Fasting from the Heart

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

What’s easier to live with—a mechanical dog or a real live beagle? Both can walk, bark, wag their tails, do tricks, and shake hands. But a real live beagle has to be fed, taken outside for walks, and cleaned up after. A mechanical dog is way easier, but it’s not a dog.

Just as a mechanical dog isn’t a dog, mechanically going through the motions of fasting isn’t a fast. Fasting should not be routine. Fasting should break up our routines, allowing us to focus on God and hear his heart. If we aren’t fasting from our hearts, we aren’t fasting—we’re just dieting.

In Isaiah 58:4-5, God called out people who weren’t fasting from their hearts. Their fasting was a charade, a religious routine, and an outward display to impress people with how religious they were. Here’s what God told them:

“What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the windIs this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?

God saw right through the people in Isaiah’s day and he sees right through us today. Does fasting make us cranky, irritable, and mean? Do we just go through the motions of fasting, adhering to the, “rules,” but not seeking God from the heart? Do we just happen to drop a comment about our fast, hoping everyone will be impressed by how religious we are? If that’s what we call fasting, our fast isn’t one that pleases God.

What does a fast that pleases God look like? God answers that question in Isaiah 58:6-7. God is pleased when our hearts move toward him. He intends our fasting to produce justice, mercy, compassion, and generosity. He wants our hearts to be touched by the needs of the world around us, and for us to take actions to meet those needs.

Fasting can’t be about following rules or impressing people; it must be about pleasing God. And it can’t be mechanical or routine. It has to be from our hearts.

During your fast, passionately open your heart to God. Pour out your worship and pour out your needs in prayer. Immerse yourself in his word. When you do this, God promises: “Yahweh will always guide you where to go and what to do. He will fill you with refreshment even when you are in a dry, difficult place. He will continually restore strength to you, so you will flourish like a well-watered garden and like an ever-flowing trustworthy spring of blessing” (Isaiah 58:11-12).

Guidance, refreshing, restoration, fruitfulness, and blessings are the rewards of fasting from the heart. I’ll take a big helping of all of it. How about you?

Dear God, thank you for giving me life and for all your blessings. I could never repay you for all you have done. Help me seek you with a whole heart. Let my prayer, worship, fasting, and giving be done passionately, from my heart, not routinely or to impress people. Fill me with justice, mercy, compassion, and generosity. In Jesus’s name, amen.

God's Word

It’s Alive!

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

I know people who love to read, and I know people who don’t like to read at all. I know people who have a book with them at all times, and I know people who never think about carrying a book around with them. And that’s OK. We can all agree to disagree about books.

Except for one book. The Bible stands alone and is in a category all its own. It’s the only book in all of history that is alive. The word of God is, “living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12). Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed…”  It is a living book and it brings life to those who read it.

The word of God penetrates deeply, through the thick, hard layers we build up in our hearts, and assesses whether what is in our hearts is good or bad. The word of God reveals the truth to us. God’s word is a “…discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Did you know you can deceive yourself? And I can deceive myself. We can make ourselves believe our attitudes, actions, or words are OK with God when we’re actually very much out of line. We are not very good at discerning our own hearts, and completely unable to change them.

We may have areas of our hearts we haven’t yielded to God. We may have pain from the past lingering in our hearts. Regardless of what we have in our heart, as we read and meditate on the Word, the truth it contains brings life, healing, and needed change to our hearts.

What keeps us from reading the Bible? Are we too busy? Is it too hard to understand? Does it just not seem to be that important? Don’t be fooled. The Bible is absolutely essential to our spiritual development. It gives us direction and keeps us on the right path. It encourages us and builds our faith. Choosing to consistently read the Bible is one of the best decisions we can make.

God cared enough about us to give us a book that tells us his story. Through reading the Bible, we learn about God’s character—his love, power, mercy, holiness, and grace. We learn about God’s plan to save mankind and bring us to live with him forever in heaven. We learn about how he wants us to live and why. They call it the greatest story ever told, and they are absolutely right.

When the God of the universe writes a book to encourage and guide us, the best choice is to actually read it. Regularly. Intently. As though our lives depend on it…because they do.

Father God, thank you for your Word. Rather than hiding yourself from me, you gave me a book that shows me your character. It gives me direction and strength. I have so much to learn from your Word. Help me understand what I read and give me the wisdom to apply what I read to my life. In those times when I may become lax in reading your word, help me not to give up, but to start again. Thank you for your love, your mercy, and your word. In Jesus’s name, amen.

The Heart

Deal with It

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:23-24)

Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and seen something appalling? Maybe you haven’t, but I definitely have. Broccoli in my teeth, schmutz on my cheek—the mirror reveals it all.

I’ve never looked in the mirror and said, “oh, no, broccoli in my teeth,” and then went on about my business without getting rid of the broccoli. No, when the mirror reveals the horror of the broccoli, I do something about it. I deal with it.

God doesn’t care about the schmutz on our cheek or the broccoli in our teeth. But he cares deeply about the junk that lodges in our hearts. The Scripture says hearing the Word of God is like looking in a mirror. The Bible has the power to reveal any destructive issues in our hearts. Instead of hearing the Word, seeing the problem, and choosing to ignore it, we must make up our minds to do something about it.

What are some heart problems we need to deal with instead of ignoring? Let’s talk about just two common heart problems.

  • Guilt can sometimes be a good thing. It’s healthy to feel bad if we do something wrong. What isn’t healthy is to let guilt dwell in our hearts year after year. Unresolved guilt is resolved by confession, accepting God’s forgiveness, and forgiving ourselves. It may require humbling ourselves and doing what we can to make things right with the person we wronged. When we take steps to deal with the guilt, we free ourselves from its hold on our heart. (See 1 John 1:19.)
  • Anger lodged in our hearts will spill over onto the people around us. Why continue to give people who hurt us in the past the power to affect our future? For our own good, and because Jesus requires it of us, we must forgive those who hurt us and let go of the anger. They may not deserve to be forgiven, but we deserve to live without anger. (See Ephesians 4:31-32.)

Guilt and anger are just two examples. Jealousy, bitterness, guilt, greed, lust, anxiety…the list goes on and on. So many destructive issues can make their homes in our hearts

A friend of mine developed atrial fibrilation (AFib), an irregular heartbeat. His cardiologist ordered a lot of tests and they all came back normal. There appeared to be nothing wrong with his heart—except AFib. The doctor said he could live a long time with AFib, but if left untreated, it would eventually cause deformities in his heart. So, to keep his heart from damage, he dealt with it.

In the same way, not dealing with spiritual issues eventually causes spiritual deformities. Maybe we can live with our anger, depression, or guilt, but God doesn’t want us to keep living with our heart issues.

God’s Word tells us to deal with our heart issues. “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:25). Do we want to be blessed in what we do? If so, we must look intently into God’s Word and let it be a mirror to show us what needs changed in our hearts.

What destructive issues are in our hearts right now? Instead of ignoring what we see in the mirror of the Word, let’s do something about it. Let’s deal with it.

Dear God, forgive me for the times I’ve heard your Word and realized I needed to change, but walked away without taking any action. For the sake of my heart and for the sake of my relationship with you, help me to not only hear your Word, but to do it. Give me the courage to acknowledge my heart issues and the resolve to deal with them. In Jesus’s name, amen.

The Heart

Four Types of Hearts

“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.” (Mark 4:3)

Jesus lived his time on earth in an agrarian society. The people he taught knew a great deal about cultivating crops, sowing seeds, and reaping a harvest. When Jesus wanted to teach them about the condition of their hearts, he told them a story about a farmer.

A farmer went out to sow seeds. As he threw the seed onto the ground, some fell on the pathway and was eaten by hungry birds. Some of the seed fell on stony ground, and it immediately sprang up but when the sun was hot, the plant withered away because it had no roots. Some seed fell among thorns that choked the plant and it didn’t produce a crop. Other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop 30, 60, or even 100 times more than the farmer planted. (Mark 4:15-20)

This parable is extra special because Jesus himself explains the meaning to us. The soil represents the hearts of people. The seed is the word of God. The seed falls onto four different types of soil, representing four types of hearts.

  • The Pathway Heart has been hardened to the message of God. The word of God can’t enter the hard heart, and Satan comes and steals the message of God’s word before it has an opportunity to grow.
  • The Rocky Heart hears the message and receives it with joy but fails to make a commitment to pursuing God. Their faith doesn’t develop deep roots, and when trouble and hardships come, these hearts fall away from God.
  • The Thorny Heart accepts the message of God. The word of God begins to grow in their life, but they become distracted. Worry, anxiety, careers, leisure activities, and other cares of life crowds out the message, and they never yield a harvest.
  • The Good Heart hears the message and accepts it. This heart continues to grow in God’s word and yields a bountiful and valuable crop.

The Lord cares deeply about the condition of our hearts. He doesn’t care about our good looks, fancy clothes, or great hair. God looks right past our appearance and examines our hearts. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.) He sees the thorny, the rocky, and the hard hearts. He sees the good, the bad and the ugly hearts. In fact, his eyes continually roam throughout the earth looking for a heart fully devoted to him, so he can show himself strong on their behalf (2 Chronicles 16:19).

So, when God looks at our hearts—and be assured, he will—what will he find? Have we given our whole heart to God? Do we embrace his word? Are we too distracted by work, school, vacations, or Netflix to pursue our relationship with God? Let God show you the areas in your heart he longs to heal and strengthen.

When our physical hearts aren’t healthy, we need a cardiologist. When our spiritual hearts aren’t healthy, we need a Savior.

Heavenly Father, I bring you my heart. I offer it to you without reservation. Show me the kind of heart I really have. Reveal to me any areas you want to change. I want to have a heart with good soil, that will receive your word and grow an abundant harvest. Take my heart. I give it to you now. In Jesus’s name, amen.