A heart that’s rendered…
By Claire Scott, 19th January 2020
I always find it striking how, come January 1st, the indulgent, rich foods that have been available to buy in the supermarkets since the Summer are swiftly replaced by “healthy gut”, “clean”, “new me” foods. Out go the sparkles, tinsel and how to create the “perfect” home at Christmas books and in come the “new year, new me” books. It seems almost crazy that for a good few weeks, if not months, we’re encouraged by the commercial sectors to go bigger, better, more, more, more. It seems socially acceptable to put healthy life rhythms, budgeting and fresh ideas on the backburner from about mid-October because after all…it’s only Christmas once a year! While I am all for the glorious festivities of the season, the trouble can be the contrast when the 1st January comes knocking at our door.
Suddenly social media is filled with hopes of a hot new bod by the end of the year, taking up martial arts or finally getting on top of the house renovations (or basic cleaning and maintenance!). I think pausing to think and allowing hopes to rise up at the dawn of a New Year is an amazing thing. As we often say, time passes by so quickly and there is a biblical mandate to consider our ways (Haggai 1:7) and to be a good steward of what we’ve been given (see Matthew 25). There are so many distractions and things that can seep into our daily lives that pausing, thanking for what has been and allowing God to give us hopes for the coming year are 100% wonderful. But the danger comes when a self-help mentality sneaks in the back door. What starts as well-meaning can easily become another task to make myself better, fix some part of me that feels broken or finally crack this life thing. This is a crazy impossible task at the best of times, let alone post-Christmas when we might be feeling sluggish, out of usual routines and spent from wider family gatherings. So how do let godly hope, aspirations and dreams well up in us? It has to come from another and for another.
I can have great resilience at trying something new or giving something up for the first few days but then my enthusiasm starts to wane. If it’s just for me, then I’m not enough of a reason because I can make a thousand and one different excuses as to why it doesn’t really matter, or other priorities play the trump card. Try again tomorrow, next month, next year. It has to be for someone else – and that person is Jesus. If it’s for Jesus, then He is ALWAYS worth it – because He is true yesterday, today and forever. He has always and forever forgiven my sins and wrong doings and He is always and forever lavishing grace and mercy on me. When I think about God, who He is and what He has done for me, then whatever He asks is worth it.
As a church we have just finished a week of prayer and fasting as we prepare to be commissioned from Emmanuel Durham this coming Sunday 19th January. We fast and pray to get our hearts ready, dependent, weak and urgently praying that God would build His Kingdom and reveal His plans to us. It’s interesting how in the book of Joel, when God calls his people to seek Him with ALL their heart, He states the ways to do this are through fasting, weeping, and mourning (Joel 2: 12), He goes on to say: REND your heart, not your garments. At the time the prophet Joel lived people would rend or tear their clothes as a sign of grief or sorrow. What God is asking his people for is a tearing of their hearts, of repentance, saying sorry for rejecting him. He doesn’t judge appearances, social class or qualifications as the world does, but looks straight into the place where no one else can see and He judges the heart of man (I Samuel 16:7). The things that we hold close, idolise, put first in our lives, our fears, hopes, dreams. This is both wonderfully freeing but also terrifyingly costly, as He requires everything.
Jesus doesn’t ask for a 10 point plan of how we’re going to make ourselves a bit better this year than last, He doesn’t ask that we swing from ‘old me’ to ‘new me’ as quick as the mince pies come off the shelves and the kale and detoxing juices go up. New year resolutions will come and go, you may or may not stick to them but, in many ways they are all just superficial, a changing of the external, unless Jesus is simultaneously changing your heart. And the cost of allowing Jesus to do that is far greater than giving up chocolate, taking up running in the cold winter months or putting a few hours into practising a new hobby. It requires a ‘dying to self’. It means looking at Jesus and saying you’re the only one worth living for. Jesus literally poured out His blood for me on the cross. To receive God’s life, we have to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. That’s what it means to be a Christian. To be a little Christ. We have to render our hearts, pour our lives out, give our lives over to Jesus and His reign, and then we receive the promise of knowing God’s grace and compassion (Joel 2:13). So the question at the start of this New Year is: do we want it?
As we journey with Jesus through this year, He will change us. He will drop things into our minds and hearts that need to be dropped or picked up in our lives, people who He wants us to invest in and desires that He puts in us. But these will be from Him and for Him. They shouldn’t start with us and be for us as a purely self-help programme, as this disqualifies the beauty of the cross. When we stop looking at ourselves and onto Jesus, through reading His word and talking to Him about it, we can trust that we will love Him more and then these changes will come as a response of our love to Him. And He even helps us to do it! God promises us His Holy Spirit, the living active presence of God, in 2020, who will come and comfort, provide and show us the way (John 14:18). As you submit to Him, He will help you in His Kingdom work in Chester-le-Street, with your neighbours and in your workplace. So here’s to a year of Grace, rendering our hearts and seeing what God does with the rest…