Arguing with my heart today…I read a sweet little book this past while—an allegory written to show the heart of God for his little orphans. A line stood out to me, made my heart jump in eagerness for it to be true. The character representing Jesus had just shared little Willie Juan’s lunch with him, consuming it with obvious relish and attention even though it was but a humble home-made fajita. The line was this:
“When you get to heaven, Little Friend, which is where I live, Abba will not ask you how many prayers you said or how many souls you saved. No, he’ll ask, ‘Did you enjoy the fajita?’ He wants you to live with passion, in the beauty of the moment, accepting and enjoying his gifts.” (Patched Together—Manning,60)
I like that.
But that’s not the sole criteria for accepting such a statement as true. What of the ‘judgment seat of Christ’? the giving an account for every idle word? the “What have you done with your few minas—how did you invest them?”
This sort of welcoming Father’s heart that just sweeps me up in arms and enjoys what I have to share is SO much more inviting than my own imagined version of a reserved conditional sort of welcome…or a rewards ceremony where I sit it out in the bleachers just glad to have made it to the event!
Can it be supported in Scripture?
I waver between basking in God’s pleasure despite my shortcomings and taking serious stock of my situation and wondering if I’m fooling myself to assume He’s entirely pleased. I don’t really want to think about it, but if my love of God is shown in love for my neighbors… well, these are concrete persons living beside me. This is a measurable sort of love. Do I love my neighbors in the same quality and quantity as I love myself? (grimace) And if not, hmmm…Will I just get a sympathetic pat on the head and a ‘nevermind what I asked of you.’ What’s that verse about ‘trembling at His Word’? But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Is.66:2)
Oh, I’m eager to listen for His voice, but honestly, I want to hear good stuff—something congratulatory, comforting… Instruction too is ok if it’s not anything too challenging, too scary, too far from my comfort zone.
And what of this business of reveling in blessings but being loathe to pass them on? Enjoying ‘the fajita’, so to speak, but not wanting to share it for fear it will all get eaten and I’ll go hungry, or for fear the sharee won’t like it... Is this why gratitude seems hardly a sufficient response to so much goodness dished out on my behalf? I’m pretty good at receiving, not nearly so good at generosity…
‘Between the time a gift comes to us and the time we pass it along, we suffer gratitude.’—Lewis Hyde
And so goes my heart-to-mind talk with myself. Ha! I was reading this morning in a little book on spiritual practices for the modern pilgrim.* The author referred to “the athlete view of spiritual life” as opposed to a more receptive, less ‘disciplined’ view, where my job is to make space, to be receptive for the Spirit to work. Interesting concept. I obviously tend to be the ‘athlete’, at least in my mind! Try a little harder, pen more lists, spend more time…But it does seem that when I get all through with my mental strivings, or maybe smack dab in the middle of them, when I least expect it, God speaks to my heart precisely what I most need to hear.
It was like that this morning. I was digging into a couple phrases that caught my attention from II Samuel 13. The passage reads like a soap opera. David’s reigning as king now but on the domestic front things are a mess! It seems his own sins have come to nest in his children’s lives. David’s firstborn rapes his own half-sister. Then after scheming for two years her own blood brother avenges her shame (and sets himself up to be heir to the throne?) by murdering David’s first-born. And twice in this passage you read the words: “Don’t take it to heart.” Once addressed to the sister who’s just been violated and will now hide in shame for the duration of her life. Once addressed to David whose beloved son has just murdered his firstborn son! “Don’t take it to heart” !!! How does that work?
Oh, and the beautiful girl whose life is left in shambles is told to ‘hold your peace’. Really? This hardly seems like an appropriate response. So I went looking at these two phrases throughout Scripture. [Incidentally, blueletterbible.org is a SUPER resource for such studies. Try it out sometime!] There are things that should and things that should not be ‘taken to heart’. As the source of the ‘springs of life’ the heart has got to be guarded with discrimination. (Prov.4:23)
For instance, Moses warns the Israelites to remember who their God is so they don’t go chasing idols: “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” (Deut.4:39)
But Pharaoh, when he should take to heart the plagues as signs of the one true God, refuses to do so and instead hardens his heart. (Ex.7:23)
I won’t take your through all my rich gleanings... but what are the things I take to heart when in fact only what God says deserves to hold sway there? Reminds me of something Brennan Manning said in that sweet little book I mentioned earlier:
“Live like the beloved of Abba…Your courage in living as Abba’s beloved can give others the strength to do the same. For in the end only one thing remains—Abba’s love… Define yourself as one beloved by God.” (124)
Which brings us back to my mind and my heart arguing…ah, and that other word study: “Hold your peace.” Now this was interesting. Definitely a range of reasons to hold your peace and definite occasions not to! Queen Esther on the one hand was brought to her position for ‘just such a time as this’ and strongly encouraged not to ‘hold her peace’ lest she and her family be destroyed (Esther 4:14). But there are times when the fight is the Lord’s and our job is to ‘hold your peace’. (Ex.14:14)
Okay, so I’m buzzing along through all these references to charash, the Hebrew verb meaning: hold your peace, be silent, be dumb, be speechless, be deaf…keep quiet, and I’m loving it. ( I love words in their settings and all the nuances of written language! And when their God’s words, it’s even better!) And then I come to God’s answer for my restless debate between heart and mind. For there is a verse that refers to God holding His peace, God choosing silence as the best expression of His love. I have read it many times before, (Oh that reading were believing!) and various translations render it in different ways.
But Zephaniah 3:17 describes God as resting (being silent, speechless, quiet) in His love for His beloved. First He is described as being ‘mighty in your midst’ and as One who saves. Yes, He’s a powerful God and Saviour. He’s described as ‘rejoicing over thee with joy’. Yes, there is an exuberance too. And He’s even said to sing over His beloved. But in the middle is this resting, this silent love. “He will rest in his love.” He isn’t hung up with all the objections that hold me back from believing His love could cover my multitude of sins. He just loves. This is a silent joy in ‘the possession of the object of one’s love, too great for words to express’. (J,F, & B commentary). It is perhaps like the rest of silent satisfaction after the six days of creation, when God looked and ‘behold it was very good’.
As Matthew Henry puts it, “The great God not only loves his saints, but he loves to love them." Song of Solomon, if we can take it as a figure of Christ and the Church, implies that we captivate God’s heart. “You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes…” (SofS 4:9)
As heirs with Israel of God’s grace we are destined to be “a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God…and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Is.62:3,5) There is not a lot of room for argument here. We are objects of an incredible and very personal love. And I suspect that as we come to live in our true identity as ones well loved, the obedience that seems so scary will begin to flow quite naturally from our well-nourished hearts, constrained by such a great love, to do anything desired by the Lover.
I give thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise…for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. (Ps.138:1,2)
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
Whew! If you got to the end of that you’re a wonder. Bless you and be sure to enjoy the fajita!
“The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” –Ps.138:8
P.S. A brief review of Patched Together by Brennan Manning is posted at: thestackofdawn.blogspot.com
*God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the rest of us--Barkat, p.41ff