By Ronnie Lee
Jesus in one of HIs parables began the story with this line, “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow” (Mark 4:3 ESV). It is remarkable how He was able to attract the attention of his audience then and even now, with this line. Imagine Jesus, by the seashore in a boat, and his audience nearby on the shore with the wind blowing against their faces as He related the story. Jesus’ parable could have been carried away by the wind even with the listeners straining their ears. However, from the response of those around Him (v.10), it seems clear that they heard Jesus. This parable as explained by Jesus in the verses after that touches on matters of the heart and focuses on the reception of each types of soils (or hearts) where the seeds (word of Jesus) landed after it has been sown.
Let’s start by asking, “What is the condition of our hearts today?”
With so many challenges in life these days, we do get discouraged easily. Sometimes we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Have you ever been distracted to a point of ‘losing heart’? If you have, you are not alone. Even Paul wrote, ‘Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart’ (2 Cor 4:1 ESV). In some other version, losing heart means to throw up our hands and walk off the job. Paul went on to explain that it is because in Jesus, we have received a ‘treasure’ (v.7). The treasure is the message of Jesus. It is because of this amazing message that Paul starts and ends by saying, ‘.. we do not lose heart’ (vs.1,16 ESV).
What does it mean to lose one’s heart?
Let’s start by stating the fact that we do make fundamental mistakes at times that will cause us to lose heart. That is, believing that we can’t see a way towards achieving our heart’s desire (longing), and therefore, no way forward. A brick wall that is! Your heart’s longing, may be getting a good job, a strong relationship, flippinga great investment deal as a final reward for your lifelong earnings or even help over some financial strain that is troubling you. You’re moving along with life, and suddenly something gets in the way. You hit a problem and can’t seem to get past it. The fundamental mistake that our subconscious mind tells us is that, we have tried everything, and nothing is working. No way forward and that’s when we lose heart.
Are you in a state of losing your heart?
Recently I brought about 120 of our general agents to Barcelona and Madrid for an incentive trip. As the chef de mission, I was to ensure the contingent go and return from the Convention safely. Unfortunately, we had an agent who suffered a heart attack which caused her to be admitted into the Hospital General UniversitarioGregorio Maranon in Madrid. Her bypass operation which was scheduled to take place on 15 April 2019 was further delayed till after Easter weekend due to fever. We met the agent’s siblings and relatives in KL to encourage them to go over to care for her just in case any emergency assistance is needed. After much persuasion, two of her relatives agreed to go and are still there as her operations would not take place for another week due to the onset of pneumonia. Time is ticking and everyone is losing heart as the cost involved is escalating. Although her health and life is more important than money, however, the relatives are concerned about the escalating costs which they may have to bear.
It is very natural when one loses heart, the analysis mode of asking why and how to fix it kicks in. In doing so, hopefully it will then go the way it is supposed to. For instance, the reason why some struggle with their finances when taking up a loan commitment, is that no allowances were made for reasonable living and contingent expenses. My neighbour suffered this malady a few years ago and at one point, have to resort to the short term borrowings from a “Loan Shark”. No matter how he tries to fix it, it doesn’t go away. Or maybe there is a member in the family of God who was not given the support by fellow brethren in meeting his financial woes, said he’ll fix it by confronting members and getting them to be more supportive. There are endless numbers of “whys” and “fix-its.”
Pretending that it doesn’t happen, or trying to guard every thought to keep it from happening, will only make one go crazy. The good news is, just because you can’t see a way forward doesn’t mean you can’t be shown.
How to restore a longing heart?
To be shown a new way, you need to be willing to first admit that you are at the point of losing heart. The way to admit that you are in a state of losing your heart is by firstly, accepting the idea that there’s no way forward. This is different from simply asking why it didn’t work and trying to fix it. Upon your admission, you go through a healing process in an entirely different and far more effective direction.
Paul or Saul before his conversion, was on a mission to persecute the church (Acts 9). He was given the authority by the Jewish Council in Jerusalem to persecute the followers of Jesus Christ. His mission was foiled by a bright light on the road to Damascus. His encounter brought about a personal transformation in his life that he was willing to be a martyr for Christ. But not before his obedience to God’s voice. What if Saul continued to be rebellious at the point of his calling? What will be the state of his heart? Saul knew it was impossible to find ways to fight against the spreading of Christianity through the gospel when Jesus said to him “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14 ESV). At this point Saul had accepted that he has hit a brick wall and no way is he able to get by it. But he didn’t try to fix it, he admitted the condition of his heart. “So he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6).
If you want to be shown a new way forward, you have to be open to the healing of the hurt your heart is experiencing after you accept the idea that there’s no way forward. Saul did the same and so should be for all Christians who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour. We can be guided to turn to God and to bring our hurting hearts to Him for restoration. “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 ESV). Why? Because their hearts have been pricked and made wide open, knowing what they have done was wrong, when they were told that God had made this Jesus, whom they have crucified both Lord and Christ.
After admitting, you then turn, with expectation, to the Highest, Most Gracious and Merciful God for help. As you turn, you ask this question: “Is it really true that just because I can’t see a way forward toward my heart’s longing, that there really isn’t one?” You’d then drown from that moment, until you experience some sort of transformational answer to that question. But how long do I need to wait? In due course. It’s up to the providence of God.– “…that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 ESV).
What sort of answer will you get?
Can’t tell exactly because the thing about transformation is, it’s unpredictable; as “.. we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called for his purpose” (Rom 8:28 ESV). When you open yourself to be transformed in the areas where you’ve accepted that there’s no way forward, you can’t know in advance what you’re going to be shown. It is said that transformation tends to fall into two or three categories:
Firstly, one that is of Insight. Sometimes when a person turns to God, they get a clear insight. They see something new, generally along the line that we feel charged up to take a new action and often have a clear direction.
Secondly, of Assurance. Other times, a person gets a new sense of being loved and cared for even when they don’t see a way forward right away. Just like our faith which is “… the assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1 ESV). Sometimes we forget that if our “..faith is like a grain of mustard seed…” (Matt 17:20 ESV), we can overcome most of the world’s challenges. Faith that is not in ourselves, but in God would have helped us achieve a high level of compassion for ourselves and others.
Recently one of our church brethren wrote to me saying, “one of our church senior leaders is full of compassion. I hope everyone else in the Church could exhibit an equal amount of it to understand the plight that I am currently going through”. That is an illustration of assurance one could get and a great turning point towards hope.
Christians came together in Acts 2:45 (ESV), “..sellingtheir possessions and belongings, and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Doing good works, one may not know exactly how things will be moving forward, but we all know that God will provide the way for those who will not lose heart in serving Him, by staying the cause. The latter will help us to stay calm, warm and able to “stick with it” in the pursuit of our longings.
And other times you get both of insight and assurance types of transformation.
However to get the insights or assurances, we need to ask. In Mark 11:24 ESV, it says that “…whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” This remarkable verse sounds so magical. But that is what Jesus said! For the longest time, this verse has also been my greatest secret treasure when it comes to asking in prayer. It also comes with great responsibility when asking. It doesn’t mean we can just ask anything. While it’s a good idea to ask with a sense of expectation, it’s always not a good idea to ask with a specific picture of how things “ought to” look like. I suffer the same mistake at times trying to project a specific picture of what I would like things to be transformed. If we are opening our thoughts to what God wants us to do, we should let our thoughts be, to let God direct us and not to let what we think we should be receiving gets in the way of what we are receiving.
I have a type-A personality trait, just like many other brethren. Impatient, temperamental and a driver towards self-competitiveness. Over the years the scripture and age have mellowed me down quite a bit. From the years of accepting what one can do and should do as opposed to wanting to do and must do. That is where Mark 11:24 comes in for me. If things are not coming through to you after asking, doesn’t mean you can’t have it, it is more that there is a better alternative and accepting that maybe it can be in the future.
What you can change, starting right now is to reflect if you are losing heart when pursuing something your heart longs for. Is there something getting in the way that you can’t seem to get past? And if you do, to accept the idea that, because you can’t see a path to what you long for, there is no way forward. Accept the idea that there’s no way forward and when that happens, you take the time to care for your heart that is hurting. Turn to God and ask of Him. Let Him address that longing that is inside you and ask God to provide the insight that brings the renewed energy and resource into your pursuit of the life you long for.
When we turn to God in faith and let our Creator and Heavenly Father guides us, we will get a clear insight and/or assurance. We will see things anew, if we let Him help us overcome our challenges that can cause us to lose heart. We will be charged up to take a new action and often have a clear direction. Whether we are teenagers, adults, or ageing Christians, the journey we each experience may not be the same. Yet, we all know it shall be filled with struggles.
“For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim 4:10 (ESV)). The state of our heart equates the state of our Christian life too. All the more we need to examine our hearts, before we lose it. The emphasis on losing one’s heart was made in Gal 6:9 (ESV), “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” The idea that we need to hold on and not to give in.
In the story of Elisha in 2 Kings 4, the wife of one of the sons of the prophets came crying to him for help. Her God-fearing husband has just died and his creditor has come to take her two children to be slaves. Elisha in answering her cries, asked her what she has in her house. Her response was, just a jar of oil. Even with that, Elisha was able to demonstrate God’s providence. As the story goes, Elisha was able to pour out many, many, many jars of oil from just one. With the jars of oil, the poor widow was able to sell them and repay the creditor to save the children from slavery and have much more for her own.
Reflecting on the story of Elisha and the widow, I have a story on my heart’s longings. In the past three years, I am beginning to see changes in me and feeling like an old man beaten down by the pressure from my work and also disappointments. My family was and is still concerned about the state of my mind. Constantly my wife would drive to ensure I stay healthy. My understanding on the aging process each one of us goes through, gets clearer. Ultimately, it’s our thoughts, beliefs (faith too) and attitudes that will determine our outward behaviour whether we are young or old. In our society, the emphasis has always been the outward and the seen. Our society is dominated by money, possessions, houses, cars, food, physical beauty and outward success. But if we allow God to take charge, even in our darkest hours, God will see us through if we do not lose heart.
1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV): “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the appropriate time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” As a teenager, I was introduced to a song about waiting. Isaiah 40:31(NKJV): “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” I continue to sing this song in my head and upon my lips to strengthen my spirit, with expectations that God will provide the healing to a longing heart, when I ask of Him.
How is the condition of your heart today? Or should I ask, how is your faith in God today?