Your God, My God

“[Naomi] was left without her two sons and her husband… She had heard… that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!’ Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me?.. Go your way, for I am too old to have a husband… Even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying?..’ Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’ But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go… Your people shall be my people, and your God my God... May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” Ruth 1:5-17

Having been bereaved in a foreign (and heathen) place, where they had originally trekked for food during famine, Naomi left Moab to return to her homeland. Moved by the loving support of her widowed daughters-in-law, she urged them to stay with their people, where they would have a better chance of finding husbands. Orpah reluctantly agreed, but Ruth had made a deeper commitment to this family than just through marriage– she had come to love their God. Her life was no longer a matter of fulfilling her own wishes, or meeting cultural expectations of a family, but had been caught up in the higher matter of faith, of putting away gods to know and align with the true, personal God of Israel. Her devotion was not only to Naomi, but to the mighty LORD she represented, and she was all in. She would follow, forever.

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It is easy to begin each day with ‘my want,’ but as we grow with Jesus, He gradually transfers my dreams and self-driven desire for satisfaction to Him and His: ‘Your want.’ Orpah’s loyalty to Naomi was no less than her sister-in-law’s, but she had not yet surrendered to a life lost in the LORD.

What, and who, captivates me? To what measure is my devotion to Almighty God seen in the alliances I keep, the choices I make, the directions I take? Are there idols in my foreground that hold sway over eternal God?

LORD on high, I claim You as my God, from Whom I cannot be separated. May I ever align with and grow alongside Your people, and follow You. (Romans 8:38-39; Hebrews 13:5)

 

The Deadly Put-off

“‘We have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him’… When the governor [Felix] had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I cheerfully make my defense. You can verify that… I went up to worship in Jerusalem, and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd… But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God,.. that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.’

Felix put them off, saying, ‘When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.’ Then he gave orders.. that he should be kept in custody… After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.’ At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.” Acts 24:5-6,8,10-12,14-15,20-27

Felix the governor, endowed by his authority to decide cases, liked his position and the power it held. Sadly, it held fast his heart from warming to truth that would have set him free. Paul, in stating his legal defense, also presented the gospel, and Felix heard it repeatedly with mixed reactions. He was drawn, knowing enough to be curious, attracted enough to include his wife; but he was also disturbed by the clear reasoning of Paul’s faith and being confronted with righteousness, acts of the will, and judgment. Conviction chafed, so he resisted, and procrastinated. He allowed truth to tease, but not penetrate. His heart, stiffened by the ulterior motive of greed, his mind, tainted by the swagger of his pride, and his will, preferring control over surrender, all contributed to his ultimate, deadly put-off of Jesus. (John 8:31-32; Hebrews 9:27)

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Where do I dismiss the Spirit’s voice in my conscience, His presence in my preferences and habits, His commands in my plans and activities? Are there areas where I deign to seek His guidance, but dawdle when it involves sacrifice, or changing my thinking, or adjusting my lifestyle? Do I sing “I surrender all” but actually let go of very little? What evidence is there in my day-to-day that Jesus is my true hope in life and judgment?

Holy Father, reveal to me where I give You only lip-service and am half-hearted in my choices. Purify my confession, match my actions to it, and keep me all-in, for the magnification of Your life-giving truth.

 

No Empty Word

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them.  Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel… When many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.’ So Moses wrote this song the same day… 

‘Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew…   The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice.   A God of faithfulness… is not he your father, who created you… and established you. Remember the days of old…   He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him…   He made him ride on the high places of the land, and he ate the produce of the field, and he suckled him with honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.   But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;.. grew fat, stout, and sleek;   then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.’

“Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” Deuteronomy 31:16,19,21-22; 32:1-2,4,6,7,10,13,15,46-47

 

No empty word. Your very life. Is there anything else on earth that can live up to these claims? We may hear a powerful speech, or read a captivating article or passage from a book, but the word of the Lord that is fixed in the heavens and proves true, that was from the beginning and stands forever, that lights our path and pierces our souls, is unique and powerful. Other words may have a temporary or cursory effect on how we think or plot out our roadmap, but the word of God is life-altering, deeply satisfying spiritual food, the fluid in our veins by which we live. Moses’ song is intended, as part of God’s holy infallible word, to remind us of the importance of keeping it foremost as the safeguard against idolatry and rebellion, to stave off alien lovers. (Psalm 18:30; 119:89,105; Isaiah 40:8; John 1:1; Hebrews 4:12)

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What will I do to give ear to God’s words, to receive them as dripping rain, to take them to heart so they become my pulse?

O God, may Your word dwell in me richly and have its way, that I might steadfastly live by it and not give in to the allure of the world. (Psalm 119:11; Colossians 3:16)

Breaking Boxes

Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray… He fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common…’ And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.’ And Peter went down to the men and said, ‘I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?’ And they said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man,.. was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.’ So he invited them in… And he said, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean… Truly I understand that God shows no partiality. [Jesus Christ] is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’” Acts 10:9-15,19-23,28,34,42-43

In the flesh, as much as we might expand our knowledge and gain experientially over the course of our days, we are limited in our understanding. There is always more to learn. It can be easy to put God in a box, comprehending Him within the context of our culture, upbringing, education, trained perspective. This passage breaks open the box, opening its lid and knocking out its sides to reveal a vaster view of the Almighty. In doing so, it also beckons us to open the boxes of our hearts and minds to grasp more fully the broad love and mercies of God.

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What limits do I place on those whom the Lord can love and redeem, how He will work? Where am I trapping any who disagree with my worldview into a shallow grave, writing them off with permanent label and seal? How have I limited my own heart by self-defined standards and a provincial mindset and refused any individuals or ideas that deviate? Am I in the habit of neglecting or ignoring anyone or anything I do not prefer? How would the Lord change me? Are there new patterns of thinking He is inviting me to consider, new love and understanding He wants to teach?

Good Father, break all boxes of partiality in my life as You did in Peter’s. Soften me to receive Your good word and apply Your truth to all I think, feel, and do. By Your Spirit, turn my perplexity into willing faith, my confusion into understanding. Expand my mind and heart to take in and give out Your boundless, all-encompassing love.

 

 

Build Where You Are

Thus says the Lord of hosts,.. to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters;.. multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says… the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to [their] dreams… For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:4-8,10-13

Israel was exiled to Babylon because of her rebellion and idolatry, but it was never God’s intent to abandon or ruin her there. As with all the fulfilling of His word, this time was for her ultimate good and for God to display His power through Israel’s eventual return. In the mean time, she was not to languish in lament, to bemoan the unfairness against her and give up all productivity and expectation among a people she despised. Her longing to return to Israel was to fuel her days with hope and fortitude, and she was to make the most of this season of exile to grow strong, learn of God, and bless the place where He had planted her, albeit temporary. She was to learn to discern and desire His truth from the error of dreams and wishful thinking. She was to seek Him with all her heart, and seek His welfare among her captors.

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When we get stuck in our own determinations and devices, any turn of events that forces us into an unknown area, an unwanted situation, can freeze us in resentment or discomfort. In our unwillingness to accept a new hard place as God’s assignment, we can easily ignore His lessons, let our faith atrophy, and cease to bear fruit. But God calls us to higher and better. Keep on! Keep building, growing, be a blessing to your new city, your new circle of acquaintances. Pray for their good, sow seeds of truth, shine light, make a difference.

Is there loneliness due to a move, a sadness in a diagnosis mixed with fear for the future, a grievous exile in a relationship as sin’s consequence, an assignment that seems unjust or is just plain miserable? How will I plant, multiply, pray, and make an eternal difference where I am? Will I choose to complain at my circumstances, or to hope in and work toward God’s good plans?

Lord, may I sing Your song and build with joyful expectation in every new land You appoint, for the sake of Your kingdom and glory. (Psalm 137:1-6)

On the Road Again

After this, Paul stayed [in Corinth] many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila… And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. But on taking leave of them he said, ‘I will return to you if God wills,’ and he set sail from Ephesus. When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.” Acts 18:18-23

Paul’s life as a Christian was an ongoing ministry of ‘road work,’ marked by moving from city to city, synagogue to synagogue to crowd to new church, all the while building up people in God’s word. He boldly taught, eagerly followed the Spirit’s lead, steadfastly worked to earn his keep, never shrank from conflict. His life was not his own. He was so bent on the next right thing, right place, God’s next assignment, that even if he took thought for his whereabouts and his weariness of travel, his arduous lifestyle took a back seat to the proclamation of the gospel. (Acts 16:6-10; 18:1-4; Galatians 2:20)

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“[I am] constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Acts 20:22-24

Getting on the road may ignite an appetite for self-driven adventure, or living out of a suitcase may not be a lifestyle of choice, but for the apostle Paul, we see this mode of living as a surrendered obedience to his Lord. His purposes were high, his baggage light, his passion for truth and people warm. Whatever his former pride in notoriety, status, or accomplishment, as one who had been drastically saved from destruction, his life goals had been re-oriented. He was on God’s mission, expending every waking hour and ounce of energy to fulfill his God-given purpose, for his Redeemer God’s glory. What a model! What an inspiration! (Acts 9:1-9,15,26-30)

If we’re driven to go, are we fueled by our own plan for a distinct experience, or a restlessness in my present station? Or when the Lord calls us to go, do we complain and resist another bed, another adjustment? What needs to change for us to turn in our rights and preferences and say, Lord, whatever Your course, keep me on it?

Father, wherever You call me to be or go, whatever assignment You give, may I follow and serve wholeheartedly, with zeal and thankfulness. May Your holy word guide and inspire my every action, and flow from my mouth to give life to others. (Romans 12:11; Colossians 3:17)

 

If We Would Speak

For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened?.. If they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.” “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” “At Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord… The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles… They continued to preach the gospel… ‘We bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.’ When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith.” Jeremiah 23:18,22; Mark 9:7; Acts 14:1-4,7,15,21-22

The tongue is a marvelous gift, and when employed by the Lord, can have great positive influence in and for His kingdom. But God has placed some parameters that our tongues be used for good, not evil, for as powerful as they are, they can effect destruction as readily as spiritual growth and transformation. (James 3:1-8)

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The apostles taught the gospel with remarkable impact, proclaiming truth in such a way that its light broke through resistance, shattered preconceptions, turned upside down false gods. The word itself is powerful to cut deep, expose souls and sin, and when spoken clearly will have its God-ordained result. Our responsibility is to know it, and deliver it boldly. (Isaiah 55:11; Hebrews 4:12)

Jeremiah, in denouncing false prophets, gives the secret for true prophets that we can apply today. A sponge can’t be casually tossed in a full sink, quickly grabbed out, and be wet enough to do much good. It must be plunged deep, have time to soak, to absorb water, in order to be of use. It takes deliberation, time, focus, to stand in God’s council to see and listen to His word, to pay attention and meditate on its meaning.

Would I speak for my Lord? My desire, my boldness, my best intentions, must all be immersed in His word. I must wait on His word and be faithful to proclaim; it is the Lord alone Who takes care of response and result. Some will receive, some will resist, some will flatly reject. God is the One Who tends the heart soil and brings about growth and change.  (Matthew 13:1-23; 1 Corinthians 3:6)

Lord God, fill me with truth, and season my tongue with grace, that with Your voice I may speak all the words You command, holding nothing back. Have Your way and be glorified with all results. (Jeremiah 26:2,14; Colossians 4:6)

Mercy, Meet Marred

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand… Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’” Jeremiah 18:1-6,11

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We were made from dust, the ‘clay’ of the earth, and in Eden, perfectly. But since the fall, we are all marred. Thanks be to the merciful Potter that He handles and reworks us! He kneads our hearts to remove the pieces of foreign grit, reshaping us, fashioning us for His use and glory. As in divine authority He spins His world on its axis, He ever spins His wheel of our lives in sovereign order and smooth precision, applying pressure from circumstances, experiences, dilemmas, sorrows, contrition, to develop and form certain areas that make up His plans for us, His vessel. Whether made for noble or, in the world’s eyes, ignoble use, we are all jars of clay with the high calling to carry His light. (Romans 9:21; 2 Corinthians 4:6-7; 2 Timothy 2:21)

Do I feel broken beyond repair? Make haste to the Potter! Do I get discouraged with repeated sin? Run to the Potter! Do I loathe what I have allowed myself to tolerate– the bitterness I have fertilized with my sense of desert, the sloth I have entertained one time too many, the ugly words I let fly that have wrought destruction on reputations and relationships, the decisions I made that have left scars? The Potter’s door is open wide and God awaits with mercy, welcoming my marred soul at His beautiful wheel, into His loving, gracious hands.

What love could remember no wrongs we have done?                                                 Omniscient, all-knowing, He drowns out their sum;                                                              Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore;                                                                                 Our sins they are many, His mercy is more.” ~ Matt Boswell and Matt Papa (2016)

Even recognizing these areas and ruing them is a mercy from God. His exposing the error of our ways, the depravity of our souls, leads us to repentance. How wondrous is his pursuing love, how kind his conviction of sin! He desires to remake me that I may bear His image and assignments well. When my marred meets His mercy, mercy wins, fashioning me for the occasions He appoints. (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10)

Almighty Potter, apply your strong hands to me, that I may be reworked and molded to Your design for this day, and every day. May I yield to Your fresh mercies each morning, and as Your vessel, be filled to bear Your praise and light to all I meet. (Lamentations 3:22-23; Ephesians 5:18)

 

 

Fear to Faith, Freed to Follow

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” Acts 16:25-34

This Philippian jailer may not have been high on society’s totem pole, but he was immeasurably valuable to Jesus. He took his job seriously, so seriously that when an earthquake released the bonds and doors on his prisoners, he readied to take his life rather than be implicated and held accountable for their escape. Paul arrested his suicide attempt by calling out, and the jailer approached this unusual man and his friend Silas, humbled and trembling.

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How could these criminals care more for him and his family than for their own release? God interrupted his fear and awakened his faith, transforming, in moments, his whole life orientation. Who else could reveal true freedom through joyful songs and prayers of the shackled, could change the guard’s fear of man into fear of God, could soften hands that locked ankle stocks into those that washed wounds and served the hungry, could transfer the title of a government official to ‘chosen child of God’? Jesus sets captives, and those who lord it over captives, free! And believing in His gift of salvation brings freedom to follow Him with joy.

In what reactions, habits, mindset, am I stuck, thinking I was made this way, I’ll always be here, I can never change? What stubbornness, rights, resentment, secrets, do I guard under lock and key, afraid to release? What message of truth from others, however unwelcome or startling, might God be using to rattle open my life in a new way to Him? How willing am I for the Lord to open my heart to those I would have kept at bay, to shake off the restraints of life-long attitudes, prejudices, bitterness, fears, to transform my thinking, to stoke my faith’s fire?

Lord, may I eagerly, and willingly, and daily, respond to Your truth that sets free with passionate faith, and lavish love to others. (John 8:31-32)

All My Heart

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” “What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul?” “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5; 10:12; Jeremiah 24:7; Proverbs 3:5; Mark 12:30

God deals with all; He does not command partial. Just as He is all God, all for us, He expects that we who follow Him would be wholly His, all in, loving, fearing, serving, and trusting Him with all our hearts. When we stray, He invites us to return with all our hearts, leaving no closed doors, no dusty corners, no hold-backs. Consider the rich young ruler, thinking he had done all, yet unwilling to give all:

A man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him,.. ‘You know the commandments: “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.”‘ And he said to him, ‘Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.’ And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Mark 10:17-22

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How is my definition of all different from God’s? Where am opening myself for God to use, but then dictating how, choosing those whom I want to serve, befriend, help? Do I pray myself all in, but gravitate toward personal preferences and easier places? Do I avoid the difficult, the crusty and squeaky, and thus prohibit the Lord from teaching full dependence, whole surrender, complete abandon to His love flowing through me? Where am I offering all, but holding back some? He Who made the heart died for all the heart, that it can be whole for Him.

“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.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.”  ~Frances Havergal (1874)

God, You know my heart, You understand my every plan and thought. Search me, purify me, give me an undivided heart to fear You, to wholly love, serve, and trust You. And through all of me, please show Your great heart to others. (1 Chronicles 28:9; Psalm 86:11; 139:23; Acts 15:8)