The Journey of the Spiritual Heart

The word "journey" is probably one of the most overused words that I have heard used (and have personally used ad nauseum) in religious circles. It is something that we often wear as a badge of honor.. don't you dare criticize my journey. With 2008 knocking on our doors I was thinking about this idea of journey and thought of these verses out of Proverbs:
"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel." (12:15)

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." (14:12)

"All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives." (16:2)

"Every man's way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts." (21:2)
There is a word that is used in each of these verses.. it is the word "way" and is translated from this Hebrew word:
derek (deh'-rek): From darak; way, road, distance, journey, manner, road, way, path, journey, direction, manner, habit, way, of course of life (fig.), of moral character (fig.)
Journey seems a good fit for these verses.. try substituting it for "way" and reread the verses. I find it interesting that these words speak negatively about this word journey. Looking at the verses it is obvious that:
  • Our journey can be foolish if we walk it alone. We need the help of others to walk out a wise journey.

  • Our journey is all about the inner life. Being successful on our journey is all about our motives.

  • Our journey can lead to some dark places (i.e. death) if we live it from our flesh.. our minds.. our emotions.. our lusts.

  • Our journey is not about those things we see but about those things that can only be discerned with our spiritual hearts.
This last bullet is the one that can be so difficult. So often our journey is fraught with fear, pain and other negative influences.. during these times it is so easy to allow these things to shut our hearts down.. so easy to allow the things that we see with our outer eye to overshadow those things that can only be seen with our inner eye.

In this time when many of us are considering 2007 and thinking of 2008 maybe we can resolve to live more fully this journey of our spiritual heart.. possibly relying less on our earthly/brainy wisdom.. possibly leaning more into our spiritual hearts.. and maybe we will begin to see the journey through the inner eyes of redemption. It is my prayer for you and for me.

The Longest Night

In preparation for my talk at last night's Longest Night Service I jotted down a few thoughts on our church blog. I got the inspiration for this post as I recapped 2007 in my previous post.

The service was pretty well attended. We spent some time singing a few worship songs, my wife Ann read Diane Hendricks' Longest Night Meditation and my friend and co-worker Jason sang this inspiring song:

I followed with a brief sharing of my heart around my year of the longest nights. We ended our time with a time of candle lighting and prayer. It was a very sweet time and a fitting way to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus.

2007 in Review

At the end of the year I like to take a look at the posts I have written.. I see some common themes and a few new ones. Here are some excerpts from my favorite posts by month:
  • January: Flowing with Weakness
    I think that this kind weakness is something that often looks like desperation. It is the kind of thing that really brings you to the end of yourself and to the beginning of faith. I have to admit that I do not feel strong spiritually right now. I am forced to trust the Lord in a way that I have had to do on several other occasions. I am again reminded that I can only flow with the Spirit at a heart level ... I can only be at peace when I give up control of this situation.

  • February: Which Reality?
    I often find myself going through the day subconsciously talking to God. On one such day a few weeks ago I heard myself thinking "I am a realist". What I heard back surprised me. This thought instantly came back to me: "Which reality?" Over the past few weeks I have thought a lot about this one ... it is a challenging thought. I am very comfortable with the reality that I can see with my eyes, feel with my hands, hear, smell and taste. I am not so comfortable with that reality that can only be discerned with my heart ... that place of faith.

  • March: Invisible Ministry
    The desire to be visible is a dark side of the ministry ... wanting to be seen and appreciated by people is a dark force that permeates much of American church leadership. Many large ministries and churches, as well as small ones, are led by men which have surrendered to the dark side of visible ministry. These men were, at one point in their lives, seduced by public ministry.

  • April: God's Will
    Does it surprise you to hear that your heart plans belong to you? Does it challenge you to think that those plans in your heart can be an expression of God's will? So often we can get so wrapped up in our religious "Christian" ideas of "God's will" that we forget the kingdom of God is not so much about what we do but how we do it.

  • May: Living in the Invisible Kingdom
    The beautiful thing about the Invisible Kingdom is that it can become visible at any time ... peace and joy can be manifested in our lives even in the most difficult of circumstances ... if our focus is on the invisible ... following Jesus' command in the gospels to seek first this Invisible Kingdom.

  • June: Thick Skin, Soft Heart
    Developing a tough thick skin is a way that we can guard our hearts from the wounds that cause it to develop a hard crust. I read that having a thick skin is being able to withstand criticism. Ouch, I don't like that because I don't like being criticised ... I much prefer the idea of being able to withstand wounds - sound a bit more noble. Keeping criticism out of our heart is so hard because many of us are such people pleasers.

  • July: Facing Down Nebuchadnezzar
    Life has its way of intimidating us doesn't it. Nebuchadnezzar can show up in all sorts of ways. Sometimes he shows up overtly demanding that we bow to the things that we know we should not bow to, but sometimes he shows up so subtly intimidating us to bow in thoughts and attitudes. This is where I am challenged today as I watch my wife back in a wheelchair and struggling physically from MS. I find Nebuchadnezzar standing over me today intimidating me ... telling me to bow to a subtle worship of fear, self-pity, hopelessness and despair.

  • August: Offended by Jesus
    Life in jail must have been pretty discouraging for John the Baptist. After all it was not that long ago that John was baptising many and experiencing so much success in his ministry. John was even the one that introduced Jesus to the world as the Lamb of God. John certainly thought that Jesus would free him from Herod's jail but he never did. You can almost feel John's disappointment when he asks Jesus "are you the One?"

  • September: Spiritual Fingerprints
    The post caused me to think about how different we all are ... different in gender ... different in race ... different in culture ... different in personality ... different in many other ways. So ... I am still processing ... why is it that I still want to make rules and generalizations around things like how we love Jesus and how we walk out our faith in Him?

  • October: Where you do not wish to go
    Sometimes following Jesus takes us on a journey that is both hard and heartbreaking. Reading Jesus words to Peter so resonates with me this morning. It reminds me that sometimes our path takes us to places "where you do not wish to go". I am in such a place in this season of my life.

  • November: Grateful For What Really Matters
    We all know in our hearts what really matters.. we are all thankful for the tangible and intangibles of life that we hold so dear.. but sometimes the events of our lives can overshadow those things that we are thankful for.. pain can breed an inward focus and cause us to forget what really matters

  • December: The Trustable Heart
    To live from your heart you have to give up control.. the brain is all about controlling.. the heart is all about trusting. For many this is difficult because the brain wants to follow rules while the heart wants to follow God.. a desire to make and follow rules is evidence of people wanting to live from their heads.
If you are so inclined.. please let me know if any of these were particularly helpful to you.. today or yesterday when you first read them.

Chain Breaking Praise

Codepoke reminded me of this song when he wrote about voluntary chains at his place. If you are having a rough day or rough season.. I'm sorry that things are difficult.. as you listen to the song turn your heart to Him in praise. It is true that praise can break those chains.

Praise the Lord

When you're up against a struggle
That's shattered all your dreams
And your hopes been cruely crushed
By Satan's manifested schemes.
And you feel the urge within you
To submit to earthly fears
Don't let the faith your standing in
Seem to disappear

Praise the Lord. He will work for those who praise him
Praise the Lord. For our God inhabits praise.
Praise the Lord. And those chains that seem to bind you
Serve only to remind you.
As they fall powerless behind you.
When you praise him.

Satan is a liar and he wants to make us think
That we are paupers, when we know ourselves
We're children of the king.
So lift up the mighty shield of faith
For the battle must be won
Remember Jesus Christ has risen
So the works already done.

O Holy Night

"O Holy Night" ("Cantique de Noël") is a well-known Christmas carol composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem "Minuit, chrétiens" by Placide Cappeau (1808-1877), an accomplished amateur. Cappeau was asked to write a Christmas poem by a parish priest. I have included two ensemble versions of it below. Let me know which one you liked best. For fun you can play them in unison.

Celtic Woman

Il Divo

Which rendition moved you the most?

The Trustable Heart

Jim over at Coming Out of the Prayer Closet asks the question: Does Christianity Make Us Better People?

Here is the way I responded:

The problem you describe Jim.. I think.. is the whole problem that many evangelicals.. especially fundamentalists.. have when they describe the heart as desperately wicked. When I woke up to the fact that my heart was good and trustable everything began to change for me.

I have told people that if your heart is wicked then you'd better not try to walk out Proverbs 3:5.. better to lean on your own understanding than to trust a wicked heart. So the question is: When does your heart become good?

I think that it is a part of the born again experience.. the problem for some Christians is that:
  1. The born again experience is too narrowly and exclusively defined by religious leaders. As a result many people who trust Jesus are discredited because they "didn't do it right".. it is a pitiful example of how insecure religious leaders bully sincere believers in Jesus in an attempt to control them.
  2. Religious people teach Christians to lead a life from the head and not the heart.. they actually discourage a heart connection.. I think that they do it because of issues of their own insecurity and their own quest for control.
  3. To live from your heart you have to give up control.. the brain is all about controlling.. the heart is all about trusting. For many this is difficult because the brain wants to follow rules while the heart wants to follow God.. a desire to make and follow rules is evidence of people wanting to live from their heads.
I wrote several posts on this a year and a half ago and it made me consider the impact that bad teaching and thinking about my heart had on me. So, to answer your post's query:

Christianity as a religious system certainly doesn't make you a better person.. no religion can do that.. but being born again (remember point #1) changes everything because it changes your heart and your motives.