Beware the Half Heart

Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart. Then Amaziah assembled the men of Judah… and found that they were 300,000 choice men, fit for war, able to handle spear and shield. He hired also 100,000 mighty men of valor from Israel for 100 talents of silver. But a man of God came to him and said, ‘O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for the Lord is not with all these Ephraimites. But go, act, be strong for the battle. Why should you suppose that God will cast you down before the enemy? For God has power to help or to cast down.” And Amaziah said to the man of God, ‘But what shall we do about the hundred talents that I have given to the army of Israel?’ The man of God answered, ‘The Lord is able to give you much more than this.’ Then Amaziah discharged the army that had come to him from Ephraim to go home again. Amaziah took courage and led out his people and went to the Valley of Salt and struck down 10,000 men of Seir… After Amaziah came from striking down the Edomites, he brought the gods of the men of Seir and set them up as his gods and worshiped them, making offerings to them. Therefore the Lord was angry with Amaziah and sent to him a prophet, who said to him, ‘Why have you sought the gods of a people who did not deliver their own people from your hand?’ But as he was speaking, the king said to him, ‘Have we made you a royal counselor? Stop! Why should you be struck down?'” 2 Chronicles 25:1-2,5-11,14-16

What makes us at one moment devoted and obedient, even at current loss or discomfort or hard consequences, and the next, greedy and rebellious? A half heart. Amaziah seems to be doing so well when he is willing to give up money spent and his own plans for the better way outlined by the man of God, and has great victory fighting in God’s power His way, but then immediately takes and bows to foreign gods and rejects the warning from another God-sent prophet. It seems unwise and unbelievable to us, yet how have we done the same?

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When have I taken an assignment, done it well, and wanted some credit, while the calling and enabling came from God? When have I, devoted to my Lord, gone to, or left, church with my own agenda? How many things and plans do I treasure as much or more than I value God’s plans for me? How whole is my heart for my Jesus? It either is, or it isn’t; there is no fraction when it comes to true worship. The half-heart is a weak heart, prone to wander and rebel, and we must take care to guard against it.

Lord, give me an undivided heart, that I may fear You above man and praise You all my days. May I never give glory to another, or take any for myself; You alone are worthy of my full allegiance and worship. (Psalm 86:11; Isaiah 48:11)

Resolution of Firsts

Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old. In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them. He brought in the priests and the Levites and said to them, ‘Hear me, Levites! Now consecrate yourselves, and consecrate the house of the Lord, and carry out the filth from the Holy Place. For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God. They have forsaken him and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord and turned their backs. They also shut the doors of the vestibule and put out the lamps and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the Holy Place to the God of Israel’… They gathered their brothers and consecrated themselves and… went into the inner part of the house of the Lord to cleanse it, and they brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord into the court of the house of the Lord. And the Levites took it and carried it out to the brook Kidron.

“Then Hezekiah the king rose early and gathered the officials of the city and went up to the house of the Lord. The Levites stood with cymbals, harps, and lyres, and the priests with the trumpets. And when the burnt offering began, the song to the Lord began also. The whole assembly worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded. When the offering was finished, the king and all who were present with him bowed themselves and worshiped. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshiped. Then Hezekiah said, ‘You have now consecrated yourselves to the Lord. Come near; bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the Lord.’ And the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all who were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings. And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because God had provided for the people.” 2 Chronicles 29:1-7,15-16,20,25-31,36

New king, new reign, new year, new resolve. Hezekiah came to power following his idolatrous father Ahaz, who had shut the temple doors and made altars to other gods in every corner of Jerusalem. First of all, he opened God’s temple door–a vivid picture of holy priority. He set out to cleanse the temple, identifying its impurities, and that necessitated the consecration of the religious leaders who would take on the task. He reestablished proper worship that resulted in abounding joy, as it always does.

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Hezekiah’s first actions set lofty vision for his people, as they do for us. He invites my ‘first of all’ to be opening the door of my Lord, delving into His word and presence, with receptive mind and will to His ministry and voice. He invites my ‘rising early’ to be a consecration of self, repenting of sin that has blocked our communion and entangled His effectiveness in my life, and an ensuing offering of deep gratitude and praise. Cleansed and thankful, my life will be characterized by glad rejoicing and generosity. Why would I not begin a new year, a first month, this way, setting the table for a bountiful feast with Jesus that is never ending, and a pathway for Him to do wonders among us? (Hebrews 12:1; Joshua 3:5

King of kings, I offer myself for You to consecrate and use. Work Your character and will in me, that I might exalt You and my life cause others to praise You and rejoice. (John 3:30; 4:34; Romans 12:1)

New Life, New Day

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.  Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.'” John 12:1-7

Lazarus had just been raised from the dead by Jesus, and he and his sisters Mary and Martha gave a dinner party for Him. They wanted to be near and to shower love on the One Who had worked the miracle of new life in their family. Nothing else mattered; their guest was worthy of their full attention and affection, their best. This small family knew how much they were loved, and could not help but pour out in love in return. From Jesus’ perspective, He was about to endure the excruciating cross (ex-cruciate means ‘out of the cross’), and what a comfort this must have been to gather with His dear friends. Cranky Judas punctuated their happy party with an unhappy mark of criticism and greed, but was quickly put in his place by the guest of honor. Nothing would spoil the beauty of this moment. (John 11:33-36)

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When your life has been returned to you, you want to be with and honor the One Who restored it. And when one you love has been raised to new life, you want to serve and bless the One responsible, as Martha and Mary did. Jesus is worthy of my first and best, my time, my service, my lavishing of love and affection. How can I host Him, honor Him; what can I pour out for Him today?

Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.” ~Isaac Watts (1707)

Oh You Who saved me giving new and eternal life, and daily give abundant life, here I am. I invite You to be my Honored Guest in every crevice of mind and heart. May my moments be fully given to abide closely with You, to serve and bless You Who are worthy of my all.

 

Finishing Well (or Not)

“Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. [He] decided to restore the house of the Lord. So the king commanded, and they made a chest and set it outside the gate of the house of the Lord. [They] collected money in abundance.  And the king and Jehoiada gave it to those who had charge of the work of the house of the Lord, and they hired masons and carpenters to restore the house of the Lord, and also workers in iron and bronze to repair the house of the Lord. So those who were engaged in the work labored, and the repairing went forward in their hands, and they restored the house of God to its proper condition and strengthened it. And when they had finished, they brought the rest of the money before the king and Jehoiada, and with it were made utensils for the house of the Lord, both for the service and for the burnt offerings, and dishes for incense and vessels of gold and silver. And they offered burnt offerings in the house of the Lord regularly all the days of Jehoiada.” 2 Chronicles 24:2,4,8,11-14

Joash was remarkable in that as a very young man, whose wicked father king Ahaziah and treacherous grandmother Athaliah had led Judah astray, he became king, and with the godly counsel of the priest Jehoida, led Judah in restoring God’s temple and practices. Jehoida had prepared his way by strong reform and spiritual cleansing, removing the idols and places of temptation and establishing a covenant to be the LORD’s people and guard His house from all that was unclean. Now Joash led the collection of temple tax and repairing of the building itself, and reinstitution of proper services and offerings. Sadly, it seems his energy was directed to the work and the person guiding him, not the Lord Himself; after Jehoida died, Joash gave in to the secular princes of Judah and their politically correct, spiritually-wishy-washy advice to institute false religious practices once again. He who had begun so well did not finish so. Though God sent warning, he not only forsook the LORD, but “did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had shown him, but killed his son” by having him stoned.

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To what, or whom, am I devoted? Has my resolution list, my work, the project itself, or even my counselor become my driver, my guide, my source of direction? If I am wholeheartedly committed to anything or anyone apart from the Living Word, the True and Good Shepherd, Who knows my name and leads me to His pastures and abundant life, I am in danger of going astray. Following Him and His voice that is truth, I can know where He leads and what He directs. His Spirit gives discernment, and is dependable. (John 1:1; 10:3-4,10-11,14,27)

Gracious Shepherd and King, sharpen my ears to listen to Your voice alone and heed all You say. Show me where I have been committed to causes and spokespeople other than Christ, and realign my affections and devotion to wholehearted fidelity to You. Guard me from refusing to pay attention, turning a stubborn shoulder, hardening my heart, and stopping my ears to Your perfect and complete word. Keep me from all foreign allegiances. As You inspire good beginnings, see them through to glorious finish. (Zechariah 7:11-13)

Growing Small

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.  And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house.'”  “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 19:1-9; Matthew 23:12

When Jesus entered his world, Zaccheus, rich tax collector who skimmed his profits from everyone who paid taxes and took every advantage he could to pad his purse, realized he was small. Quickened by an unseen force, he was compelled to see Jesus. Note the words used to describe his actions: “ran ahead, climbed… hurried,” all because he recognized he was small in stature. And Jesus was equally compelled to be with this man whose large influence of fear and reputation of exploitation shrank before Him. His “I must” was a divine appointment, an effective call to the little man.

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And it is so for all who humble themselves before Him. Sometimes we have to climb up out of our puffery and self-sufficiency and -absorption to see Jesus for Who He is. Once we invite Him in and entertain Him, He changes us. He gives new affections as He unbinds the old, He transforms our language and motivations and desires. When we are small before Him, He enlarges our hearts for His ways and our consequent influence for His kingdom. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” James 4:7

Lord Jesus, keep me small, ever aware of Your greatness. Transform my understanding of myself, my purpose, my resources through my encounters with You, that I be smitten with You only, and live fully for You. May we with holy joy, pure, and free from sin’s alloy, all our costliest treasures bring, Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King. (W. Chatterton Dix, 1861)

“Never about, always to.”

“For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” “Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is thehead, into Christ.” Proverbs 16:20,28 ; 1 Timothy 5:13; Ephesians 4:15

Amy Carmichael, missionary to Dohnavur, India in the first half of the twentieth century, trained her orphanage mission workers in the use of their tongues: “Never about, always to.” What misunderstandings, regret, and hurt could be avoided if we followed her advice! In the workplace, within a family, among friends or neighbors, when our talk is ‘about,’ often there is no solution, but only a riling up of negative opinions and criticism or a fostering of unflattering, degrading talk. It has been said, “gossip is confessing another’s sins behind their back.” Many reputations have been stained by quick slips of the tongue, mentions ‘about’ others, even hearsay, that plant a seed in the imagination that grows a life of its own, especially if it is repeated again.

What compels us to speak ‘about’ others instead of ‘to’ them? Do I fear direct confrontation or conversation because I might be proved wrong? Do I want to be sought out as the know-it-all dispenser of information, elevating self at another’s expense? Is there an undercurrent of wanting people on my side, and pitting them against others’? Am I entertaining a superior attitude over those I deem somehow “less,”? Seldom do we regret being silent.

In God’s economy, the only side we are on is His. Speaking ‘to’ allows honest discussion from both parties with respect, and the chance to learn from body language and express palpable compassion and love. Speaking directly with the offender or offended brings understanding and opens the way for forgiveness, repair of  broken communication or hurt feelings. It also necessitates my humble preparation of my own heart so I can face up to my part in any disagreement or miscommunication. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

Lord God, guard my tongue, and the heart that fuels it! May I courageously say no to talking about those not present, and yes to speaking to any I should address. Please purify my words that they edify others and bring glory to You. (Luke 6:45)

 

Release, Rejoice…The Battle is God’s!

After this the Moabites and Ammonites came against Jehoshaphat for battle. Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD. And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, and said, ‘O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.’

“[Jahaziel] said, ‘Thus says the Lord to you, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them… You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf.” Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.’

“Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshiping the LORD. And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed… And the fear of God came on all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel.” 2 Chronicles 20:1,3-7,12,15-18,20,22,29

Facing a formidable enemy, King Jehoshaphat humbled himself to face his even more formidable God. Exalting Him, and recounting His past faithfulness, the king leads his people to release their fear and foe to the Ruler of all nations. God responded immediately through His prophet, and reassured, they rose early and expectant, the army perched to watch what their LORD would do. Not only did He rout the foe, but He gave them tremendous plunder and gladness.

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When we turn our eyes from the enemy to the One Who can vanquish him, trembling becomes trust. The worst news or diagnosis, the hottest temptation, the deepest heartache, pale in the brilliance of God’s shining face; He gives the strength to stand firm. Even when acquaintances or co-workers taunt, or rebellious children wound or prickly relatives chafe, God can win over our hearts so we can meet them with peaceful countenance and inner joy. When at once we release, we can begin to rejoice–the battle is His!

LORD of all, when enemies in the shape of people, fears, gnawing sin, the fingers of despair loom large, captivate me with You. In Your grace, open my hands to release these to You, and my will to choose to rejoice in the One larger and stronger than every foe. May I ever “give thanks to You, LORD, for Your steadfast love endures forever.” (21)