Thirteen years ago I suffered a stroke. The event scared a number of people but for some reason I didn’t really feel that way. Probably because the cardiologist told me that I was the healthiest stroke victim he had ever seen.
Then this last Thanksgiving I suffered a mini stroke which lasted about 10-15 minutes. This event seemed to effect me a bit more since I’m already suffering from an autoimmune disorder and can’t exercise on a regular basis. Although I had to spend the night in the hospital, all the tests they did on me came back negative. But I still had to wonder if perhaps my heart needs more attention than I’ve been giving it.
The apostle Paul recognized the importance of keeping his heart healthy. He wrote to the early Church on a number of occasions reminding them that a healthy follower of Jesus needs to take care of not only his physical health but also of his spiritual health. And though every sermon preached from a pulpit should deal in some way with the Believer maintaining his spiritual health, I thought I’d focus on the heart specifically.
For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven or on earth takes its name, and beg him out of his wealth of glory to strengthen you mightily through his Spirit in your inner nature and through your faith to let Christ in his love make his home in your hearts. Your roots must be deep and your foundations strong, so that you and all God’s people may be strong enough to grasp what breadth, length, height, and depth [of his love] mean, and to understand Christ’s love, so far beyond our [human] understanding, so that you may be filled with the very fullness of God. [Goodspeed]
“Be filled with the very fullness of God.” This is what Paul wants us to live for – to strive for. Basically the fullness of God means, among many things, maturity as a Believer.
Paul tells us that he is on his knees begging God the Father to make our spiritual nature strong so that we can understand his love for us. Paul was so amazed that God would even love us to begin with, since we have no value in and of ourselves to be loved. But through our relationship with Christ, God the Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, he can and does love us to the extent that he wants us to be filled with all the fullness of God himself!
Let that sink in. Do we deserve God’s love? Of course not.
So why would God love us then? And why would he love us so much that he wants us to have and experience all of who he is? Paul tells us that this is beyond our human understanding but a mature Believer knows.
But Paul also says that if our spiritual roots are deep enough and our foundations strong, we may be strong enough to grasp – to understand – Christ’s love.
You can imagine that much of that understanding comes from being in His word on a regular basis and also experiencing His love by obeying that word. But Paul says here that we must first make a home for him. Your bible may say “let Christ dwell in your hearts.”
Let’s think about that for a minute. When you make a home for someone, what does that look like? Because he doesn’t say he wants to be a visitor but that is sometimes what we do; is it not? When you add children to the family, don’t you make room for them? They get a bed. They get their own clothes. They get toiletries. They even get to eat your food, right? For us, we’ve made room for our new granddaughter recently. We got our own changing table/play-pin/bed. We have a car-seat base in our car so we can drive her around. We got a separate diaper bag that we keep at the house. We even have a baby bath deal so my wife can give her a bath. She is part of the family and is welcome there any time, even though she doesn’t live there. How much more should we make our Lord at home in our lives.
Perhaps think of it this way. You invite a friend to move into your home. You provide all the things you think he will need. Then when he moves in, you ignore him until it’s time to eat. Then you carry on a one minute, one-way conversation with him just before you eat. Then you ignore him until you eat again. Perhaps you might spend a few minutes talking to him before you go to sleep at night, or in the morning when you wake up. But for the most part, you ignore him 99% of the time.
Does this sound familiar? Many of us are doing this same thing with Jesus. He is only a visitor in our life. And we wonder why we’re not getting all that God has to offer us. We’re missing the fullness of God that Paul is begging God for us to have.
I came across the following story which illustrates what it might be like to make a home in our hearts for Jesus.
An Empty Chair
A man’s daughter had asked the local pastor to come and pray with her father since he was very sick and didn’t know how much longer he might live. When the pastor arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The pastor assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. “I guess you were expecting me,” he said.
“No, who are you?”
“I’m the new pastor at your local church,” the pastor replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”
“Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?”
Puzzled, the pastor shut the door.
“I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man. “But all of my life I have never known how to pray. At church I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head.”
“I decided that since I didn’t understand it I wouldn’t pray,” the old man continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because he promised, ‘I’ll be with you always.’ Then just speak to him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.”
“So, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”
The pastor was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue his prayer life in the same way. Then he prayed with him, and returned to the church.
Two nights later the daughter called to tell the pastor her father had died that afternoon.
“Did he seem to die in peace?” he asked.
“Yes, I believe so. When I got back from the store today I found him dead. But there was something strange. In fact, beyond strange-kinda weird. Apparently, just before he died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside the bed.”
To help us better understand what Paul meant by making a home in our hearts for Christ, let’s first look at what he meant by the heart.
For us the word heart is filled with emotion. But to the Greeks, it meant even more.
Greek word for heart: kardia
Denotes the center of all physical and spiritual life:
a. Denotes the vigor and sense of physical life [how and where one lived – personality, how you and others think about you – perhaps through a nick-name].
b. It also denotes the center and seat of spiritual life.
i. It is the reference to our soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors.
ii. It is where we have our understanding of things, the faculty and seat of the intelligence.
iii. It is the seat of our will and character.
iv. It is the soul so far as it is affected and stirred in a bad way or good, or of the soul as the seat of the sensibilities, affections, emotions, desires, appetites, passions.
The heart is who you are!
Jeremiah tells us in Jer. 17:9 that: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
That doesn’t sound very hopeful does it? But it should.
As an unbeliever, we basically had a heart that was not functioning properly. Why? Because it was at odds with its Creator! Our hearts were filled with sin and constantly at war with God who knows no sin. Paul gives us details about the nature of this unbelieving heart in Romans.
Romans 1:18-25; 29-32
For God’s anger is breaking forth from heaven against all the impiety and wickedness of the men who in their wickedness are suppressing the truth. 19 For all that can be known of God is clearly before them; God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature—his eternal power and divine character—have been clearly perceptible through what he has made. So they have no excuse, 21 for, though they knew God, they have not honored him as God or given thanks to him, but they have indulged in futile speculations, until their stupid minds have become dark. 22 They called themselves wise, but they have turned into fools, 23 and for the splendor of the immortal God they have substituted images in the form of mortal man, birds, animals, and reptiles. 24 So God abandoned them, with their heart’s cravings, to impurity, and let them degrade their own bodies. 25 For they had exchanged the truth of God for what was false, and worshiped and served what he had created, instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen!
29 They revel in every kind of wrongdoing, wickedness, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, quarreling, deceit, and ill-nature. 30 They are gossips, slanderers, abhorrent to God, insolent, overbearing, boastful, ingenious in evil, undutiful, 31 conscienceless, treacherous, unloving, and unpitying. 32 They know God’s decree that those who act in this way deserve to die, yet they not only do it, but applaud any who do. [Goodspeed]
As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” [NKJV]
Obviously, we needed Christ to change our hearts from what Paul describes in Romans. We needed a new heart which is what we got when be became followers of Jesus. (Gal. 2:20)
But we must keep our hearts in good shape. We just can’t neglect them now can we. What happens when we do that? Obviously we die spiritually. So how do we keep our hearts in shape? I have a few suggestions.
1. Purify Your Heart.
“… and through your faith to let Christ in his love make his home in your hearts.” (Ephesians 3:17)
“You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:8)
“But sanctify [to separate from profane things and dedicate to God – to purify] the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; …” (1 Peter 3:15)
2. Stay in fellowship with God.
“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, …” (Ephesians 5:18)
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
3. Sing to the Lord.
“… speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, …” (Ephesians 5:19)
4. Be thankful.
“… giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, …” (Ephesians 5:20)
5. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ who are fellow followers of Jesus.
“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, …” (1 Peter 1:22)
6. Get to know God in a more intimate way through prayer and Bible study.
“… praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, …” (Ephesians 6:18a)
“Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21)
“But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.” (1 John 2:5)
Folks are always making New Years Resolutions this time of year. I came across a fellow who had been doing this for a few years.
2012 I will learn a new language. Well, that didn’t happen.
2013 I will learn new phrases. That didn’t happen either.
2014 I will learn new words. Again, didn’t happen.
2015 I will learn what resolution means.
Pastor Brian Whiteside