How to deal with the changes in our lives.

Posted: June 13, 2014 in Thoughts on God
Tags: , ,

changeThere was a woman who lived on the streets near a church. She would ask for money and react aggressively to those who refused. She walked the streets for year with a bunch of plastic bags. When she died, a Pastor took the funeral. Although he didn’t expect anyone to be there, there were in fact several well-dressed people at the service. He discovered later that this woman had inherited a large fortune. She had acquired a beautiful house and many valuable paintings, but she chose to live on the streets with her plastic bags full of trash. She could not bring herself to leave her lifestyle, and she never enjoyed her inheritance.

Some people are afraid of change, while others believe change is not possible. Yet the wonderful news is that with God’s help you can change. This change is key to spiritual growth and transformation. It is not just about changing your actions or appearance though, you need to change on the inside – you need a change of heart. How can this happen?

1. Changed through seeing things from God’s perspective

Psalm 73:1-14Have you ever wondered whether your faith was really worthwhile? Have you ever looked around at very successful people who have no faith and wondered whether they are better off than you and even been tempted to be envious of them?

The psalmist has kept his heart pure (v.1), but he has found life extremely tough. He has had his struggles and been ‘plagued’ (v.5) by temptation, doubts, fears and anxiety of mind.

He looks around at an affluent society that seems to be doing very well without God. He begins to slip (v.2): ‘For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked’ (v.3).

You may see people around who are rich and successful. In spite of their ‘callous hearts’ (v.7), they seem not to have struggles (v.4). They seem perfectly healthy and free from burdens (vv.4–5). They are proud and arrogant, and appear to have no need of God (vv.6–11).

This psalm is the testimony of a person who finds himself on the slippery path of doubt and despair (v.2). He wonders whether he has kept his heart pure in vain (v.13).

That is until (as we shall see in a few days’ time), he ‘entered the sanctuary of God’ (v.17). Then he had a complete change of heart. He ‘understood their final destiny’. He realised the difference between their destiny and his (v.17).

The psalm starts, ‘Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart’ (v.1). And it ends, ‘But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds’ (v.28).

Lord, may I, like the psalmist, enter your sanctuary and see things from your perspective. Thank you that I can say with the psalmist that ‘you are good to those who are pure in heart … it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.’

2. Changed through circumcision by the Holy Spirit

Acts 7:44-8:3Do you ever look at someone who is very opposed to Christianity and wonder if they could ever change? In today’s passage we see that even the most hardened opponent of Christianity can have a change of heart.

To be a Jew meant physical circumcision. Every male was circumcised on the eighth day of his life. But physical circumcision was intended to be symbolic of circumcision of the heart.

As Stephen’s speech comes to an end, with great courage and boldness, he says to his accusers, ‘You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!’ (7:51). He then accuses them of having murdered Jesus (‘the Righteous One’, v.52).

One main theme runs through Stephen’s speech: God is not restricted to any one place. ‘The Most High does not live in houses made by human hands’ (v.48).

Neither the tabernacle (vv.44–45), nor the temple (vv.46–47) could ever have been viewed as God’s home in a literal sense: ‘The Most High does not live in houses made by human hands’ (v.48). For as God says through Isaiah, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool’ (v.49). Jesus came to replace the tabernacle and temple. Before Jesus, people would come to the temple to meet God. With Jesus’ coming, the meeting place with God would be Jesus himself.

Now, through the Holy Spirit, God is present with his people (Matthew 18:20). It is especially in the gathered community, the church, that God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). By his Spirit, he dwells within each of us. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). God’s dwelling is now in Stephen, who is ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 7:55).

Stephen is speaking to the priests of the very temple that has now been superseded by Jesus through the Holy Spirit. So it is not surprising that ‘they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him’ (v.54). They drag him out of the city and stone him (v.58).

One of the people with an ‘uncircumcised heart’ is a young man named Saul. ‘The ringleaders took off their coats and asked a young man named Saul to watch them’ (v.58, MSG). He ‘was right there, congratulating the killers’ (8:1, MSG). This young man, Saul, ‘began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison’ (v.3).

It would be hard to find anyone in human history who had a bigger change of heart than this young man. From being a murderer of Christians, he became a great apostle who preached all over the world that Jesus is the Son of God (9:20).

When did this change of heart begin? Perhaps a seed was planted when he saw Stephen’s death. ‘Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” ’ (7:55–56).

Then, ‘While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep’ (vv.59–60).

Later, this same Saul, also known as Paul, would write, ‘No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit’ (Romans 2:29).

To circumcise is to cut off. Part of every true Christian is circumcised by the Holy Spirit. If our hearts are circumcised, we should cut off every wrong attitude that comes in to our hearts and minds. Cut off and get rid of anger, hatred, envy, lust, greed and every other wrong attitude when it comes into your mind, saying ‘no’ to anything that will stop your heart being right before God.

Thank you, Lord, that Paul’s change of heart gives hope for every human being. Thank you that those convicted of the most terrible crimes can change. Thank you that those who are most antagonistic towards you can change. Thank you that we can all change. Thank you that my heart can be changed by your love.

3. Changed through suffering and grief

2 Samuel 18:19-19:43Are you in a period of suffering or grief? God often uses these times to change your heart and increase your compassion for others.

David’s heart was purified through suffering and grief. As if he had not suffered enough up until now, he receives the news that Absalom, his son, is dead. He was ‘heartbroken’ (18:33, MSG). He cries out, ‘O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!’ (v.33).

He is then told in no uncertain terms by Joab that he has to pull himself together and to go out and encourage his troops who have just won a great battle for him against his enemies (19:1–7). Joab tells David, ‘put some heart into your servants!’ (v.7, MSG).

David changes his attitude. He gets up and does exactly what he has been asked to do (v.8). ‘He won over the hearts of all the men of Judah as though they were one man’ (v.14).

Not only did David have a change of heart, Shimei did as well. He prostrates himself before the king: ‘May my lord not hold me guilty. Do not remember how your servant did wrong … For I your servant know that I have sinned, but today I have come here as the first of the whole house of Joseph to come down and meet my lord the king’  (vv.19–20).

David, purified by his suffering, shines out like a brilliant light to all around him. He has mercy on Shimei. He deals wisely with Mephibosheth, Ziba and Barzillai (vv.24–39).

David is going to face more battles ahead as a war of words breaks out between Israel and Judah (vv.41–43).

Lord, thank you for the ways in which you use the times of suffering and grief in my life. Purify my heart and increase my compassion for others.

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