A Word from our Diocesan Bishop Steve Wood

Bishop Steve Wood, Diocesan Bishop

Setting Your Heart on Fire

“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears!  You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!”

So said the first martyr of the church, Stephen, in Acts 7.

Have you thought about how you resist the Holy Spirit?  Sadly, all too many Christians create a false dichotomy pitting the Persons of the Trinity against one another: “Oh, we just need Jesus.”  Yes, we need Jesus. But who do you think it is that both reveals Jesus to us and then takes up residence within us, thus making Jesus known to us?  The Holy Spirit; the Counselor, the Comforter, the One who comes alongside us. Jesus had much to say about the person of the Holy Spirit and our relationship and response to Him.  A sampling from the Gospel of John:

John 14.15ff. “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. [jumping to v. 26] But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

John 16.5ff: “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’  Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

The Book of Acts and the letters of Paul capture and continue the instruction to be continually filled with the presence of the Person of the Holy Spirit.

In that deeply touching post-resurrection appearance by our Lord, He walked with those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening the Scriptures to them, causing their hearts to “burn” within them – the convicting, revealing work of the Spirit.

When was the last time you could honestly say that your heart burned within you – in love for God, with desire for his presence, in the pursuit of holiness, with hatred for the sins that cripple and maim you and those around you?  When was the last time your heart burned for God and for the spread of his Kingdom?

The opposite of the burning heart is, of course, the comfortable heart, the indifferent heart, the apathetic heart, the heart that isn’t moved, isn’t alive, and isn’t passionate.  The comfortable, indifferent, apathetic heart experiences God the way one experiences television or political gossip – just another diversion that leaves us cold and unaffected.

In 1746, Jonathan Edwards wrote one of the most important books in the history of Christianity titled Religious Affections.  In it, Edwards describes the affections as “the vigorous or intense inclination of our hearts toward or away from something.”

Edwards was keen to show that true Christianity had an intensity about it.  We are urged by the apostle Paul “to be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”  (Romans 12:11) According to Edwards, true faith is exactly opposite the “typical weak, dull and lifeless wishes” which characterize most indifferent churchgoers. Without a person’s affections being touched and ignited by the Holy Spirit, there is no salvation, nor is there any real desire to move away from sin and toward the pursuit of God.  By the affections, Edwards refers to the fear of the Lord, hatred of sin, hunger and thirst after righteousness, holy joy, godly sorrow, heart-felt pity, true thankfulness, zeal for God and love.

What is your heart condition this day?  Are you spiritually alive? Full of passion?  Eager and excited about your relationship with Jesus?  Or are you cold, lifeless, critical, unmotivated – a person with knowledge of God but with little real spirituality.

If you are cold, or at best lukewarm (Revelation 3:16), here are some things you can do restore a burning heart:

Repent – In Acts 3 Peter, speaking to his fellow Israelites, told them to “repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”  There is to be sure an once for all repentance when we turn to Jesus for salvation. But there is also the ongoing life of repentance when we return to the Lord again and again, our hearts having turned to someone or something other than Jesus. Repent, return to the Lord so that times of refreshing may come.

Pray – Ask the Lord to renew your love for him. Ask, and keep asking the Father to give you an increasing measure of the Holy Spirit.  Be encouraged by our Lord Himself who said in Luke 11.13, “how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Praise – Sing to the Lord!  Privately praise the Lord. Publicly gather with brothers and sisters lifting your heart and your voice to him.  God is pleased to ignite the hearts of those who worship him.

Meditate – Focus your mind upon deep spiritual truths.  Meditate upon the cross and the wounds of Christ. Let the “eyes of your heart” gaze upon the hands, the feet, the side, and the face of the crucified Son of God. Meditate upon your future in your resurrected body upon a new earth free from the stain of sin. Thrilled yet?

Read – Read the Bible, of course, it contains the words of life.  But read the great classics of the faith as well.

Serve – Repentance, prayer, praise, mediation, and reading – all good things.  But if you are not led into service of those both within and without the Body of Christ you’re missing the point – and living a self-centered life which will always be cold and empty.  Jesus told us that “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20.28). Demonstrating His meaning, Jesus picked up a towel and washed the dirty grimy feet of His disciples and said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13.15-17).

Allow the Lord to set your heart on fire.

As ever, yours in Christ,

+Steve

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