Recently I was talking with a friend who commented that he had begun to pray that God would turn his heart toward Him more fully. As I pondered what he said, I was struck with the thought that we all need such a work of God in our hearts. For this to happen, we first need to realize we have sinned against God by being distracted and obsessed with other things. Would you agree that many if not most of us have not been concerned with what pleases God? Have we faithfully expressed His heart to our wives and children? Don’t we all need God to reveal Himself more fully and draw us more deeply into relationship with Him?
God used the prophet Elijah to turn the hearts of Israel back to Him, resulting in the hearts of the fathers turning back to their children. I believe God sent Elijah because He intended to grant repentance in Israel when they heard His call to repent. My prayer is that God would also do this work in and through Elijah Ministries and other ministries in my day.
Does your heart need to be turned more fully to God? Are you aware of a persistent pride and stubborn pursuit of selfish interests, personal success, and worldly happiness? Does your heart grieve over the antichrist spirit that has swept our nation and even many who consider themselves to be believers in Jesus Christ? How passionate are you for the things of God? Do you get offended and angry when you experience, see, or hear of the destructive power of sin, or are you instead burdened to the point of brokenness before God, knowing that He alone can provide the remedy?
If your honest answer is that you need God’s grace to do a deeper work in your heart, then this month’s Chariot of Fire article may be helpful. Perhaps the lack of brokenness and contriteness of heart is due to a lack of intimate knowledge of God. Maybe you’ve fallen into the all-too-common pit of familiarity that comes with man-made religion and have taken God for granted. Before you read any further, would you pause and pray? I invite you to ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart to know God more deeply and to do in you what you cannot do, namely, turn your heart to Him more fully.
This prayer by Octavius Winslow, from A Disciple’s Notebook, may echo what’s in your heart.
"Have you ever thought of the glory, that flows to Him from a contrite spirit, a broken heart, a lowly mind, a humble walk; from the tear of godly repentance that falls when seen by no human eye, and the sigh of godly sorrow that is breathed when heard by no human ear; from the abhorrence of sin and loathing of self, the deep sense of vileness, poverty, and infirmity that takes you to Jesus with the prayer, “Lord, here I am. I have brought to Thee my rebellious will, my wandering heart, my worldly affections, my peculiar infirmity, my besetting and constantly overpowering sin. Receive me graciously; put forth the mighty power of Thy grace in my soul, subdue all, rule all, and subjugate all to Thyself. Will it not be for Thy glory and the glory of Thy great name if this powerful sin were nailed to Thy cross; if this temper so sensitive, this heart so impure, these affections so truant, this mind so dark, these desires so earthly, these pursuits so carnal, and these aims so selfish, were all entirely renewed by Thy Spirit, sanctified by Thy grace, and made each to reflect Thine image? Yes, Lord, it would be for Thy glory, through time and through eternity.”
Scriptures: A sinner’s repentant prayer
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Ps. 51:1-4, 14-17)
Awareness of our sinfulness should humble us
But it usually doesn’t. Perhaps it doesn’t because of pride: we think we can handle sin ourselves, or that our current sins are no big deal. Add to that our natural self-deception and self-worship, and it’s troubling and shameful how long we can go before humbling ourselves in the presence of the Lord. Usually it takes exposure. God used Nathan, His prophet, to draw David into His presence with an awareness of his sins. Pride, selfishness, lust, adultery, fear, unbelief, and deceit, which led to more deceit and murder, were then ever before him. Until David was confronted, his hard heart had remained silent before God. He apparently performed his daily duties and interacted in his family relationships as if nothing had happened. His heart had wandered far away from God, and he was in deep need of God’s lovingkindness to turn his heart back and cleanse him of his sin and guilt.
Do you see a correlation of David’s story to yourself and the spiritual state of our country? Like David, until our sins find us out and we realize we stand exposed and accountable before the presence of God, we will in proud defiance continue on our present course. We can get caught up in the deception of the pursuit to “Make America Great” and chase the “American Dream,” but that is exactly our problem: thinking we can be great without humbling ourselves before God. Our nation needs repentance, but how is that going to happen if individually and as a nation we don’t know or recognize God? I believe repentance can only come when God confronts us and exposes us in His presence. This work must begin in us, individually, before it can happen collectively in our churches, communities, and nation. So let’s begin individually, with you and me. Have our sins and the sins of our nation humbled us? Ps. 51 lets us see into David’s repentant heart, which is a turning back of his heart to God—the work of God that we all need to experience when we are aware of our sin.
How well do you know God?
In the verses above you’ll notice what God revealed about Himself that motivated David’s repentance. First, David’s entire prayer was based on God’s lovingkindness. He could have known that about God from the Torah, but I think more than likely David concluded that God was merciful, gracious, and compassionate or else He wouldn’t have exposed David’s sins and brought him into His presence. It isn’t merciful of God to allow us to continue in sin. If you are allowed to live comfortably in your sins, then God has not decided to be merciful to you—at least, not yet. Romans 9:15-16 comes to mind. “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” David knew this about God. If God was confronting him about his sin, then God was exercising His lovingkindness toward him. Are you comfortable in your sin—comfortable enough to not humble yourself before God, turn your heart to Him, and ask Him to cleanse you, wipe out your transgressions, and turn your heart toward Him more fully?
Second, David became aware that God is omniscient—He sees everything everyone has done, and therefore His judgment is just and blameless. Has God helped you see that there is no excuse that you can make for your sins? You cannot blame someone else for your words and actions if you know that God sees all and that His judgment is just. At first, this seems harsh and scary. However, God’s omniscience is a tremendous comfort and confidence. If He sees all our sin and decides to be merciful to us, then our consciences know that He saw all our sins when He poured out His wrath on them in His Son, Jesus Christ, at the cross. The Apostle John cites this great comfort in 1 John 3:19-
21. “We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.” Do you know that God sees all your sins? If you do, let it humble your heart as it did David’s and ask God to cleanse you, wipe out your transgressions, and turn your heart toward Him more fully. Third, David became aware that His salvation can only come from God. The God who created us is a God who loves to save sinners! Do you love God’s salvation? David also wrote in Ps. 40:16, “Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let those who love Your salvation say continually, ‘The Lord be magnified!’” You can see this attitude of worship in Ps. 51:14-17. If you know God’s salvation and want Him to be magnified in your life, then ask Him to do a deep work in your heart, cleansing you, wiping out your transgressions, and turning your heart toward Him more fully.
Fourth, David learned what pleases God, namely, a broken and contrite heart. My guess is that he had tried to cleanse his conscience with sacrifices and burnt offerings and to please God by renewing his religious commitment to doing the outward observances of religion. He had thought that God was impressed with such sacrifices. If these were his expectations, then he didn’t know God very well.
Finally, the prophet Nathan confronted David with the truth. As a result of his experience, David learned that God despises the sacrifice if it isn’t offered in humility, brokenness, and with a contrite heart.
What does that kind of heart look like? It’s found in one who comes to God with humility, recognizing that everything in his life must come from God, who is merciful, gracious, compassionate, forgiving, and who desires to cleanse, remove, and save us from all of our sins and guilt through His Son Jesus, for His glory. Such a heart is not a result of acquired intellectual knowledge, but knowledge of God by experience—an experience such as David’s. Have you known God in this way? Do you know by experience that God is merciful, omniscient, desirous to save, and that He is pleased with repentance, worship, and service from a contrite heart?
Have you been infected and affected by our society?
My mentor Jerry White, Jr. asked some questions relevant to this topic in a recent A Disciple’s Notebook blog post.
Does our knowledge of His mercy, grace and love give us permission to treat Him casually, carelessly and flippantly? Has loss of respect for authority in our society affected our attitude toward this all majestic, holy God of the universe?
I have visited churches where people enter the worship service with food and drink like they are attending a sporting event. I have heard professing Christians speak of Almighty God with unworthy and disrespectful terms. Why is this so? Only one answer is possible. We live in a time when church attendees do not know in their heart who God truly is. They do not take seriously who God is according to His Word, nor have they ever encountered His presence revealed by the Holy Spirit so they know by experience that they are before the face of this pure, sovereign, invisible One.
I invite you to join me in prayer for us all. May God turn our hearts back to Himself, grant us contrite hearts of repentance, cleanse us, wipe out our transgressions, and turn our hearts toward Him more fully as we meditate on these four aspects of God:
- God is merciful.
- God is omniscient.
- God desires to save.
- God is pleased with worship and service from a contrite heart.