A Matter of the Heart – Devotional

‘Tis the season to make and quickly break our traditional New Year’s resolutions (NYR). I recently read a statistic that said 90% of NYR’s are broken and discarded by the first of February.  25% fail in the first week.  Less than 8% keep their NYR throughout the entire year.

Why do most of us make resolutions and fall short, or quit altogether?  Is it a lack of resolve?  Insufficient will power?  For most of us it is more a lack of living in the reality of the true desires of our heart.  We quit exercising at some point, because we surrender to something we love more than having “abs of steel”.  We fall off the diet wagon eventually, because our love for something else trumps our love of losing weight. The love of ice cream perhaps.  We stop getting up early to seek God because we eventually decide to seek something we love more – like sleep, or binging on Netflix – or maybe that’s just me.  At one point I contemplated naming my bed “prayer” and my pillow, “the word”, so that I could actually spend more time in them and feel good about it!  Call me Captain Obvious, but the answer seems pretty simple.  We seek what we desire, and we seek first what we desire most.

If we are honest, most (and by most, I mean all) of us struggle to keep God in that treasured spot.  What if we tried to keep a daily resolution – to seek God first?  Most likely failure would quickly ensue followed by a stunning sense of shame that really is the gift that keeps on giving.  Is the secret to try harder, or smarter, or, to really mean it this year?  It is first on our UWM list of values.  Failure to strive for it will have adverse effect on our lives and ministry.  So why is it so hard to maintain, and is there anyway we can hope to make progress in living out our powerful value of seeking God first?

When it comes to seeking God first, as my pastor often says, “the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.”  The apostle John concludes his first epistle in chapter 5, verse 12 with this admonition, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”  The writer of Proverbs says it this way, “above all else guard your heart for from it flow the springs of life” Proverbs 4:23.

The value of seeking God first will not penetrate the heart of the cultures we serve until it first penetrates the culture of our own hearts and replaces what they serve. 

First we have to face the bad news.  Our hearts are idol-making factories that turn good gifts from God into ultimate things in our lives, thereby replacing God in our affections. Tim Keller puts it like this:  “What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”  In short, idols include anything we are seeking first other than God himself.  Idols are rarely things that we would consider obviously evil.  That would be too easy.  Idols are almost always good things that our hearts twist into ultimate things, or the thing we seek first.

For me, family can easily become an idol.  To love them and seek their flourishing is virtuous and honoring to God.  That is, until I make sacrificing for the family my ultimate thing and begin subtly evaluating my identity and worth in light of how good a job I am doing.  What is it for you?  What good thing are you currently seeking first instead of God?  We all have them.  It could be your time, your money, your children, or even your ministry itself.  For me it is usually all of the above and often resembles an emotional game of whack-a-mole.  As soon as one idol pops up, I whack it down and another readily pops up in its place.  In my own strength the game never ends.

Reflective and brutally honest time with God is needed for me to break the cycle that keeps my idol “du jour” from popping up to take first place in my heart.  It is helpful for me to regularly spend time sitting with questions like:  What is currently absorbing my heart and imagination?  What am I currently seeking to give me what only God can?  What great thing am I seeking for myself?  Let’s call this step repentance.  I encourage us all to spend some time with these types of questions as often as possible.

And now we are ready for the good news.  God has provided a way to break the cycle of loving and seeking lesser things more than God himself.  To my delight it has nothing to do with focusing on working harder or will power.  The secret to loving God and seeking him first is simply in allowing our hearts to be smitten over and over again by the reality of His great love for us.  Let’s call this step belief.  “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  We love because he first loved us.”  1 John 4:9-10, 19.

Spending time daily meditating on and believing the truth of the great love of God for us in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, transforms our hearts.   In this way, the Holy Spirit fills us with love, joy, peace, patience, and all of the spiritual fruit we need for life and godliness.  Our hearts begin to overflow with gratitude and adoration for and to Jesus, the lover of our souls.  We become compelled by the very love of Christ to seek Him first.  Let’s call this step fight.  In the light of HIs glory and grace we fight to re-order our lesser loves into their rightful place.

So in order to live out the value of seeking God first this year, let us resolve to spend time daily knowing and believing the great love that God has for us.  May our prayer be like that of Saint Augustine,“O Love ever burning never quenched! O Charity, my God, set me on fire with your love! You command me to be continent (self restrained). Give me the grace to do as you command, and command me to do what you will! (Confessions, X.29).”

The chief object of our deepest affection is what we will ultimately seek first. The pathway to seeking God first is like a daily three step dance with the Divine – like a waltz.

Step 1. Seek to root out the idols that currently capture the affection of your heart and repent.

Step 2. Seek to believe and be overwhelmed by His great love for you daily and you will unconsciously begin to fall deeper in love with the one who first loved you.

Step 3. Then you will be free in your fight to love Him and all that he loves.

Repent – Believe – Fight – three steps of a daily waltz toward maintaining the value of seeking God first.

So go ahead and make a resolution to seek God first this year.  And when you fail, like I will, remember the three steps of the Christian waltz.  There is no condemnation for those (dancing) in Christ Jesus.  I hope to see you on the dance floor.

By: Tom Mullis, Director of Strategic Partnerships