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Posts Tagged ‘heart’

fastingThey said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” [John 5:33 NIV]

In this instance, Jesus clearly stated that his followers did not need to fast while they were with the “bridegroom.” But of course, the implication is equally clear that once the bridegroom is gone, then fasting will be back in the picture.

It’s actually a ancient practice but a simple one. Up until more modern times, fasting has been all about the food. The preparation and consumption of food used to be a large portion of a person’s day (hunting and gathering and all that).

According to a study done back in 2006, the average American now spends 67 minutes a day eating and drinking, literally. That’s a lot less than our ancestors. Ironically, we spend more time driving (average 101 minutes per day) and a whopping 2.8 hours watching TV. A more recent report, lumped all media together which added up to 500 minutes a day or almost 8 hours (this includes work and pleasure).

daily consumption of media

So, perhaps you considered fasting from food during Lent this year, but quite honestly, a little fasting from media might be a more challenging sacrifice. 🙂

I have fasted several times before from food. Usually, for me, it has to be an all or nothing kind of thing. I can’t just fast a single meal a day or one day out of the week. If I’m going to fast, then I need to fast for several days running. The first three days are usually the most difficult and then after that, it’s pretty straightforward. The best part is not the food or lack of food, it’s the space that not eating leaves in my day and in my mind. I may only eat and drink 67 minutes a day, but there are countless other minutes involved with food.

I’d love to know if anyone has counted the number of times a mom is asked over a lifetime, “What’s for dinner?” I think a lot about the logistics of meals: what to make, what is needed to make what I decide to magrieving girlke, when will I have time to go to the store, what time do I need to start, what time should we sit down, who can’t make it to the table, what foods go together, etc. etc. Yeah, I like fasting. They’re on their own next week.

I usually start my fasts with a dilemma or a question. As I had anticipated, my move out of my big suburban house where we raised our kids and into a much different downsized old house in town, has generated some new grief and the outlines of depression. I don’t much like being a widow even though it’s been tempered by a delightful but demanding infant grandchild in the room next to mine. But even that can’t push back the weight of what feels like a heart of stone. Come sweet Healing God and speak into my losses and birth something from them; soften my heart again.

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God does not participate in Valentine’s Day. God is not particularly interested in the hearts and flowers of young lovers wooing one another. God is not about Cupid and arrows and online dating. God is about our innermost being, the center of ourselves, our gut, our center, our soul and spirit. Our identity. That heart.

You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.heart of the matter
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. [Psalm 51:6-12, NRSV]

Anything else, and we are lying to ourselves and to God. We could be living a myth of faith if our “hearts” are not in it. If all we have is a semblance of faithfulness, a Sunday morning piety, a “Praise the Lord” verbiage, we are missing the depth and breadth and length of God within.

The heart of a matter is the crux of it, the most vital part that implies the rest is totally dependent upon it. Is your faith totally dependent on the presence of God in the core of you?

It is from this center that decisions are made and hunches are formed and hope is nurtured and sin is birthed. But it is also here that faith is planted, where God manifests as the Holy Spirit, where change begins.

Oh yes, “create in me a clean heart, oh God.”

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Art by Laurie Justus Pace

Art by Laurie Justus Pace

And this is the point, whether one believes or does not believe: God knows our hearts. God knows my heart. There is no sin I can craft in my head that is unknown, there is no good deed seed not watered. God is sovereign over the heart — the soul of humankind.

Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart) . . . [I Kings 8:39b, NIV]

For this reason, when life circumstances challenge my way, there is only One who can truly help me or actually altar the course of my steps, transform the crushing press of deadlines and drama and duty, rally the troops of heaven on my behalf and, ultimately, on behalf of my loved ones.

Forgive me Spirit Father, Adonai. Forgive my stealthy forays into the world. Forgive my selfish ambition. Forgive my judgments of others. Forgive my callous eye. Relieve my fears. Strengthen my trust and resolve in You. Sustain my mindfulness that I might pray without ceasing.

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ash-wednesdayTonight our church entered Lent with two Ash Wednesday services. One of the themes was “keys” and how we can use those keys to unlock those places hidden away inside our hearts.

Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heartand not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. [Joel 2:12-13]

We mark the beginning of Lent with this day. It can become a mere ritual of ashes, bread, and wine, or it can be enriched with commitment and desire. Do I want more of God in my life? Do I want to surrender the secret places?

Lent is not just a time of “giving something up.” It’s a time of exchange. I will to exchange one time sucker, one habit, for something new, for devotion, for meditation, for prayer, for reading, for conversation with Spirit. I not taking away. I am adding. I am making a promise. That is the message of Ash Wednesday and Lent for me.

One of the stations we had was a cross where we could affix a simple post-it note with something (or someone) that is hindering our journey to the Cross. This roadblock we gave to Christ. As one of the organizers of the Ash Wednesday service, I feel compelled to treat these requests with respect. And so, as part of my devotion, I will be praying over and with these requests along with those who left them there. I will be their Aaron for these 40 days, as God reveals.

 

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But it’s not very effective, this promise about the desire of the heart if you don’t know what it is. So many people suffer from this basic malaise. What do I want? What does God want me to want? What should I want? And on and on and on.

desire of the heartTake delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart. [Psalm 37:4; NIV]

The desire of the heart is serious business. This is core belief and core longing. This is essential to the day and the tomorrow. This desire keeps us going. No cliches will do. We can’t say, “oh, I desire Jesus” and all that. In this context, that is a given. With the Christ IN our hearts, what do we desire?

I have been writing a lot lately and I was sliced at the knees at one of the comments I received from a knowledgeable critic: what does your character really want (whether she knows it or not, you, the author, must know). And there it was, back again. For this issue has been tiptoeing around my soul for years.

The first time I took the enneagram, I was shocked at my results for my “number” indicated I was a bit shallow. How could that be? I always believed myself a thinker, a smart cookie who sought out the deeper things of God, living, and loving. But I had to face some difficult truth, I am really a scattered soul. I have dabbled in so many arenas from acting to photography to writing to library maven to arts management to exercise queen to organizational specialist to prophetess to prayer warrior to church matriarch . . . well, the list goes on. But where is the real desire?

When I did identify a strong desire, one that has done a lot of the driving, it made my blood run cold. It’s a self-serving desire, one that is not compatible with a life in Christ, yet rooted deeply.

My current manuscript, The Saving of Phoebe Clay, will test the depth of this desire and what it can do or not do. It’s time to unmask. For it is only in the unmasking that change can begin.

And in the meantime, as I pull the anchor from this old desire, I may flounder but I will keep this thought as near as I can:

God is our [my] refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we [I] will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam

    and the mountains quake with their surging. [Psalm 47:1-3, NIV]

 

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Oil painting by Jonathan Queen

Oil painting by Jonathan Queen

Double mindedness sounds bad. It has varying meanings. In scripture, it seems to be more of a split mind, where one’s affinity or affiliation has two masters. But in the secular world, the emphasis is more on wavering (an inability to make up one’s mind) or a half-hearted attempt at something. Am I guilty of not just one, but both?

Come close to the one true God, and He will draw close to you. Wash your hands; you have dirtied them in sin. Cleanse your heart, because your mind is split down the middle, your love for God on one side and selfish pursuits on the other. [James 4:8, The Voice]

I am really growing to love the new Voice translation which has both an artistic element and a creative way of expressive the nuances of a passage. For this reason, my heart was struck heavily by this verse in James.

My own heart, carrying within it [still], those secrets, is fueling the split of my mind so that my love and dedication to God is being watered down by my selfish wants and wannabe.

Coming from the Greek word, dipsuchos, it can also mean “double-souled.” And suddenly the reality of this state clicks in. I invited the Christ Spirit to dwell within but I confess, I still want things to go my way. I have relegated the Spirit to a friendly helper, and standby magician, a comforter in times of stress, but have I surrendered the way to Spirit?

And here comes the wavering: surely, it’s time to really let go. Decide. Give God full rein, not half. Give Spirit freedom to reveal the intended me. This me would not be so quick to judge or lie or inflate my own importance. This me would not crave esteem and distinction. For all that would come from the soul of Spirit, the breath of God.

Verse 10 (also in the Voice) says, “Lay yourself bare, facedown to the ground, in humility before the Lord; and He will lift your head . . . ” More traditional translations say, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Not lifted to fame, but lifted in newness of a life, a singleness of purpose, a singleness of mind, a singleness of soul.

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The mark of God. In that day, this command was a monumental request, an everlasting mark on the body that could not be reversed. No male would enter this covenant lightly. No God would ask it without cause. The offer God was making was a forever offer. And then what happened?

Genesis 17:11; 13b
You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. . . . My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.

Certainly, in today’s western world, circumcision is no longer seen as a mark of God. For modern generations, it has been a norm, perhaps a health issue, but primarily, a cultural one. That is not to say that all cultures practice circumcision, they do not. But even where it is practiced, in the United States, for instance, it’s not at the command of God.

But then, the covenant that God made with Abraham (his name change happened at the same time), did not, ultimately, go forever as a mark from God anyway. With the coming of the Christ, the mark of God had evolved away from circumcision (this is confirmed by Paul, who extended the range of Christ-knowledge to the gentiles who had never been circumcised). The plan for the everlasting covenant altered.

Perhaps even back then, this mark of the flesh had lost its significance. I do not know. But clearly, by the time of Christ and thereafter, it was no longer required for the gentiles who accepted Christ. And, as we know, this mark was never intended for women, even then. They were covered by the marks on the men who “covered” them.

But Jesus began raising the value of women, they were treated with more importance. Jesus had conversations with women and taught them.

So, what is the new mark of Christ’s covenant on our flesh? None. The mark is within.

Have I allowed this mark to change me? Is my heart, like the circumcised flesh of men in Abraham’s time, transformed by it forever? Or, is it just cultural?

Wasn’t this the point all along? “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” [Deuteronomy 30:6]

 

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