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“It is not what people put into their mouths that makes them unclean [Jesus said]. It is what comes out of their mouths that makes them unclean.” (Matthew 15:11 NCV)
“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” (Ezekiel 36:26 NLT)
WHEN IT’S TIME FOR A SPRING CLEANING OF YOUR HEART, WHERE DO YOU GO FOR HELP?
Do you dust off an old do-it-yourself manual or buy the latest self-help paperback that promises you that, basically, you’re OK, but you need some tinkering around the edges, and we have a 30-day plan that will do just that?
Or do you look in the mirror, take a deep breath, and admit that the root of your problem is contained in the image staring back at you?
If you’re like me and probably millions of other folks, you’d feel much more comfortable finding a quick-fix solution that comes in a box or magically remakes your life after you slap some reminder notes on the refrigerator and maybe your bathroom mirror.
The last thing most of us want to admit, let’s face it, is that the problems we face — that internal angst that senses that things just aren’t right with our lives no matter how diligent we are in making adjustments — stems from … us.
Maybe the cartoon strip character Pogo got it right, after all: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
NOT SURPRISINGLY, GOD HAS A FEW THINGS to say about our dilemma.
He points directly to our hearts as the incubator of our troubles. In Jeremiah 17:9, God says of the heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (NIV) Other translations quote God saying the heart is “desperately sick” (NASB and ESV), “desperately wicked” (NKJV),” “cunning” and “beyond help” (CEB) and “incurable” (HCSB).
A disciple quotes Jesus giving this description in Matthew 15:11 (NCV): “It is not what people put into their mouths that makes them unclean. It is what comes out of their mouths that makes them unclean.”
Not a pretty picture, for sure.
God also has some things to say about our efforts at self-improvement. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man,” He says in Jeremiah 17:5 (NKJV) and “Cursed is the man who trusts in and relies on mankind” (AMP).
The cure, according to the Creator of the universe, the One who made us and fashioned us in His image, is to turn to Him, instead, and let Him heal us.
Listen to the Lord in Jeremiah 17:7 (NCV): “But the person who trusts in the LORD will be blessed. The LORD will show him that he can be trusted.”
SO, ON THE ONE HAND, mankind can rely on its own wisdom and understanding, all of which God notes come from an evil heart, or, on the other hand, men and women can fall on their knees and trust the One who made them, who understands them, who knows “how they tick.”
Should be an easy choice. One way works; the other way doesn’t.
Yet part of the legacy of that evil heart is that humans don’t want the remedy when it’s attached to the need for obedience.
Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV): “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.”
Continuing in Proverbs 3, we read in verses 11 and 12 (NCV): “My child, do not reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t get angry when he corrects you. The LORD corrects those he loves, just as parents correct the child they delight in.”
Even when the Lord lays His hand on us, it is with the tap of correction, lovingly applied, to scoot us away from evil and back toward the pathway that leads to God’s good graces.
INCREASINGLY, IT BECOMES CLEAR that we need to listen to what God has to say about our human condition and less on what Dr. So-and-So on TV has to say, no matter how many books he has sold.
God not only says He has the diagnosis for our problem, He also has the cure.
“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you” (Ezekiel 36:26-27a NLT).
In the New Testament, we learn from God that His plan for conducting this needed heart transplant is through His own surgeon, Jesus Christ. Peter, the apostle, says in Acts 4:12 (ESV): “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Jesus, naturally, said the same thing during His earthly ministry: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17 NKJV).
WHAT’S OBVIOUS HERE?
God wants to change our hearts, not our outward appearance, not our public persona, not our facade, not our public face.
Anyone can strive to “get real” on their own — maybe slap some “great sayings” on the refrigerator; determine to increase personal motivation to stay positive or smile more or say “please” and “thank you” to a stranger, even when they probably don’t deserve it; and maybe stick a toe into a non-profit service center now and then.
It won’t last. It never does. Once the euphoria of the initial gung-ho speech we give ourselves wears off, we’ll be back to the pit, where our depression, distrust, bitterness, and insecurities run rampant.
There’s that “desperately sick” thing the Bible says about the human heart to consider.
No, the resolution to our ills does not rest within our power to change. It must be a complete make-over by the Master and Creator, and that requires our recognition that we are sinners, that He died to release us from sin’s bondage, and that He needs to take up residence in our hearts.
It takes a “new heart,” as the Bible says. It requires letting the Lord give us “a tender, responsive heart.”
PRAYER: Dear Father God, the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the Universe. We come to You in humility, confessing our great need for Your healing hand, Your forgiveness for our pride and stubbornness, and Your guidance for our path. Please, LORD, change our “hearts of stone” into “tender, responsive hearts,” hearts that yearn after the LORD, that love His majesty, and that give Him all praise, honor, and glory. In Jesus’ Name we lift this prayer. Amen