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

 

You May Be Religious

Much has been said about the classic parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), to the point where I’m not looking to add to the discussion today. Rather, I wanted to share with you all a series of questions that I heard in a sermon I was listening to yesterday that challenged my heart and could be of use to all of us if we explored them individually.

The pastor’s name is Josh Kouri and in his treatment of the story, he zeroed in on the older son, who’s unwillingness to join the feast for his brother that had returned is an example of how we too can behave towards the grace and mercy of God. Kouri proclaimed that the older son struggled with religion rather than irreligion, and was in just as much danger of missing out on God’s love than the prodigal son who had left was.

Kouri posed the following four questions. These were his litmus test for whether or not you are living in grace or living in devotion to religion (in the bad sense of the term, the type of mind-driven rote behavior that God has disdain for).

Do I obey God to be loved by God?

Why do you follow the commands of God? Are you trying to earn his love, his affirmation, his support? We all need to pause and remember that God already loves us, that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross confirms that, and we have no fear of condemnation any longer. You can miss out on the grace of God if you get so caught up in following the commands of God in order to feel affirmed by God. It is out of the overflow of our gratitude for God’s saving work in our lives that our desire for holiness and obedience should come.

Is my identity in myself or in Jesus?

Many of us have rollercoaster spiritual lives. When we’re in God’s Word, we’re on top of the world. When sin wins the day in our lives, we feel like we’re underground. Since our commitment to holiness is more often than not sporadic, we have emotional lives that are thrown for a loop. The answer to this is remembering what Christ has done, and that our identity is SECURELY ROOTED in Him. On my best day, I’m deserving of hell. Yet because of Christ, on my worst day I’m awarded heaven.

Do I try and control God through my works?

You can’t manipulate God. But we sure do try sometimes. When trials hit we remind God of all the things we’ve done for Him. If our works are done in a way of putting God in our debt, then we misunderstand grace. God’s grace when comprehended leads to a desire for good works, but God cannot be coerced into blessing us because of our flippant faithfulness to Him.

Do I look to ‘more sinful’ people for righteousness via comparison?

This one is classic. Feeling bad about your life? Then look at your neighbor and see how much better you are. Righteousness via comparison is pathetic. We all fall short of God’s glory, so excusing sin in our lives because we think someone else’s sin is worse is hilariously ineffective in the long run.

If you’ve answered yes to any of these, which we all do in different ways at different times, then you may be religious.

Rest in God’s grace.

Repent of where you’ve tried to earn it.

Come in and enjoy the party of God’s love for you.

In His Name,

Nate Roach