读经：箴15:11-20 徒14:8-28 王上8:22-9:9
God Sees Your Heart
Paul Swala was in prison in Zambia. He was charged with treason. He was accused of being involved in a coup to overthrow the government. While in prison he did Alpha. He encountered Jesus and cried out for God to save him. Extraordinarily, he was the only one of the group of sixty-nine accused who was acquitted. He told his story last moth, at our Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall. His face radiated the joy of the Lord. He told us how, as Alpha Prisons’ Coordinator for Zambia, he has now been into every prison in Zambia sharing the good news about Jesus Christ and how, even in the direst of situations, Jesus can bring hope and change hearts. He said, ‘I’ve never seen a friend like Jesus’ God really has filled his heart with joy.
The word ‘heart’ appears in all the passages for today. In fact, it is used seventeen times in total. It is used in these passages to mean everything that is going on inside of us. When we think of the heart we tend to associate it with emotions. The Hebrew understanding was wider than that. It included the emotions, but it also involved the mind, the conscience and the will.
Your heart lies ‘open before the Lord’ (Proverbs 15:11). Only God sees and knows the hearts of every human being (1 Kings 8:39). In the passages for today, we learn about how God sees our hearts, and fills them with joy – even in the most unlikely circumstances.
1. Your face reflects your heart
Proverbs 15:11-20Some people’s faces radiate love and joy. Their smile puts us at ease and cheers us up. Others may have a rather more sour expression on their face and can make us feel very uncomfortable.
Your face often reflects your heart. ‘A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit’ (v.13). I remember a good friend of ours, Michael Coates (father of Archie Coates – Vicar of St Peter’s, Brighton), saying that the life we have lived eventually shows on our face and, therefore, everybody over forty is responsible for their face!
Even where you manage to hide your heart from those around you, God can still see it: ‘Even hell holds no secrets from God – do you think he can’t read human hearts?’ (v.11, MSG).
God is interested in your heart. This passage gives some wise advice on how you can feed your heart: ‘The discerning heart seeks knowledge’ (v.14); ‘A cheerful heart fills the day with song’ (v.15b, MSG). The writer gives an example of how the inside is so much more important than the outside: ‘Better a bread crust shared in love than a slab of prime rib served in hate’ (v.17, MSG). Love and friendship are what make an evening fun. The quality of the food is of lesser importance.
Thank you, Lord, that you see beyond the outward appearance into my heart. Through your Spirit within me, fill my heart with joy. May my face reflect the love and joy you put in my heart and bring encouragement and confidence to everyone I encounter.
2. Your heart can be full of joy in spite of outward circumstances
Acts 14:8-28Joy comes from the heart and is not necessarily connected with your outward circumstances. Sometimes you face difficulties in life, not because you are doing something wrong, but because you are doing something right.
Paul faced huge difficulties but was filled with joy because he was doing something right and making a massive difference to the world.
He was conducting the first deliberate evangelistic campaign into the Gentile world. It was this that led to Christianity becoming not just a Jewish sect, but a world ‘religion’. God ‘used them to throw the door of faith wide open so people of all nations could come streaming in’ (v.27, MSG).
Paul speaks of ‘all that God had done through them’ (v.27). Yet outwardly the odds were stacked against him. He appeared very unimpressive (2 Corinthians 10:10). One description of Paul’s physical appearance at this time (in a second-century document called ‘The Acts of Paul and Thecla’) describes him as ‘a man little of stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining, and nose somewhat hooked, full of grace: for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel.’
He not only looked unimpressive but he suffered from some physical illness (Galatians 4:13). In addition to all this, his body must have been battered and bruised by all the physical persecution he had suffered. On this occasion, the crowd beat him unconscious and left him for dead (Acts 14:19).
Like so many who have followed in Paul’s footsteps, in spite of all his physical suffering, his heart was full of joy, and God worked through him. God used Paul in his weakness. This encourages us to believe that God can also work through us in our weakness.
This heartfelt joy is one of a variety of different kinds of hearts we see in this passage:
- Faith-filled hearts
Paul followed the Lord’s example and looked at the heart. He saw ‘a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked’ (v.8). As Paul looked at him he saw his heart and ‘saw that he had faith to be healed’ (v.9).
Sometimes God enables us to see into people’s hearts – to see that they have the faith to be healed, to be filled with the Spirit or to receive some gift. Later we read of how God ‘opened the door of faith to the Gentiles’ (v.27). Faith is the key to salvation.
- Fickle hearts
When the crowd saw the man healed they began treating Paul and Barnabas as gods. They pointed out, ‘We’re not gods!’ and that they were only human beings, bringing good news of ‘the living God’ to whom the crowd needed to turn (v.15). However, the hearts of the crowd were fickle. They were soon won over by Paul’s opponents and almost in an instant they went from trying to offer sacrifices to Paul to stoning him (vv.18–19).
- Full-of-joy hearts
This was just one of the many ‘hardships’ (v.22) that Paul and his companions went through. Yet Paul can speak of how God ‘fills your hearts with joy’ (v.17). Again, he is saying that the inside is so much more important than the outside.
Paul ‘strengthened’ and ‘encouraged’ the disciples in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch (vv.21–22). The way he encouraged and strengthened them was not by saying that the Christian life was easy. Paul tells them that although their sins were behind them, their troubles were ahead of them. He says, ‘Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times’ (v.22, MSG). Jesus did not come to make life easy; he came to make people great.
Lord, thank you so much for the inspiring example of those like the apostle Paul and many who have followed in his footsteps. Whatever the outward appearance or circumstance, may my heart be full of joy. May I not judge people or situations by how they look from the outside, but like you, always look to the heart.
3. Your heart should be fully committed to the Lord
1 Kings 8:22-9:9As Solomon dedicates the temple, he prays to the Lord, ‘There is no God like you… You who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way’ (8:23).
God’s own heart is for his people and he sees and knows the hearts of all people: ‘You alone know every human heart’ (v.39).
Solomon’s prayer recognises the fact that we fail. We sin. He does not say ‘if’ they sin. Rather he says, ‘When they sin against you – for there is no one who does not sin’ (v.46, see also Romans 3:23).
Thankfully, there is still hope. It is possible to have ‘changed hearts’ (1 Kings 8:47, MSG). It is possible for our hearts to turn back to God (v.48). He prays that God will ‘turn our hearts to him’ (v.58). God is full of mercy and forgiveness (vv.28,30,34,36,39,50). He relentlessly loves and he keeps his word (v.23, MSG).
The better you get to know God – his heart, his character and his love for you – the easier it becomes to obey him with all your heart.
Never settle for second best. As Solomon puts it, ‘Your hearts must be fully committed to the Lord our God’ (v.61). God wants you to walk before him with ‘integrity of heart and uprightness’ (9:4). The people determined to live like that and went home ‘joyful and glad in heart’ (8:66). Like the disciples, their hearts were full of joy.
Lord, you see my heart. May my heart be fully committed to you. You know how often I fail. Please forgive and have mercy on me. Thank you that you enable me to turn back to you each day. Thank you for your mercy and forgiveness. Thank you that you fill my heart with joy. Help me to follow you wholeheartedly each day.
‘A happy heart makes the face cheerful…’
A smile does transform a face. It is hard to smile if life is tough. One thing that has always struck me when we have visited townships in Africa is the smiles on the children’s faces. They often have nothing, but still have the most beautiful smiles.