What’s in your heart is more important than what you do

fruit-plant-results-harvest-tree_1170x350

We have pear trees at Safe Haven Farm, but they aren’t just any pear trees. They’re wood pears. They’re wicked hard and unbelievably stubborn. Nothing kills these things, and you have to wait until they’re on the edge of being rotten before you can get a knife into them.

I’ve always figured it’s because the trees themselves are so old. The pears are as tough as tree bark because the trees are ancient. At least, the trees are ancient by Kansas standards. Trees don’t always last long around these parts.

But in the last few years, a tree sprang up in the orchard that produced smallish round pears that you could eat straight off the branch. We’re still at a loss as to where the tree came from and why its fruit is so different, but the old trees make me a appreciate the new one.

The Bible has so many stories about farming in it, and it always makes me smile. In Galatians 6:7-8, the Bible says, “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.

God set the Laws of Nature in motion when He created the world, and nothing (except Him) can stop them. That means if you plant a pear tree, you’ll get pears. If you plant a wheat field, you’ll get wheat. If you plant green beans, you’ll get green beans. You can’t plant green beans and expect to get strawberries. It just doesn’t work that way.

Life works exactly the same. If you do good things, you’ll receive good things. If you do bad things, you’ll receive bad things. Yes, in some cases, you can do good things and be rewarded with bad things, but the bad things are usually temporary—a preliminary bump in the road on the way to better things.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]But what I’ve learned about following Jesus is that it isn’t really your actions that determine your success.[/su_pullquote]

But what I’ve learned about following Jesus is that it isn’t really your actions that determine your success. Yes, your actions play a huge role. But more important than your actions are your motivations. Why do you do what you do? What is in your heart?

I mean, look at our pear trees. Sure, they’re both pear trees, and they both produce pears. But the old trees give us big, hard, misshapen fibrous chunks of woody fruit. The new tree gives us soft, sweet, juicy fruit. The old pears are perfectly edible. They just take more work to process because you have to cut out all the bad stuff to get to the parts that actually taste like pear.

You can work with the old hard pears, but you have to dig to get to the good stuff. The same is true if you do the right thing with the wrong motivation. Maybe you do what God says is right, and that’s great, but your heart isn’t joyful about it or happy or humble. You’ll get a good result back, yes, because you planted a good seed. But that result will be tainted by your bad attitude. And if you want to do something useful with it, you’ll have to dig out the unhelpful bits.

It’s so much better to do what God says is right with a heart that’s right too. That way, the results you get won’t just be pleasant, they’ll be useful. And you can build on your results right away because you won’t be spending time separating the bad fruit from the good.

It’s important to plant good seeds, so that you’ll harvest a good crop. But even more so, it’s important to plant good seeds with an attitude that’s right. An attitude that recognizes God as Lord and not just God.

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God provides for us what He requires from us

Ever feel like you’re in over your head? Golly, I’ve been there more than once in my life, with the majority of those times happening within the last 10 months. Without fail, most of the times when I feel overwhelmed is when I’m doing something I know God has told me to do.

Something I’ve learned following God all these years? He asks me to do things I can’t do, and He does it all the time. Talk to strangers. Do math. Run a business. I don’t know how to do any of that. But those are specific things He’s told me to do. Well, not the “do math” part, but it’s implied with the “run a business” part.

When God tells you to do something impossible, you’ve got two choices. Either you tell Him no, or you ask Him for help. Because, yes, God asks us to do impossible things, but He knows we can’t do the impossible. That’s why we have Him. And if we know nothing else about God, we know that God has always, always provided for us what He requires from us.

Happy Scottish sheep grazing on the green grass near Hadrian's Wall in Northern England

Happy Scottish sheep grazing on the green grass near Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England

Today’s verses are Genesis 22:6-8, 13-14.

So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, and Abraham was willing to do it. The writer of Hebrews states in chapter 11 that Abraham had faith that God would resurrect Isaac if need be, and he didn’t even hesitate. God told Abraham what He wanted, and Abraham went to do it. And God provided the sacrifice for him.

Over and over and over, throughout Scripture and even throughout the lives of Christ-followers in history, God has always provided. Maybe it’s food. Maybe it’s faith. Maybe it’s clothing or shelter or safety or status. Whatever a Christ-follower needs, he or she gets exactly when they need it. The trick is you probably don’t have it to start out with.

You have to be willing. Abraham was willing to give up his son because God asked him to, trusting that God knew what was best. And when God asks us to do something, we should be willing to obey even if what He’s asking doesn’t make sense right away.

God won’t contradict His Word, though. So be sure you always weigh what you think He’s telling you to do against Scripture. But once you determine the path He wants you on, get on it, whether you think you’re equipped for it or not.

So what’s keeping you in place today? Are you scared because you don’t know the future? Well, nobody does, so don’t let that stop you. God knows what’s coming, and He can be trusted. Do you lack money and finances? Do you lack independence? Do you lack courage? What about education or experience?

Don’t listen to the fear that’s holding you down. If your reason for telling God no is because you’re afraid, you’re listening to the wrong voice. God doesn’t operate through fear. And if He is asking you to do something for Him, He will provide you with everything you need to make it happen. Maybe you think it’s impossible. It probably is, but with God, all things are possible.

Give God a chance. Be willing to take that first step. God has always provided what He requires, and He won’t stop now.

God doesn’t always give you what you want

I’m staying in a swanky hotel right now. I mean, it has a bathtub. A real, honest-to-goodness bathtub that’s deep enough to soak in. And it has a shower too. Super swanky.

When I checked in at the desk, the lady asked me if I wanted a coffee maker brought up to my room. Now, I kind of have a coffee problem. I like coffee. A lot. Black or with milk or half-n-half or cream. Lattes, cappucinos, espressos, whatever. I love coffee.

Generally, hotel coffee is horrible, though. I usually can’t stand it, but when I wake up in the mornings early and write these devotionals, I desperately need a cup of coffee. So I’m willing to take anything. So, I told the lady at the desk, yes, I’d love to have a coffee maker in my room.

I got up to the room, and a guy from downstairs knocked and brought in my coffee machine. But it wasn’t a cheap little coffee pot like I’ve got at home. It wasn’t even a fancy coffee pot. It was a Keurig! A real-life Keurig with real-life coffee pods and everything! It was awesome!

How many times do we ask for something and expect a cheap response? How many times do we pray to God and ask Him for a specific result and expect a cheap answer? I do it all the time, but is that how we’re supposed to ask?

0125151521Today’s verses are James 4:1-3.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

I ask God for stuff all the time, and it’s normal for me to automatically assume that He won’t give it to me. That’s not because God’s mean. It’s not because I don’t trust Him. It’s just because I’m not sure my motives are always right.

I can’t be the only one out there who asks God for things I know I don’t need. Surely others have asked God for things, knowing that obtaining them probably wouldn’t be in my best interest. I’ve just asked for them because I wanted them. I’ve asked because it would make me happy or it would make life easier or it would help me feel vindicated.

There’s nothing wrong with being happy or having an easy life or feeling vindicated about something, but what is your motivation? For me, if I ask God for something because it will make me happy, that means I’m not content. If I ask God to make my life easy, that means I’m being lazy or giving into fear. If I ask God for vindication, usually that means I’m being insecure and letting my pride direct my actions and thoughts.

If you want God to give you what you’re asking for, check your motivation. Check your heart, because that’s what God looks at.

Hey, singles. Do you want a husband or a wife? Why? Is it because you feel incomplete without them? Is it because you need a spouse to move on to the next step in your plan for life? Or are you just sick of being the fifth wheel when all your friends are getting married and leaving you behind? If you want to get married, what is your heart motivation?

Hey, employed person. Do you want a raise? Do you want a promotion? Why do you want it? More money? More status? More power? What is the motivation behind your desire?

Hey, unemployed person. Do you want a job? Why?

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are or what kind of life you lead. If the motivation of your heart goes against what God says is right and true–or if your desire will go against God’s bigger plan for your life–God won’t give you what you ask for. Period.

And He’s not being mean. He just wants what’s best for us, while we usually can only see what’s good.

But you know what? Sometimes when you ask God will give you more than what you ask for. Sort of like my amazing coffee machine. I didn’t expect to get it. And even then, it wasn’t what I expected when I got it–it was better! And God’s just like that.

So if God hasn’t answered your prayers today, don’t give up. Yes, check your heart. Make sure your motivation is what it should be. And then, keep asking. The day is coming when God will blow your mind.

Scarlet Macaw at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Weighing the heart behind your words

Have you ever said something you didn’t mean? I do it frequently–more frequently than I care to admit. Mostly that’s because I have a really sarcastic sense of humor, and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by so many people who understand me. And the know that most of the time when I’m shooting my mouth off, I’m not really serious about what I’m saying.

Don’t you find it interesting that there’s a perceived difference between what people say and what they actually mean? We live in a culture of sarcasm and wit, and I think sometimes we say things we don’t mean to get a laugh, to catch someone’s attention, to make a point. But what matters more? What you actually say or what you actually mean?

Scarlet Macaw at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Scarlet Macaw at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Samuel 16:7.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

The Bible is pretty clear over and over again (not just in this Old Testament verse) that God looks at people in a different way than we do. What I love about this passage is that it deals with a human perspective versus God’s perspective.

God didn’t care that David’s brother was tall, dark, and handsome; he didn’t have the heart to be kind. Not like David.

God cares about the outside, sure. He’s as much responsible for the outside as He is for the inside. But because we can only experience what’s on the outside, that’s what we tend to judge by.

How does this person dress? How does this person speak? How does this person look? Suspect or clean shaven? Respectable or sketchy? We make judgment calls like that all the time, and in many cases those decisions are wise.

But when it comes to following God, it’s so much better to pay attention to the inside instead of the outside. Granted, we can’t see the inside. But God can. And that’s a sobering fact to remember.

Have you ever thought about the fact that maybe God isn’t listening to the words you actually say? What if He doesn’t care about what you actually say–they’re only words after all. And words are only as effective (or destructive) as the intention behind them.

How would your lifestyle change if you realized that you’d be judged on your intentions? If you were going to be held accountable not for your actions but for your purposes, what would our lives look like?

I don’t know about you, but I’d be in prison somewhere.

So what is the point of this? Well, it’s been shown over and over again throughout the Bible that God judges by the heart. And that means He knows our motivation and our purpose behind everything we say and do.

Does that make you think twice about what you were getting ready to do today?

The issue is this: in this life we are told we should be held accountable for the things we say, and I agree with that entirely. But there’s another step. There’s another problem than just not being held accountable for our words. God knows our thoughts, and we have to answer for our motivations and the state of our heart too.

Is your heart jealous? Is it hard and selfish? Is it hurt and lonely? Whatever state your heart is in right now, you can trust aren’t alone.

So the next time you think about what you’re going to say when you’re upset about something, stop for a moment and think about your thoughts. Think about why you want to say what you want to say, and you might find yourself shocked when you can’t find a reason.

Words are important. Words are essential and vital, powerful and immensely important. But what matters even more than the words themselves is your motivation for speaking them.

Dead sunflower - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New life, old choices

What does it mean to live a new life? The Bible is full of examples and statements about becoming a new person and living a new life and all that jazz, but what does it actually mean? How do you actually do it? Do you just trade out your current life for a new, shiny one?  It’s a great thought, being able to stop living the life that you’re living and move on to something better. But is that really how it works?

Dead sunflower - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflower – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:1.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.

This is just one example of many verses that talk about living a new life. When I was little, I really didn’t understand the concept. I didn’t really understand what was wrong with my life that I had to start living a new one. It seemed fine to me.

Of course, as an adult, I can see the parts of my life that I wish I could change. But you don’t get to just switch lives, like in those “reality” TV shows where two different moms trade places or whatever. You only have one life, and that doesn’t change. What changes is your perspective and your motivation.

I love the Message paraphrase. It often grasps in concept what the original language is trying to communicate better than the literal translations, mainly because Greek is so complex that it’s impossible to exactly translate it into an awkward, indolent, lovable language like English without losing some meaning. But this is the same verse (in context) in the Message, verses 1 and 2 actually:

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

I think where a lot of the “new life” confusion comes from is that our American culture has been so steeped in Eastern mysticism that we get the idea that something magical happens when we accept Christ. Maybe we’re not expecting bright lights or ringing bells, but many times I know people do expect to feel something. And they are disappointed when they don’t.

The honest truth about following Christ is that there’s nothing magical about it. It’s a simple choice.

People sin. We do things that make us imperfect. We’ve been imperfect since our first Father, Adam, chose to disobey God’s Law. And because God is perfect, we can’t have a relationship with Him. Perfection can’t remain perfect if it’s tainted by imperfection. But God loved us so much, that He sent Christ, His own perfect Son, to die for us, in our place, so we could be made perfect. So when we choose to believe that Christ did this for us, Christ gives us His righteousness so that when God see us, He doesn’t see our sin, He sees Christ’s perfection. That’s how we’re able to have a face-to-face relationship with God. Through Christ and Christ alone.

A simple choice.

The choices that follow, however, aren’t that simple. Because even though God has forgotten our sins, right now we still have them and we will continue to struggle with them until we die or until Christ comes back for us. Part of being a Christian means that you have a choice, to sin or not to sin. Christ gives you the power to choose not to sin. Before you had Christ, you didn’t have that power.

Living a new life means choosing not to sin.

That’s what the whole concept of “new life” is. You aren’t stuck living the same old life you always were. You have the power through Christ and through the Holy Spirit to choose not to sin. It’s all about choice.

Well then, how do you make choices?

Choice is determined by motivation and perspective. That’s what this verse is talking about. Living a new life means turning away from the things you use to pursue. It means stepping away from the situations and circumstances in the world and getting involved in what Christ is doing. It means paying attention to where God is working and jumping in with both feet. It means learning Scripture and applying it to your life. It means seeing the world and your life through Jesus’ eyes.

If you have new life, that means you have a new perspective. Or at least, you should have a new perspective. Because now you can see the world and everything in it (including yourself) through the filter of real Truth.

So, Christian, when you’re tempted to backbite and bicker and lie and cheat — when you’re tempted to grumble and complain and focus on the negative, recognize that those are old choices. Those are old perspectives, stemming from old motivation. And even though you are free to choose those things, you don’t have to. And they don’t add anything to you or to anyone else. It’s so much better to make a new choice, one that matches your new life. It makes all the difference in the world.

The world is not enough

You only have one heart, figuratively and literally. Have you ever seen those cheesy romantic movies where some guy or some girl tells their significant other that they couldn’t fall in love with anyone else because they already gave their heart away? There you go.

When you give your heart to someone, it’s not really easy to take it back. So you have to be careful who you give your heart to. And, no, I’m not going to talk about romance and love or whatever this morning. Giving your heart to someone has a lot more to do than being romantically involved.

In Western culture, the seat of the emotions is in the heart. We talk about our heart being broken. We talk about putting our whole heart into something. We talk about wishing with all our heart. What we mean when we say that is that we put our whole self into something.

In other countries, the seat of the emotion is in other vital parts of anatomy. It’s not the heart, but the concept is the same.

There’s only one you. So be careful who you give yourself away to.

I thought about this when I read todays verse, 1 John 2:15-16.

 15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.

You can’t give your heart away to God and to the world at the same time. It doesn’t work because the two are diametrically opposed. What the world wants from you will hurt you and leave you broken and empty and unsatisfied. But what God wants for you is truly in your best interest — though our own pride and vanity convinces us that He’s just out to spoil our fun.

You can only do one or the other. And if you choose to give your heart to the world, you will learn sooner or later that it can’t provide you with the things you need. Maybe it will give you everything you want at first, but eventually you’ll understand that it demands from you more than you can give. And what it takes from you is unequal to what you invest.

I guess I’m being metaphorical this morning. My coffee isn’t working yet.

When I say the world, I’m not talking about people. I’m talking about the base conditions of life that our world exists in. Drinking to get drunk. Having sex with anyone and everyone. Pornography. Anxiety. Gluttony. Laziness. Selfishness. Pride. If you give yourself over to behavior like that, it will seem fun at first but eventually it will come back and destroy you. Because, as James Bond’s family motto says, “Orbis non sufficit“: The world is not enough.

The world takes all your energy and your passion and your good intentions and drains you dry. And maybe at the beginning you will experience the physical pleasure you were seeking, but eventually that’s going to fade and you’ll be left with nothing but a craving for something you can no longer feel. The world makes you a bottomless pit, you want everything but nothing makes you happy.

Does anyone want a life like that?

I don’t.

I chose a long time go to give my heart to God because all He asks from us is faith — and even on the days when faith feels impossible He doesn’t leave us. And while giving your heart to God may not feel good or may cause you to make decisions sometimes that hurt, the end result is satisfying. Because you’ve invested yourself in something that is truly making a difference.

So if you’ve given your heart to the world, can you give it to God? Of course. But it can’t be a half-hearted attempt.  You only have one heart. And tearing it in two pieces never works, either figuratively or literally. And even if you’re in pieces when you give yourself to God, He still wants you. He works better with broken pieces anyway.

Am I talking about trusting in Christ? Sure. But this is a problem that Christians have. They choose to believe that Jesus saved them, but they leave their heart with the world. It shouldn’t be that way.

So check your motivation. I am. I only have one heart and I want to make sure I give it to the right person because taking it back hurts more than just me.

The heart determines your actions, not the other way around

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 7:1.

1 Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.

As I was reading this, first I wanted to know what promises Paul was referring to. So I flipped back to the previous chapter. And basically, what that seems to be referring to is a section of Scripture Paul quotes from some different areas of the Old Testament: Leviticus 26:12; Ezekiel 37:27; Isaiah 52:11; and 2 Samuel 7:14.

 “I will live in them
      and walk among them.
   I will be their God,
      and they will be my people.[e]
 17 Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
      and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
   Don’t touch their filthy things,
      and I will welcome you.[f]
 18 And I will be your Father,
      and you will be my sons and daughters,
      says the Lord Almighty.[g]

God is telling the people of Israel to stay away from the darkness of the world and that if they will do that, they will be His children. His people. So the promise is if we will abandon the things of the world–the things that defile our body and our spirit–God will welcome us as His children. And according to 2 Corinthians 7:1, we should do this because we fear God. (This instance of the word fear is more like reverence or awe instead of terror.)

So the next question I have is what defiles us?

I’m sure people can come up with all sorts of lists. Getting drunk. Pornography. Drugs. Sexual sin. Anything the world is into can probably be listed as something that will defile a person’s body or spirit.

Right?

Well, all of those things are bad. And in excess they’re worse. But there is no physical thing on Earth that can actually defile our spirit. Granted, those things aren’t very good for our bodies either, but if you ask me, the spirit is the part I’m most concerned about.

So what defiles a spirit if it’s not drugs or sex or alcohol? Jesus already gave us the answer in Matthew 15:11.

11 It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

This is another area where Christians get caught up in, I think. Religion usually is able to get a foothold in our lives in this area because we buy into the lies that doing something or saying something or taking something will defile us. But that’s not true. It’s the condition of the heart that will defile a person. I’m going to go ahead and put the whole section of this interaction up because I think it’s so revealing:

Matthew 15:1-20

1 Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, 2“Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”

 3 Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? 4 For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’[b] 5 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 6 In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents.[c] And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

 8 ‘These people honor me with their lips,
      but their hearts are far from me.
    9 Their worship is a farce,
      for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’[d]

 10 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 11It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

 12Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”

 13 Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, 14so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”

 15Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”

 16 “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17 “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

See what I mean? The Pharisees were throwing this big fit because the Disciples hadn’t washed their hands before they ate (it was a big ceremonial deal apparently), and Jesus pointed out to them that even though they were extraordinarily strict about keeping the laws, they didn’t understand why the laws are important.

So because I fear God and because I believe in the promises He made, I want to get as far away from what will defile me as possible–namely, a proud and unyielding heart that wants its way and refuses to listen to God.

God gave me a new heart when I chose to accept Christ, but my old nature still holds on. And I struggle with it every day. I’m still a work in progress. God is still working on me, helping me get through each day, learning more about Him and His mercies, and one day I won’t have to struggle with it anymore.

But until then, I want to have a pure heart. Because if your heart is pure, your actions will be too.