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Monday, March 12, 2012

'Idols of the Heart' - Chapters 5-6

When we read about Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego's refusal to bow down before the idol in Babylon and of their bold response to King Nebuchadnezzar's threats (Dan.3:17-18), we might imagine ourselves in their place. We can see taking a brave stand for God against the highest power in a pagan land. We can picture ourselves being willing to suffer the consequences through the power of the Holy Spirit. It's so very black and white, isn't it? Yet when we're challenged to choose God today, when God asks us to repudiate our personal idols and love Him with all of our heart, mind and will at this particular moment, it can seem a lot harder to accomplish. A bold stand in a crisis situation can often be much easier than choosing God above all else on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. We may have the confidence of Shadrack and his friends "that death in faith was indeed better than an idolatrous life" and yet be unwilling to live out a life reflecting that truth in the numerous "small" choices of mundane living. Can we honestly declare with David that God's "lovingkindness is better than life"? (Ps.63:3)

Our outer actions reflect our inner attitude, our "heart" as the Bible calls it. Our "heart" is the root out of which our myriad choices to either value Christ or something/someone else grow. "We always choose what we believe to be our best good. We always choose what we believe will bring us the most delight." Puritan Richard Baxter rightly warns, "The will never desires evil as evil but as ...seeming good." Too often we choose to believe the lie that something or someone other than God can make us happy, rather than believing God. We're no different than Eve. We're easily deceived.
We create images out of our thoughts of our highest good or happiness. And whether we're aware of it or not, those images are the driving forces in our lives. They direct our worship, either toward or away from God. They tell us what we should cherish more than Him.
God can teach you that He is your highest good. He can show you that all your happiness is in Him. He delights in bringing His people face to face with the happiness that is His alone. ...the Holy Spirit can illumine your heart and cause you to grow in your esteem of Christ and disdain for the charms of the world.
Chapter 6, Knowing the Heart, looks more closely at our inner man, what the Bible frequently refers to as the heart, by looking at what Scripture reveals about its three main facets - the mind, the affections and the will.

 The Mind: your ability to think, understand, doubt, reason, discern & remember
  • For even though they knew God ... they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened. (Rom.1:21)
  • But some of the scribes were sitting there & reasoning in their hearts. (Mark 2:6)
  • And He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?'" (Lk.24:38)
  • But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim.1:5)

The Affections: our longings, desires, feelings, imaginations & emotions
  • Do not be eager in your heart to be angry. (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
  • ...serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart. (Deut.28:47)
  • Say to those with anxious heart, "Take courage, fear not." (Isa.35:4)
  • But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart... (James 3:14)
  • ...the imaginations of their heart run riot. (Ps.73:7)
  • For consider Him ... so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb.12:3)

The Will:  informed by the Mind & the Affections, it chooses a course of action
  • ...choose for yourselves today whom you will serve. (Joshua 24:15)
  • ...knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. (Isaiah 7:15)
  • He shall live the place which he shall choose ...where it pleases him." (Deut.23:15-16)
  • Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. (Ps. 25:12)
Everywhere we turn  in our culture we are urged to just "trust your heart". The individual human heart is viewed as the most reliable source of truth for all personal decision making. Scripture has exactly the opposite advice. Indeed, in stark contrast God declares through the prophet Jeremiah that, "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jer.17:9)  Man has the ability to convince himself of anything. We can convince ourselves that black is white, that day is night ... that evil is good. Once convinced, the belief we've invested our emotions into will manifest itself in our actions. Therefore, the heart (our mind, affection & will) needs to be the focus of our attention. That is the site of our spiritual battle! Instead of trusting our own hearts, we need to trust, to believe God. Scripture reveals, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." (Prov.9:10)
Your mind should inform your affections of the source of your highest happiness; your affections imagine it, cause you to long for it, and apply the impetus needed to awaken your will to choose. No one sits around thinking about whether it's his affections, mind or will that caused him to choose vanilla over chocolate ice cream. We just do it.
God has made provision of the very tools a believer needs to properly discern and focus his heart upon Him - His revealed Word (to be heard preached & taught and to be personally read, studied, meditated upon, obeyed) and the power of the Holy Spirit, who incorporates God's truth deeply into his life. To the extent that we avail ourselves of these loving, God-given provisions, we become increasingly able to discern that our highest good, our greatest joy is found in God alone (knowing Him, trusting Him, obeying Him, serving Him).
Only the Holy Spirit, as He works in union with his Word, can reveal our thoughts and intentions. As we read, meditate on, study, and hear preaching of the Word we're able to get a glimpse of our inner self. ...God has given you the Word so that you can grow in your knowledge of yourself and develop true worship of Him.
Idols of the Heart, Elyse Fitzpatrick
[Review: Intro, Chapters 1-2; Chapters 3-4]


Anonymous said...

MH ~ says:
What struck me the most was in chapter 5 when writing about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendago Fitzpatrick writes : "It's amazing the Holy Spirt could work in them that they were convinced THAT DEATH IN FAITH WAS INDEED BETTER THAN AN IDOLATROUS LIFE." Even though you stated this in your summary, I thought it need repeating. I want to see my idolatry in such a light. That I would take idol worship that seriously.

Anonymous said...

I agree that it is much more difficult to live a godly life in the seemingly small moments of life than in the crisis moments. The crisis moments are so pointed and obvious, but day to day, moment to moment life is not so much.

I was struck by Fitzpatrick’s comments about the words used in Gen 3:6 to describe Eve falling into sin – good, delight, desirable. I didn’t particularly care for the way that Fitzpatrick described us as always seeking our highest good. I think a more apt description is that we are always seeking our “wants”. It’s probably a question of semantics, because I think this is what she means, but I have difficulty separating in my mind what “highest good” I am seeking when what I’m really seeking after is selfish wants, which is sin, rather than the highest good of all which is God Himself.


Beth'sMomToo said...

Fitzpatrick means that we tend to choose what we think will make us happiest, which is what WE think is actually our highest good. That often entails choosing something we want MORE than we want to obey or trust God. And the reason we choose that way is because we believe it will make us happier, that it is our self-determined "higher good". That is exactly Satan's temptation to Eve ... doubt God's truth because there is a BETTER way, one that will make you happier! It's a hard truth to swallow, but it's very biblical. When we choose sin we do so because we doubt God and believe what we know what will REALLY make us happier. Often we look at the circumstance or the fear or the trial & let the enormity of it influence our judgment ... rather than believing God's revealed truth & simply and patiently trusting in Him.