Last week, my intent was to convince you from the Scripture, of this fact - “God loves to bless His children!” We defined blessings, not so much in terms of the normal measures of worldly success - being wealth, fame, or beauty. These are certainly desirable, but God loves to bless us with things of much greater value. Gordon MacDonald who writes – “God desires to pour out on people gracious and uncommon gifts: gifts might include personal affirmation, intimate relationship, extraordinary challenges to destiny, and remarkable energies that surpass the limits of we think of as normal....” The Life God Blesses, Nelson, 1994
I also encouraged you to position yourselves to receive God’s blessings. The picture is of a person standing under a waterfall - letting the refreshing of the water of life flow over them.
Lastly, I spoke of God’s covenants and observed that if we want to enjoy God’s blessings, if we want to prepare ourselves for prosperity - there is a choice to make today, tomorrow, until the day you are finally and fully transformed in the likeness of Jesus. That choice? To live in faith, expressed in obedience to the will of God.
The Heart of the One Whom God Prospers
Gordon MacDonald tells a parable about a man who built a yacht with the intention making it the grandest boat that ever sailed from the yacht club of which he was a member. This man would come to be known as a foolish man, not because he was unlikable, or cruel, or selfish, or even lazy. He was a charming guy, well liked by all who knew him. But he was destined to be called a fool. More on that as the story unfolds.
He named his yacht, Persona. He instructed the builders to make it look great! It was fitted with fine brass trim, colorful sails, and every imaginable convenience in the cabin. As it took shape, this foolish man could not help but anticipate the admiration that the Persona would evoke as she sailed into his club. The more he thought about that day, the more focused he become in making certain to add those touches that would make her look good. Because no one would ever see the underside of his yacht, this man was not much concerned about her keel, or even the design of the hull. Strangely to a reasonable man, he spent next to nothing on the hidden part of his yacht, even cutting corners in construction of the hull of the boat against the wishes of the designer.
That he was a fool was obvious when he said, “Why should I waste time and money on those things that are out of sight, below the water line?” He was so obsessed with making a great entrance, unlike any made before, he failed completely in thinking of the seaworthiness of his boat, the grand Persona.
As the construction of his yacht went forward, the crowds came to look at the wonder taking shape in the dry dock. She was a grand vessel - and many thought the man brilliant, and some even envied his accomplishments.
Finally the day came for the launch of the Persona. With great fanfare the dry dock was flooded, and the boat settled into the water. As she slide into the harbor the crowd admired her. All was well, until she reached the mouth of the harbor. Just then the wind kicked up, the waves grew in size, and the Personal seemed to falter. The boats sailing with her, pulled away, returning to the harbor, but the man who had built this grand yacht was so enthralled with his boat, he continued to sail towards the sea and into the growing storm.
Within minutes it was obvious she was in serious trouble, as she began to list and take on water as her seams opened. She wallowed in the waves, not righting herself as a sturdy and steady vessel should. As the crew evacuated the boat, it was obvious that even this small storm was about to take her down. Which it did in a mater of moments.
The inquiry into her destruction revealed the sad story of her foolish builder. All his efforts were focused on what could seen. His vanity kept him from investing in those things that would have made her a solid boat that could weather the storms. And so, the man who so craved the applause of his friends instead was remembered as the foolish man, who built a boat that could not sail! (The Life God Blesses, MacDonald)
Jesus makes the same point in a similar analogy in a passage which I read to you last Sunday.
“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
“But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.” " (Matthew 7:24-27, The Message)
There are thousands of books written on the subject of ‘success.’ They have good things, are often truly motivational and inspiring. Most speak of the critical importance of a dream. Some call it ‘vision.’ Speaking of the importance of a dream, Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else!”
John Maxwell, well known as a motivational speaker, points to the power of a dream to ‘sense the invisible, so I can do the impossible,’ and says that ‘big dreams attract big people,’ leading to big success.
And I don’t argue with the power of vision if we want to be people who are preparing to prosper!
HOWEVER, as the opening parable makes clear, there is something more fundamental to becoming a person with a blessed life even than having a dream. It is something called, ‘heart!’
Obviously I’m not talking about the fist-sized knot of muscle in your chest that pumps the blood through your body! I am referring to the core of you, the essence of who you are, the values that shape your character.
Listen to what Jesus says about the heart.
TEXT - Matthew 12:33-35
I enjoy a good conversation. It takes a while to get past the polite ’weather report’ talk that all of us adopt in new relationships. It’s fascinating to find out what he’s about, who he really is. Talk with a person over dinner and you begin to hear from his heart. You find out if he is courageous or fearful, generous or stingy, what he likes, who he doesn’t like, what he dreams, etc. The more we talk, the more we reveal just as Jesus said. "Your words show what is in your hearts." (Matthew 12:34, CEV)
I often counsel with those who ask for my help in dealing with family problems, depression, anger, and recurring sinful habits. Since I am not a therapist, these meetings look a lot like friends having a chat over a cup of coffee. I ask leading questions and as we develop trust, the layers piled on their true feelings and beliefs start to peel away. Here’s a sobering fact that I have discovered.
Many of us are clueless about the contents of our heart! It is not a willful ignorance. With the passing of time we store away attitudes and ideas and they get buried in our subconscious mind. Despite being out of reach of our conscious memory, these are very much in play, affecting the ways we respond to life, the ways we relate to others. Little phrases we heard as a child, experiences that seem to have no real significance as they happened, have gone into that magnificent thing called our brain and become part of our heart. More than once in a counseling conversation, a person has said something and then paused with a look of astonishment on his face. "I didn’t realize that I felt that way!" is his reaction when the light reaches a secret corner of his heart.
If we truly want to live in a way that is faithfully obedient to God, that reflects the life of Christ in us and thus is positioned in a place to receive His blessings, everyone of us must undergo a heart transformation. Beyond healing, beyond self-discovery, as important as they may be, we need an infusion of the life of the Spirit, that comes when we trust Christ as Savior and Lord.
In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of God’s rich and wonderful blessings. However, he says you and I are cut off from those blessings because we are dead!
TEXT - Ephesians 2:1-3
What a terrible state! Because our sins, dead and destined for destruction.
That’s not the last word, though. I love the next couple of verses. It is one of my favorite passages of Scripture.
READ - Ephesians 2:4-6
We cannot experience God’s blessings until we are made alive in our hearts by the life of the Holy Spirit whom God pours into us. Even then there is still work to be done to prepare our lives for the blessings of God. Many Believers find their desire to be Christ-like in behavior sabotaged by a heart that is stuffed with junk, lies, and misconceptions about God, life, and others. They want to be loving, courageous, joyful persons but they only manage to display those traits on their best days, too few and too far between.
The Bible teaches us that beyond the experience of the infusion of new life, there is a process of heart renewal. Salvation starts with Jesus Christ, but it is not a passive experience. It is a vigorous process. We must ’work out our salvation!’ We cannot force goodness from the outside in. But we do have to work with the Spirit to bring the life and light of God’s renewal into every room in our heart house. If we do not, we will fall into a cycle of sin, sadness, repentance, determination..... then, failure, again! Those who are saved, but not made whole and holy, pray, "God, take it away. What is wrong with me?" A better prayer is this one from the Psalms.
"Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life." (Psalm 139:23-24, The Message)
David cried out to God, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit." (Psalm 51:9-12, NKJV) Believe me, as tough as it is to be shown the content of our heart, it is liberating to present the treasures and the trash that are stored there to God and find His healing and forgiveness in the process.
A healed heart, one that is alive in Christ and undergoing the process of becoming whole and holy, leads us to lives that are prepared for God’s blessings. As the Holy Spirit flows over us and through us, we begin to dream God’s dreams. We begin to think the way He wants us think, to desire the kinds of things in life He desires, and He is able to release His blessings on us. Alive to Christ, and filled with the Spirit, we begin to have an undivided heart.
A man once came to Jesus to inquire about eternal life. "Good Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?" (Luke 18:18, CEV) Jesus asked him whether he was obedient to the commandments. The man claimed that he was scrupulous in his morality. From Jesus’ answer, which did not challenge the honesty of his reply, I conclude the man was telling the truth. Then Jesus threw him a big challenge: "If you want to be perfect (complete and spiritually whole), go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Matthew 19:21, NLT) The one thing the man could not claim was a singular love for God. He loved his stuff and Jesus knew it.
So, He told him to get rid of it and learn to love God with his whole heart. The tragic end of that story is that the man was "crestfallen... He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go." (Matthew 19:22, The Message)
Let’s not miss the point of the story. It is not about a command to universal poverty! It is about the importance of a heart that is undivided.
We will not be in a place to receive God’s blessings or even to desire them, if we are living with a divided heart - trying to serve two masters. It is not just money that captivates our hearts. We can be in love with reputation, with pleasure, with our family, with status, with sports, with financial security, with physical fitness, with intellect;
the list is long and varied.
Jesus’ challenge to that man is rephrased for each one of us in this commandment. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37, NIV)
As I wrap up this message this morning, let’s return to the imagery of my opening story for a moment.
∙ What does your life look like below the water line, in those places hidden from public view?
∙ Have you made the mistake of working only on the visible parts of life, looking good over being truly good?
You can get the right degree, live in the most desirable neighborhood, marry the prettiest girl, drive the a car that projects an image of success - and be a wreck inside! You can have all the externals marks of success and still not enjoy God’s best for your life if you heart is still dead in sin!
So, first - come to Christ to receive forgiveness for sin and the infusion of life.
Then, commit yourself to the process of heart renewal, building character that reflects the true image of Christ Jesus.
There is a twisted form of Christianity that is very common in America. Dallas Willard calls it ‘miserable sinner’ Christianity! This mistaken expression of Paul’s teaching in Romans which declares that we remain imperfect as long as we live on this side of Heaven, which is certainly true. Some take that as a reason to remain ‘miserable sinners.’ They do not believe it is possible to become victorious over their temper, their greed, their lust, their selfishness.... and thus they live in a miserable stand-off with sin, a stalemate of misery.
That is a half-truth that blocks many Christians from preparing themselves for prosperity, for moving into the life that enjoys God’s blessings. The truth is that we can grow up in Christ. No, we can’t do it ourselves. It requires the power of the Spirit. But, when we allow Him to work in us, there is a maturity of faith that leads us deeper into the Christ-life. Paul says "...where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, NIV) In learning to walk with the Lord, to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, our lives become brighter and brighter with His glory - it’s a heart work, first - that becomes evident on our faces, and in our daily lives.
God has rich blessings prepared for you, friend - a life of purpose, a sense of connectedness and meaning, peace, joy, and hope for tomorrow and eternity. Begin by seeking change that goes HEART DEEP!
"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God." (Ezekiel 11:19-20, NIV)
2007 copyright Jerry D. Scott