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

Pump And Dump

This week has been Vacation Bible School week at the church I serve at. I am utterly exhausted, but my heart is full. I have desperately tried to keep up with the motions that accompany our theme songs for the week, I’ve played some mad games of Four Corners with the younger kids, and squabbled about the rules of Capture the Flag (or in this case, sponge) with the older kids.

I am saddened by how many men or women become crusty and somber due to studying theology, and Vacation Bible School is a refreshing way to break out of this in my own heart. I leave my office and my studies and interact with kids whose faith is encouraging and worthy of praise (all while eating plenty of cheese puffs and nachos along the way).

Last night I was able to be a part of a conversation in which a young child put their faith in Jesus for the first time. It was encouraging and exciting to be in the room when this happened, but it was also convicting. You see, I think it’s easy to come into discipleship with the exact same mentality as I came into my Psychology exams back in college.

What I mean is the ol’ pump and dump routine.

Generally my routine of studying for Psychology consisted of quizzing myself repeatedly with note cards the day before the exam, followed by regurgitating all of that on my test. If you asked me the following week about a definition, I would have no idea, it would likely already be forgotten. While this got me through Psychology, this is a horrendous way to do discipleship. Yet, if we’re being honest, if I’m being honest, we do discipleship like this sometimes in our churches.

We host a VBS, we host an Evangelism Sunday, we take students to Summer Camp or D-Now. We see God move in the lives of people in our community, then we pat them on the back, more or less saying good luck walking out your faith now. As long as we can post on Facebook or Instagram about the number of salvations, we’re not concerned about follow up and discipleship. I see no example of this type of pump and dump discipleship in Scripture. It’s painfully convicting to acknowledge in my own heart that I’ve been prone to be this way at times as well.

May we be churches that don’t settle for students coming to the altar and giving their lives to Jesus or kids having a conversation about the gospel with their counselor leading to the same. This is a wonderful, praise-worthy thing, the salvation of souls! However, we must not pump them up and then dump them out once the week is over and we’re back into our normal routine. There are many reasons for people departing from the faith, and every individual is individually responsible, but dumping kids and students and even adults off after they make a salvation decision is immensely detrimental to their spiritual growth.

Yes, the Spirit of God is what is ultimately responsible for the growth of the Christian through prayer and time in His Word. However, we are designed for community, created in such a way where we are able to flourish spiritually when someone is guiding us and leading us. We are woefully bad at times as the church at not doing this part of discipleship. We get them in the door and get them saved but we don’t walk through them how to think, feel, and act as a Christian. No wonder we have men and women in our churches who have come to programs and services for decades yet are still infants spiritually.

We must avoid pump and dump salvations. We must strive for discipleship.

The question of what discipleship is has been coming up a lot recently in my discussions with friends and fellow ministers. I look at a room full of people and I wonder how to get them from pews to God-honoring discipleship relationships. We have men and women in our churches who love the Lord and serve Him faithfully, but a vast majority of them are not in discipleship relationships.

Discipleship is pretty simple in my mind, at least at its core.

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 11:1

That’s discipleship at its core for me. It’s me walking alongside someone, imitating their faith as they imitate Christ. It can look like a myriad of different things based on the relationship and situation, but it should always be life on life. Some of the most influential men in my life have been men who shared their faith while also sharing their home, family, struggles, and habits. Sometimes it looked like meeting weekly, sometimes it looked like tagging along while he went to pay utility bills for his home. Discipleship is not something that is for only the most experienced believers. It is for all who profess faith in Jesus.

My prayer for my community and my church is that older men will disciple, invest in, pray for, and commune with younger men, and same with the women. I don’t see a whole lot of that. We’ve mystified discipleship and it doesn’t need to be that way. We’ve made it for the elite saints instead of the everyday followers of Jesus.

My prayer is that myself and other members of our church will continue to walk with the young boy that professed faith in Jesus last night. My prayer is that we avoid pump and dump events.

If you’re reading this and you’ve never been discipled, I apologize on behalf of the church. My prayer is that you would encounter and partake in a relationship with another believer that grows you in your faith. A good step for you may be to step out of your comfort zone and ask an older believer if you can imitate them in their faith.

Let’s be disciples who make disciples.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach