new eyes, recognize their danger or folly, and am able to relinquish them once for all. Where am I sensing conviction, or new awareness of something awry, that I might ask God to bring about a holy exchange? In what areas do I need a generous dose of patience, persistence, and fortitude?

The beautiful truth in this short passage is that the Prince is present when we enter, and stays alongside as we exit the gate. We never go to worship and part from our King as a subject alone, on our own. Our communion from time in the temple is carried within and along the way, making every moment holy, all of life redeemed. (Matthew 28:20b; John 14:16,18)

Father, have Your way with me in worship that I am truly, significantly changed as a result. May I never leave my knees the same person, but always more like You, more clearly reflecting Your glory. (2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:3)

 

High Above the Waters

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Who determined its measurements— Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” “The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty! Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore.” Job 38:4-11; Psalm 93

The LORD reigns. Righteous, upright, stable, unshakeable, the King is enthroned on high, forever. He is regal, robed in majesty, authority, strength, might, perfection, and He is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting God. We cannot plumb His depths, we cannot measure the breadth of His love, we cannot contain His power, we cannot describe His splendor. What floods, what waters, what waves, can shake us when He, with absolute and perfect authority, rules over and above all? (1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 90:2; 103:11-12)

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When I am flooded with anxiety, fears for the future or doubt of the unknown, the God Who is all-knowing and all-good cannot be shaken. When I am choking in the pressure of responsibilities, weary of another assignment, a harrowing test, a vicious attack, God is strong, Lord over the waters, Master over the boundaries of the seemingly-overwhelming sea. When engulfed by relentless torrents of grief, thinking I may never breathe normally again, the majestic King of life blows over the waves and stills the churning, sorrow-filled heart. When He says, ‘Peace, be still,’ no matter how deafening and tumultuous the flood’s roar, all can be at rest in the realm of my soul. (Mark 4:39)

“[May the] eyes of your hearts [be] enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1:18-21

How will I go about knowing this King better?

Lord on High, enlighten my heart to grasp Your infinite greatness, and all it means for life here below. May every lesser god lose its luster.

Well-Supplied

“He said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ And they did so. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.” Luke 9:13-17

It was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning.., no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:14-19

There is something bounteous and beautiful about the way God supplies for His own. He Who owns the cattle on 1000 hills could rain down all that lacks into every individual’s lap every day, for He knows our needs before we do, but He chooses to involve the hearts and hands of others to teach the wonder of His multiplication, the joy of sacrifice, and the exercise of generous living. Jesus, Who could do it Himself, said, “you do it,” inviting His people to participate in providing for the hungry crowds. Their leftovers were a remarkable visual aid to the satisfaction found in Christ alone. (Matthew 6:8; Psalm 50:10-12; 107:9)

Cows in field w mountains, Blacks Point, New Zealand

In God’s economy, we can never out-give Him. He is all-sufficient to supply, and the Source of soul satisfaction. He presents opportunities, His Spirit prompts the heart, but we must exercise the will to uncurl our fingers and give. What we learn in opening the fist is a gladness in surrender we can know no other way. Giving out of our plenty is a worthy practice, giving sacrificially unites us intricately to Christ. How often do I forego a want or pleasure to donate to a need or pleasure of another? What item, hour, or resource am I willing to give up in order to help or bless another? Are there spending habits that need fine-tuning or a complete overhaul so I am less constrained in generosity? How does God want me to think differently about stewardship? (Malachi 3:8-10; 2 Corinthians 9:6-10)

Good Father, engage all my faculties to bring me to the place of genuine sacrificial giving, as You have done for me. Open my eyes to needs, my heart to love without measure, and my hands to give so others are satisfied and glorify You, from Whom all blessings flow. (1 Chronicles 29:11-14; Psalm 24:1; 2 Corinthians 9:11-13)

Others More Significant

Do nothing from selfish ambition 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. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Philippians 2:3-8,12-15

This is a hard calling, a difficult obedience. Do nothing from self-interest? No thinking myself deserving, no competition, no putting myself first, no claiming my rights? I might be able to treat others unselfishly, but truly count them as more significant than myself? Who can do this? How?

Metal female sculpture looking up, Laguna Beach, CA

Look up to Christ Jesus, the perfect example, in the cross. Empty myself of personal agenda and grow in His. Develop the mind of Christ by ongoing reverent submission to the One Who works the attitude and impulse and willingness in us. Look out to others. Set aside pride to serve with humility, exchange selfish complaining and arguing for blameless, uplifting talk that honors God’s good pleasure. Jesus plants in us His resurrection power that raises us above self and its default self-centered proclivities to shine in a dark world. (Philippians 3:10)

Working out such humility in the every day involves relinquishing rights, privileges that are mine by way of position or name, for the sake of others– step back in line, let another go first. It requires adjustments in conversation– invite another’s opinions and preferences, listen, give in to their wants for their delight; keep silent the last word. It always involves serving- do for others before self, as a young wife told me she ‘ironed her husband’s shirts first.’ Spend time to care for the lonely, expend energy and resources to meet practical needs, smooth the path for another’s benefit, drive the extra mile even when it’s inconvenient.

Jesus laid down His life for me, He endured the cross for the more significant joy of my salvation. He plants in us His Spirit, and calls us to have His mind, attitude, and humility. Only He can free me from preferring myself to consider others more significant, and live the crucified with Christ in the way I treat them. (1 Corinthians 2:12,16; Galatians 2:20; Hebrews 12:2)

Lord, teach me to make myself nothing because You are everything, and everything to me. Plant in me Your mind that takes no thought for self but genuinely prefers others. May I live in such a way that Jesus shines through, daily laying down my life that Yours be known and experienced.

When Worship Goes Bad

So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, ‘You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’ And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites. And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings.” 1 Kings 12:28-33

Fearing competition to his power, the misguided, prophet-appointed, self-promoted Jeroboam, king of the northern kingdom, sought poor counsel. He liked what he heard, and foolishly set up gold calves in his region so his people would not pilgrimage to Jerusalem and maybe defect. He proclaimed them Israel’s deliverers, clouding Israel’s perception of the Almighty, then got on a roll supporting his false gods and instituted his own plan of religious practice. “Any who would, he ordained to be priests.” (1 Kings 11:26-40; 13:33)

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Fear and self-interest are dangerous ruiners of worship, tainting pure motives and introducing false gods to replace the only One rightly to be feared. Pride spreads its tentacles to infect and take over sound reason, turning our thinking inward, elevating our devising to trump God’s rule, making much of our opinions and preferences to the point we no longer consider the Lord’s. Worship gone bad is no real worship at all. We’re called to worship in Spirit and truth, and Jeroboam stripped both away. When we do as we see fit, what is right in our own eyes, we crowd out the Holy One and His ways, to the detriment of ourselves and those we influence. (Judges 17:6; 21:5; John 4:24)

Where have I let slide true worship, my swaggering spirit replacing God’s pure one? Are there areas where I have let self-interest rule my affections, a relentless desire to control captivate my emotions and reason? In what places of ease, or comfort, or pleasure, have I constructed altars, afraid or unwilling to surrender them to God’s appointments? Do I sincerely seek His paths and patterns, or ask Him to bless mine? What false worship habits have I adopted that need removal and replacement?

One True LORD, Lion of Judah, You alone are greatly to be praised, worshiped above all worthless gods. May I ever seek Your counsel, behold Your beauty, submit to Your rule of my every device, moment, place, and offering. To You alone belong my allegiance, and all glory. (Psalm 96:4-5; Luke 4:8; Revelation 5:5)

 

Freely You Have Received, Freely Give

“‘Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?’ It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days.'” “And King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all that she desired, whatever she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon. So she turned and went back to her own land with her servants.” “You received without paying; give without pay.” 1 Kings 3:9-13; 10:13; Matthew 10:8

There are many cogent observations and lessons from the story of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon. While it is easy to focus on her response to him, it is inspiring also to note that he who had received much was quick and generous to give. When he was young, inexperienced, and overwhelmed, Solomon had asked for wisdom and understanding from his Lord, and received that and much more. He learned that his God was not only able to do more than he asked, but delighted to do so, and generously. Solomon displayed his gratitude for this bounty from his God by paying it forward. He who had received much knew much was expected from him, and it became his nature to lavish others with great largesse. (Luke 12:48; Ephesians 3:20)

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When we acknowledge that all we have is only a stewardship, we are not only freed to give generously, but desirous to. When we realize that all fruitfulness flows from a vital relationship with Jesus, we can pour out as He directs, and even look for opportunity, in His joy and love. If what is ‘mine’ is really His, then my question every morning will be, “What will You have me do with Your bounty today?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

What do I hoard that has been entrusted to my care? My home, my time, my energy?Where am I skimpy in loving to others from the wealth lavished on me– of resources, energy, knowledge, compassion, mercy, love?

“Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose.

“Take my will, and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart; it is Thine own;
It shall be Thy royal throne.”  ~Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879)

Father, You have given so much. Open my heart and hands and life for others. Please make me a giver as generous and gracious and willing as You, that others see Your glorious benevolence and give You the honor and praise You alone deserve.