Open Eyes, Open Hearts

It is possible to sit in a church pew for decades and never grasp the gospel.

Not truly.

It is possible to sit under gospel-centered, Christ-glorifying preaching for decades and never have a life that is transformed by what is heard.

In the case of my ministry, it’s possible for a student to hear me rant (in a good way) about Jesus and the message of Scripture for years and still not get it, still not trust in Jesus, still not claim allegiance to Him as King.

Why?

Because we can’t just hear the good news.

We have to believe it.

We have to, as Paul says, have the “eyes of our hearts” enlightened and illuminated to the beauty of Jesus and the power of the gospel message.

That’s about the weirdest phrase I’ve come across in the Bible (although the top spot goes to when Paul refers to the church of Jesus Christ as ‘the circumcision” in Philippians 3).

The eyes of our hearts.

Now, growing up in church, I’ve heard the song that revolves around this phrase. It’s a good one.

But still, weird.

I don’t entirely know what it means exactly (those of you reading this likely are smarter than me, so please tell me if you do know). But I do know it’s something we should be praying for on behalf of others. Last time I posted I shared how I am utter garbage at prayer, and how we as followers of Jesus can do better at it. We’re going to keep going in Ephesians. Check this out.

having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, - Ephesians 1:18-20

Now, remember, chapter and verse numbers were added way later than when this letter to the churches in Ephesus was actually written. And this section is kind of the worst (if you descended from one of those scribes who added these verse designations, I mean no offense).

This is part of Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for the churches in Ephesus.

Look at what he’s praying for.

He prays that they would have the ‘eyes of their hearts’ enlightened. Why? So that they can know the hope of following Jesus, and the riches of His grace, and the greatness of His power (the same power that rose Jesus from the dead and set Him at the right hand of the Father).

Wowza.

That’s a powerful prayer that we have recorded.

And remember y’all, this letter was written to believers. So this prayer can apply to non-believers and followers of Jesus alike. Some of us need to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened for the first time. Others need that to happen so that we can encounter again the powerful presence of Jesus.

Fullness of hope.

Riches of grace.

Greatness of power.

I want to quickly trace for us where this phrase “eyes of our hearts” shows up in Scripture, and the implications of these other passages (REMEMBER, THE BIBLE IS ONE BIG STORY THAT IS INTERCONNECTED AND YOU COULD SPEND HOURS ON EVERY VERSE MAKING ALL THE CONNECTIONS. Sorry for yelling, the Bible is just the coolest).

WE MUST UNDERSTAND OUR TRUE NEEDINESS

Look at this passage out of the book of Revelation (calm down, I’m not here to give my opinions on end times timelines, namely because I have no earthly idea. Jesus wins and I’m glad I’m on His team. That’s all I know.)

God proclaims the following about the church in Laodicea.

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, SO THAT YOU MAY SEE (emphasis mine). - Revelation 3:17-18

God says, harshly I might add, that the church, the people of God in Laodicea, did not grasp the stark reality of their need.

Y’all, we need to continually pray that God would show us how much we need Him. As soon as I get cocky about my walk with God, God brings in a friend to show me how far short I’ve fallen in a certain area of my life.

GOD DOES THE ILLUMINATING

This is the hard part about this prayer.

I can (and will) preach Christ crucified every single time that I open up God’s Word for my students or on my blog or for ‘big church’. Every time.

But, even the most concise and clear presentations of the gospel (which mine are normally jumbled and messy) cannot produce illuminated hearts. God must do it.

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, - Hebrews 6:4 

Again, not the greatest verse break-up.

This is in the middle of a warning about falling away from allegiance to Jesus as King. Notice the language. Those who have been enlightened, partaken of the heavenly gift and shared in the Holy Spirit. I could be wrong here, but the language sure makes it sound like someone outside the hearer of the gospel had to do the work of illumination. That’s the power of God at work.

And man this part of this Scriptural theme is low-key the absolute worst. I want tangible results. And I rarely ever know who in our youth group is growing spiritually because I don’t see their hearts.

I’m going to keep teaching.

I’m going to keep praying.

God will do the rest.

ILLUMINATED HEARTS LEAD TO SALVATION

When God does this work, people are brought from dark to light. Praise Jesus.

to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. - Acts 26:18

This is Paul’s testimony before Agrippa in Acts 26. He’s sharing what the risen Lord Jesus said to him when he was commissioned to the Gentiles. God sent him to open their eyes.

Before you come after me saying this contradicts my last statement, hear me out. Paul was the vessel, the Spirit actually illuminated hearts. Just read the book of Acts and you’ll see.

Anyway, Paul was to open their eyes so that what?

They would turn from darkness to light! So they would receive forgiveness of sins! So they would be sanctified!

When God opens the eyes of people’s hearts, they are saved. Praise Jesus.

But there’s one last thing to remember.

ILLUMINATED HEARTS LEAD TO SUFFERING

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, - Hebrews 10:32

Remember these passages were not written first to us, but rather to specific groups of people in specific situations. The Hebrews, who the writer of Hebrews is addressing, had their hearts enlightened to the beauty of King Jesus and then immediately suffering came.

This theme is so blatantly obvious in Scripture. Following Jesus leads to suffering. You can go to church and like Jesus. You can pray occasionally and read occasionally. But a committed life, where every facet of your life comes under the authority of King Jesus, that kind of life leads to suffering. Every time. That’s why Jesus used the symbol of the most excruciating and humiliating form of torture we’ve ever seen as the calling card. The cross.

We must take it up daily.

This is why I never tell students, not once, that if they pray a prayer they will be saved. It’s so much more complicated than that. I always tell them that they’ve got to be willing to commit to King Jesus as Lord. I tell them that their life will be full of difficulty but that Jesus is worth it and joy is found in Him.

Brothers and sisters, let us pray that our hearts would be continuously enlightened to the hope, grace, and power found in following Jesus.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Why The Long Face?

It was late Saturday night, and I had woken up groggy and disoriented yet again. For a few nights in a row I was having experiences where I awoke from my sleep with the sensation that I was coming out of anesthesia. I knew where I was, but things felt hazy and cloudy, and my arms and legs felt weighted as if they were moving through water.

It had been five days since my jaw surgery, and I was getting over the hump of the discomfort, only to have my sleep continuously upended by these lingering side effects. The day had been a little rough, and I was just so done.

Jamie woke up to my groans, quickly coming to my side to see what was wrong. I told her, and started to tear up. All I wanted was to sleep.

Jamie, in her always on point wisdom, encouraged me to pray aloud while she went to the kitchen to get me some medicine.

I didn’t feel like praying, not gonna lie. Yes, all things considered, my suffering in the aftermath of my surgery was minor. My pain was not extreme, my battle not with death. But, in the moment, I was fighting despair.

So that’s where I found myself. Disoriented and uneasy in bed, encouraged by my wife to pray aloud.

As I stared up at the fan, I started to pray.

The words got louder and louder, my heart pouring out and echoing down the hall. The tears started flowing and things continued to escalate until I yelled loudly, “Look at what I’m doing for You, and this is what you did to me.”

As soon as the words left my mouth, things got quiet in the room and in my heart. You see, Scripture clearly teaches that our words come from the overflow of our hearts. Every thing we say displays some aspect of where our hearts are at.

Suffering tends to really reveal our hearts.

My suffering had revealed some things in my heart I didn’t really like.

I strive to serve God in all that I do. I strive to be obedient. I strive to point others to Jesus. I strive to show others the wonderful grace of God. I strive to extend the love of God to others. I strive to be a lifelong disciple of my risen Lord and Savior.

There’s nothing at all wrong with any of those desires of mine.

Yet my scream of anger at God showed that I certainly felt like I was entitled to a good life, one of prosperity and blessings. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. I tried to serve God faithfully, so it only made sense that He should bless me with favor.

In the quiet stillness after my outburst, I felt God lovingly but firmly reminding me of what is true about Him. He doesn’t need me. If I wasn’t a family pastor in Vernon, someone else would be brought in and fill the same role.

Talk about oof.

What followed was the reminder from God of all the bazillion good gifts He had given me. A wonderful wife, parents who pray for and care for me, a brother and sister-in-law that let me have a fun weekend stay at their place before my surgery, a church family that has been continuously so amazing towards me (they’ve brought me meals and mowed my lawn), friends, a wonderfully talented surgeon, in-laws that let me stay with them when I got out of the hospital. The list goes on and on, and that’s centered around simply this past week or two.

Big oof.

Suffering causes us to lose sight of all of the light of God’s good and gracious gifts to us.

God continued to speak through His Word to me. He reminded me of His control over the situation. He reminded me that in the darkest of moments, He is still at work and still cares for His people like me (this has been slammed into my face since I’ve been studying Job for my blog and teaching Judges to the youth on Sundays).

All of this happened in my heart so fast.

Jamie came back in the room, helped me take some medicine, and soon I was back to sleep.

I wanted to share this experience with you for a handful of reasons.

First, I want to hopefully take away some of the stigma associated with acknowledging a hard day. It’s easy for us to compare our suffering to that of others, feeling like we can’t share that it’s been tough on us in fear of sounding pathetic or wimpy. If you’re struggling through something in your life right now, I genuinely pray that you have a faith community around you that can uplift you and that you can be open with. Stop the facades people, we need to be more real with others about our suffering and struggles.

Secondly, I want to remind us all that is in those dark nights (in my case literally) that we can ask the Lord to reveal the content of our hearts to us. Hear me, suffering is NOT always the result of sin. We don’t live in a black and white world like that. But, suffering can be used by God to reveal some sinful attitudes, motives, desires, etc. Just as He did with me.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. – Psalm 139:23-24

Lastly, I want to encourage you that our God reigns. Every single day, He has walked with me through this. Some days are harder than others, but He has brought stability. As I’ve been studying Job, I’ve been so encouraged by the following verse. Job cries out in all his emotions to the Lord all throughout the book. He despairs of his very life. Yet, in the midst of despair, He has a confidence in God. He is able to make the following declaration.

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. – Job 19:25

Living in 2019, we are able to say the same. Our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, lives.

Whatever you’re going through, you’ll get through it.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

The Mover of Hearts

Have you ever talked to a brick wall?

This past week my wife and I coached our first basketball game. A team of Kindergarten boys. Yes, you read that right. Kindergarten. Boys. We were in over our heads from the start. We got ready for tip-off and promptly took the L in our first game.

It was fun, but in other ways not so fun. We have great little dudes on our team, but they listen about 0% of the time to our coaching. They get so amped up and excited to be playing basketball, so they shut their ears off and go to work. My favorite part of the game was when I yelled at one of our players (everyone in the gym is yelling so I gotta yell too) to pass the ball to an open teammate. He looked at me, dribbled up the court, and launched a granny shot at the basket.

Like I said previously, we’ve got great kids on our team. This post isn’t about my coaching woes. Our Thursday night game however quickly illustrated for me how I sometimes feel in ministry, and how I sometimes feel about my own walk with the Lord.

Way too many times I feel like I’m preaching, teaching, and talking to a brick wall. We all feel this way in certain ways, right?

Sometimes it’s when I’m desperately trying to light a fire in my students to put the Lord first in their lives.

Sometimes it’s when I’m desperately trying to light a fire in my own life to prioritize private prayer, time in His Word, and serving and loving those in my community.

Sometimes it’s when I hear of yet another attack or shooting or act of senseless violence and I wonder what the heck is going on in our society.

Brick walls.

On Thursday night after our game I opened up the book of Ezra and found some great encouragement. Not for my coaching strategy, but for my life and ministry.

The book of Ezra is not a book I’m tremendously familiar with. That can be seen by the fact I have no resources to help me study it and I’ve literally never blogged about it. So this is a first.

In the first chapter of Ezra, we see a historical account of a pagan king allowing the people of God to rebuild a temple to their God in Jerusalem. It’s not the most enthralling account, and it’s not the most popular devotional place to land, but there is a profound truth on display that you’ve got to see.

God moves hearts.

Hear that again. Let it seep down into your spirit.

God moves hearts.

Let me show you what I mean. This is coming straight from Scripture.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: – Ezra 1:1

Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites – everyone whose heart God had moved – prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. – Ezra 1:5

All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings. – Ezra 1:6

Wow. Look at that. God’s movement, His intimate involvement in the affairs of His people, is all over this passage. The people had been exiled by King Nebuchadnezzar, their temple destroyed and in tatters, their faith in God shaken as they became captive to the Babylonians. The prophets rose up and spoke up, the people turned, and here in the book of Ezra, God makes plans to rebuild His temple. The people did not act alone of their own will, desire, and strength.

Instead, God first moved in the heart of a pagan king! That alone is worthy of our awe and adoration. The Lord moved in Cyrus’ heart in order to fulfill His promises given to His people through the prophet Jeremiah.

But the Lord’s movement and involvement does not stop there. No, He then moves in the hearts of His people, encouraging them to get up and rebuild the temple. Their desire came not from within themselves but rather straight from the Lord.

It doesn’t stop there either. Although not explicitly stated in verse six, I make the argument that God moved in the hearts of their neighbors as well. I mean, seriously, they’re giving them gold and silver and all these precious goods.

I don’t know where you find yourself today. Maybe you have a wayward child who you are tempted to give up on. Maybe you wake up at the start of every new month and wonder why you spent little time with the Lord in the month prior. Maybe you work in a church or non-profit and the fire you have for the Lord is close to being quenched because you haven’t seen much fruit. Maybe you have been praying for a loved one to come to the Lord and after decades you see the light starting to fade.

Wherever you are, God is in the habit of moving hearts.

This takes faith.

I pray that you are encouraged in your current situation, I pray that you would go to your knees and remember that God moves hearts.

If He’s bigger than Babylon and Persia, bigger than destroyed temples and His people’s captivity, then He’s surely bigger than whatever you’re facing today.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

The Righteousness Of Jesus

(Tonight, we add Matt Welborn (one of my closest friends from OBU) into the mix of writers. Our blog has almost 250 followers and I’m excited to see it continue to grow with your help!)

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sin and righteousness. The more I read about God’s righteousness, the more I realize the depth of my own sin.

I was reading in Mark 7 recently, and I came across the passage in which Jesus and His disciples go about eating without washing their hands. The Pharisees were upset. Jesus wasn’t following the rules! How can someone be righteous if they don’t obey their elders? At first glance, maybe Jesus is in a bind here.

Yet Jesus responds to the upset Pharisees:

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ – Mark 7:6-7

Their hearts were far from God, thus their worship was in vain.

The Pharisees were supposed to be the most righteous of all of God’s people. If I was sitting around, observing this conversation nearly two-thousand years ago, I’d be worried. The people I saw as most righteous were the same people Jesus was saying were far away from God.

I don’t want to be far away from God. At the same time, I’m not very righteous. I’m terribly unrighteous. Jesus spits a list of sins shortly thereafter:

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” – Mark 7:20-23

Yikes. I’ve definitely had evil thoughts. Sexual immorality — yeah. Theft? Well, I envy often. And I’ve stolen for sure. Murder? I’ve hated another person. Jesus says that counts. Adultery? I’ve lusted after another person. Jesus says that counts too.

I don’t really want to keep going in this list. It’s hard to look inside and see how evil my heart is and has been.

The beautiful thing, though, is Jesus knows already. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I want that. I want a clean heart. I want a right spirit.

When Jesus came to earth and lived among us, He knew our unrighteousness. He knows it more deeply and intimately than we probably will ever know. We are born into sin, far away from God. But God came to us.

Jesus came to us when we were far away.

By dying on the cross and raising from the grave, Jesus conquered sin and death and all unrighteousness. He came to exchange our hearts of stone for hearts of flesh. He desires for each and every one of us to be alive in Him. To be actually, fully, completely human. Jesus wants us to walk with Him in the same way Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden. Jesus invites us into relationship — even in our state of unrighteousness.

Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

In our state of unrighteousness, Jesus died for us. He defeated death and is now offering the free gift of righteousness to all who believe. What does that righteousness look like? Phillipians 4:8 tells us. This is what we get to think about and be about:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9

The God of peace will be with us. Jesus gives us the Spirit of God to practice the very things above. This is a list I’d much rather embody.

Whatever is true — seeking the truth in all things. Whatever is honorable — thinking about the words that lift people up and serve the Kingdom of God. Whatever is just — the Bible is pretty clear about God’s desire for justice (and our place as seekers of justice). Whatever is pure — Jesus says during the sermon on the mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” To see God!

The list continues. Whatever is lovely — is it not pleasant to see beauty? The loveliness of the Grand Canyon, the wonder of wildflowers, the patience of your parents, the face of God. Whatever is commendable — the great acts of service: loving God, loving others, and laying aside your selfishness to serve another person. Anything excellent and worthy of praise — anything!

This is a much better list of things to think about and be about. I pray that the Spirit of God would reveal the depth of your sin, the great need you have for a Savior, and the wonderful reality of your new life in Christ. Think about the loveliness of Jesus Christ. Think about these things. Practice these things. And the God of peace will be with you.

The peace of Christ be with you,

Matt Welborn