The Heart-Changer

It’s Wednesday night at 8:45 PM. I’m driving home and reflecting on the day. Thirteen hours of work and I’m ready for sleep. Over the course of a week I had studied the Bible, scoured commentaries and books on theology, written a sermon, and delivered it twice. What I got in return was blank stares, students doodling on their note papers, and a seeming lack of passion.

That’s when the spiritual exhaustion is at its peak.

You’re likely not a youth pastor reading this.

So maybe you can grasp one of these other sets of circumstances.

You speak often about Jesus in your home, encouraging your children to follow Him, to seek first the Kingdom. All of your unique attempts at digging into Scripture with them seem to come up short. They are enamored with the things of this world, pursuing the American Dream, and your attempts at discipleship in the home don’t seem to be bearing fruit.

Your dear friend or family member is far from God. They have been for a while. You’ve prayed for them countless times. It’s not that you’ve stopped praying for them, that God would touch their hearts. It’s just that when you’re deeply honest with yourself, you’ve stopped believing that they will ever change.

Your community is full of sin and wickedness. The churches in your community are dwindling and shrinking, and it feels like things are hopeless. Those that walk under the banner of Christ aren’t honoring him with the things they post and the vitriol that is thrown back at the church disorients you and discourages you.

There are times when we feel hopeless.

There are times when we feel like there’s nothing else we can do to impact our family members, our churches, our communities.

And that’s exactly what we should be feeling.

Last Friday, it hit me afresh when I was reading a few chapters out of the book of Exodus as part of my quiet time. The people of God had been enslaved in Egypt for centuries, and now under the leadership of Moses they were being rescued by God. At the time of their departure, they were shown favor by their former captors, and this favor was from the Lord.

The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. – Exodus 12:35-36

There are a ton of examples from Scripture regarding the way that God is the one who moves in the hearts of men. This one was simply the one that stood out to me and impacted me last weekend.

Seriously. Think about what is happening here.

The people of God were enslaved.

And now those, whether they were actively serving as task-masters or were passive observers, who had been enslaving the people of God are lavishing them with silver and gold and clothing.

But did they do this of their own accord? By no means. We read that the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. God was the one who was working in the hearts of the people. The same God who by His sovereignty hardened the heart of the unnamed Pharaoh for His glory (as hard as that is to accept) now softened the hearts of the Egyptians for the sake of His people.

This floored me last Friday.

I would love to be in control of how people respond to the proclamations about Jesus that I make each Wednesday night and Sunday morning and occasionally at other times during the week. I would love to tell you that you have the power to change your prodigal family member’s heart, your child’s heart, or the spiritual health of your community. We love to pretend to be saviors.

But we’re not in control. We don’t have the power. And when we acknowledge that and rest in that we find the answer to seeing change happen.

Praying for the Spirit to move.

It’s only been six days. But I’ve been striving to push into that. I’ve been striving to get on my knees and pray for the Spirit of God to move. And you know what? He is.

He’s at work.

He’s always at work, but when I ask Him to move by the Spirit to soften the hearts of those who hear the Kingdom message, I begin to open my eyes to how He’s been working all along. It’s like buying a car. When I bought my Chevy Malibu, I started seeing them everywhere. It’s not that my purchase of a Chevy Malibu was followed by an outpouring of Malibu purchases in Vernon. It’s that I simply had my eyes opened to see them everywhere.

Here’s how God has been at work in my life recently. I desperately long to invite people into a deep, Christ-honoring, Spirit-led intimacy with the Father and passion for the Kingdom. I desperately want people to set their minds on things above and live for the only thing that matters. And I want to use the home God has so richly blessed me with to do so. I want to have adults and students in and out of it every day, growing into the image of the Son of God. As bad as I want that, it’s not been happening much.

But yesterday I prayed throughout the day that God would use His Word, a sermon on John 1:35-42, to ignite a fire for the Kingdom of God in the hearts of our students. I prayed that God would begin to use our home as a place for people to reorient themselves around the Kingdom.

After all of these prayers for the Spirit to move, in the span of an hour five students asked to come over to our house, three of them asking to be intentionally discipled by me and my wife. We are starting a Bible study open to the public on Sunday night and I pray we have many come.

Your prodigal needs the Spirit of God to work in their heart.

Your children need the Spirit of God to work in their heart.

Your community needs the Spirit of God to work in its streets.

Thankfully, we have a God who softens the hearts of the sinful and gives His people favor.

Let’s ask Him to do so.

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Bring Them Robes

During Christmas, we often think about Jesus as an infant. Or we think about the theology of the incarnation. Or we think about whether or not we should tell our youngest sibling or child that Santa may or may not be “real.”

Sometimes we even think about all three of those things while perusing Amazon for gift ideas (If you can do that, bully for you. I can’t).

The new year arrives. We manage winter. Spring appears. Easter prep begins.

And during Easter, we often think about Jesus as an adult. And we think about the cross, and we think about the resurrection. And we think about whether or not we should tell our youngest sibling or child that the Easter Bunny may or may not be “real” (We are a very interesting society).

Between baby Jesus and grown-up Jesus, we don’t think a lot about his life. And that makes sense. Based on the very little we have about child Jesus, we would be making a lot of conjectures and guesses as to what the life of young Jesus looked like.

But what we have is so interesting! And because we have Luke’s Gospel (and, I guess, common sense), we don’t have to continue to debate whether or not we should tell our youngest sibling or child that Jesus may or may not have been “twelve.” He was!

When Jesus was twelve, we read in Luke what I will quickly summarize: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover. Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem to go back home. They thought Jesus was with other family members. He wasn’t. So they ran back to Jerusalem and found Jesus in the Temple, and Jesus tells them, “Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke: 2:49, CSB)

I honestly don’t know how to best explain all of that. In fact, I’m not going to try here. Instead, I want to explore what happens next:

Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people. – Luke 2:51-52, CSB

So, Jesus goes back to Nazareth, obeys his parents, and this fills Mary’s heart with treasured memories. And then we read something amazing: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people.”

This statement is amazing for so many reasons. I want to highlight just one: We’ve read it before!

Yes, Luke is alluding to a story in the Old Testament about a mother and her young boy. This young boy could be found in the Temple. This young boy would be called a prophet. This young boy would hear God speak. His name was Samuel.

We can look back to 1 Samuel 2:26 and we find:

By contrast [to some other, wicked guys], the boy Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people.

Young Jesus and young Samuel, growing in stature and favor with God and people. What powerful, remarkable statements about these two young men. But how exactly did they do that?

There are many reasons, and you could probably write a whole book on “growing in stature and in favor with God and people” and make a major profit (Pun!). But while I was reading 1 Samuel, I noticed something a paragraph or two before verse 26 that filled my heart with wonder.

I noticed something small yet amazing:

Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. – 1 Samuel 2:19

Each year his mother made him a little robe. Every single year, his mother made him a little robe. His mother made him a little, priestly robe. A robe for her son.

In 2002, Mr. Rogers gave a commencement address at Dartmouth. During the address he said to the graduates, “I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today.”

When I read this verse in 1 Samuel, I thought about that quote. I imagined Samuel sitting among the graduates. I imagined him thinking back to year after year of his mother bringing him a little robe. He would have realized it was her dedication to him and to God that allowed him to grow in favor with God and people. It was her love, her compassion, her presence. His mother, who had prayed a deeply sincere prayer to God for a child. And then gave her son back to God out of gratitude. Hannah. The name of a devoted God-follower. The name of a devoted mother.

Year after year, she brought Samuel a little robe. Year after year, Mary raised Jesus in Nazareth. And as a result of Hannah and Mary’s devotion to God, their sons grew in godliness.

One son would crown kings, and the other would be crowned King.

Your devotion to God doesn’t have to be flashy. It can be as “simple” as finding that young man or young woman who you can support year after year in their faith. Teach the next generation how to pray, how to listen to God, how to read the Bible. Give them encouragement and blessings.

Be like Mary and Hannah.

Bring them robes.

– Matt Welborn