Non of us are immune to hardness of the heart attempting to set in, and on a daily basis. It's because we live in a broken system in a broken world, among broken people all around. But God offers a replacement, a "heart of flesh" instead of a stoney one. We really want to, and need to, take Him up on this offer because the hardness of heart will clog our ears from hearing Him more clearly. It will cause us to see others without love-lenses. It will block us from going through the doors we can go through, eat away at our joy, cause bitterness, misunderstanding, lack of identity and other such things that can eventually manifest into actual, physical problems.
Why is this such a big deal? Because the heart is not simply the blood-pumping organ in our chest. Consider the Greek word for heart, which is Kardia. Kardia means the CORE or CENTER. In Hebraic-Biblical thought, the heart is the most central part of a person's being, governing a person's entire life. Proverbs 4:23 tells us, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life."
Often we can get so busy in life, so consumed by external things, that we forget to tend to our heart. Over time we even allow some things in and to become our "norm" that are building stone walls around our hearts. Recently, knowing that my heart can easily get rocky, I decided to pay attention to every little thing that made a threat to my heart in a single day. I thought there would be many things, but was shocked when it became blaringly clear just how many things posed a threat in a 24 hour period. It was so unsettling that I went to bed, that night, praying Song of Solomon 5:2 over myself, "I sleep, but my heart is awake.", asking God to be at my heart's door, even in the middle of the night.
I could bombard you with a vast array of things that threaten to harden our hearts, but I'll make a short, short list here just to possibly provoke some awareness for us all:
* Sin (those things that we do when we forget who we really are) * Religion * Offence * Injustice (To me and to others.) * Small Beginnings * Taking on other people's hardness of heart. * People not getting our heart and even misrepresenting it. (For me, probably the worst) * Not getting your way. * That person who is just moseying in front of your car when you're trying to make that turn and they look right at you like, "I know you want to go, but Imma walk slow as I want....then they mosey in the next crosswalk that's in your turn!! :)
OK, now for the GOOD NEWS! ("Oh thank God! Todd's email was getting depressing and hardening my heart!":). We don't have to live with a stoney heart! NO! True worship, fellowship with Holy Spirit, contemplating Jesus' heart, consuming His Word, setting our minds and keeping them set on "things above" and being outward (putting others above ourself) like Jesus is, will tenderize and soften our hearts. The TRUTH will set us free! One thing I've decided will be my normal, every morning, is to hold out my hands in surrender and say to the Lord, "Tenderize and soften my heart." I've done this when I can see the signs of it going the other way throughout the day and most of the time there is an instant shift. Also, I'm learning to be really intentional in the middle of situations....like with the crosswalk moseier (that's probably not a real word). I would ask God to give me His heart for that person and immediately He gives me a word for them. Now my heart is tender and I'm thinking His thoughts toward that person, rather than letting a silly little thing do something yucky to my core.
In conclusion here I would like to make a declaration over you by adding to one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies, "The Help": You is KIND. You is SMART. You is IMPORTANT. You is a SOFT-HEARTED PERSON. You is AWARE THAT EVERYONE ELSE IMPORTANT TOO. You is LOVED BY A PERFECT FATHER.
(this article is a bit longer than most I write, but if you have 10 minutes, I believe it’s worth the read…)
In the mid-90’s to the early-2000’s, I was part of a wave of the Lord’s refreshing and healing that seemed to cascade over major parts of the world. It was easy to sense and experience his presence, healing was prolific, and joyful laughter was a hallmark in our gatherings. While recently reminiscing on that, the Lord took me back to my body-surfing days growing up as a teenager. And in a movie-like fashion, I was reliving a common occurrence…
I’m just finishing riding a good wave when I turn back to the ocean and see an even bigger and better wave coming. At first I have to force my body against the current of the previous wave and surrounding water that’s still making it’s way to the shoreline. I can feel the muscles in my legs straining stride by stride to get out in time to catch the bigger wave, my arms also tugging against the water to get there faster. Then, just before arriving at the new wave, the water suddenly changes direction as the next wave is now powerfully sucking me in towards it. I flip around and start swimming with all the strength I have left as the wave suddenly lifts me up, up, up and forward with a massive force. The exhilaration of it all engulfs me.
The Lord has been impressing upon me that the followers of Jesus are experiencing something very similar. Some of you may be old enough to remember the sweetness and power of the mid-90’s to early-2000’s and it was a sweet wave to be sure. But since then I feel as though we’ve been in a prolonged season of pushing against a strong current to position ourselves for a bigger wave that we all have felt is coming for quite some time. We’ve all done our best to keep standing in the strength of the Lord (Ephesians 6:13) even though it’s been hard at times and the enemy of our souls has tried his best to get us to believe that no other wave is on the way…
BUT GOD! God is always faithful and the next wave is quickly approaching. Many of us have been feeling the increasing glorious presence in our Saturday night gatherings at Blazing Fire over the past few months. I’m feeling the drawing of His Spirit, the very force that is pulling us up, up with a massive force that’s far beyond our own strength. He has been telling me that this world-wide wave that’s pulling us in and up and forward will far surpass what we saw two decades ago. Why? Because the Holy Spirit has since given the follower of Jesus an understanding and a passion to be sure that this next move of God isn’t confined to the church, but that it impacts all aspects of society around us. Can you imagine the impact as God’s sweet presence, his joy, and his healing finds its way through the followers of Jesus into each of the 7 mountains of society so that we see strong families, a victorious church, godly governments, biblical education, excellence in business, positive influence through media and redemptive arts & entertainment? That’s what’s coming!
We just crossed over into the New Year in the Hebraic Calendar: 5779, and we are in the middle of the 10 days of Awe where the Lord is releasing wisdom and fresh revelation and fresh vision for the year ahead. Listen to the voices of the prophets and what they are declaring we’ve just crossed into. And as you do, cling to the words that resonate in your spirit and claim them as your own:
“Your season of promotion and seven-fold repayment is here" (Doug Addison, Los Angeles, CA)
"As we crossover into 5779, I heard the Lord decree: 'This is the year where everything changed!'" (Lana Vawser, Brisbane, Australia)
“This year is a time of birthed destiny because you waited for God’s best!” (Michael Russo, Rochester, NY)
“This is a marker year—God’s goodness will be revealed.” (Kathi Pelton, Portland, OR)
"5779 Will Be a GOOD Year! It will be a time of birthing God's promises for you. It will be a time of recovery as you experience the harvest of your labors and a time of fruitfulness as you experience God's goodness. Don't give up before you get to the open door God has for you.” (Joni Ames, Rock Hill, SC)
God is inviting His sons and daughters to seize this moment in time. We are in a time where Holy Spirit is saying, "It's not time to stare at the open door or opportunities, but it's time to step through and occupy the door to possess your inheritance." Over the next few months, God says, "Get ready for suddenlies, shifts, and surprises!" (Torrey Marcel Harper, New York, NY)
Everything is going to speed up spiritually. New prophetic movements will come with unbelievable clarity, prophesying life back into what has died or been stolen by the enemy. Women will come forth to blaze new trails and bring unity to cities and nations. The arising will prepare for the glory to come for the greatest move of God ever. (Ray and Renaid Almgren, Monroeville, PA)
I believe we have entered into a season where things are going to be so accelerated, mind-boggling miracles will become second nature. It's a season where when we decree a thing, it happens instantly. I believe we will see the Lord bring healing to the sick, the dying and those who are being held captive in such a powerful, swift release. I see so many sudden manifestations of the miraculous which bring the Lord's glory. You won't believe it, until you SEE it. (Michele Cole, El Dorado Springs, MO)
"Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days at you would not believe, even if you were told." (Habakkuk 1:5)
From creation, God’s intention has been to walk with us in loving community and friendship. Before having to leave the garden, Adam was walking with God in the cool of the day. Abraham was called a friend of God, as was Moses, who knew His ways while the children of Israel just knew His actions. David had such a relational connection to God that he was called a man after God’s own heart. We see beautiful snapshots of the type of bond we all were always meant to have with God in the Old Testament, yet somehow, humanity got into a distant, disconnected, taskmaster-slave mentality driven by what God is “supposed” to do and what we’re “supposed” to do in exchange.
Enter: Jesus, the Game Changer! Jesus fully divine, became fully human and fully connected to His heart to physically love on humanity and show us what we were always created for. He came to show us what heaven truly looks like and this, My Friends, is where we discover that heavenly perspective is a whole new ball game! He says, "You think you know who God is? Nah, let me show you!" "You think you know what leadership is? Here, let me show you!" "You think you know what friendship is? Let me show you!" He broke into humanity’s limited perspective, showing us the kingdom realities of what we thought we knew. He does the same for us today and as He does this, I am acutely aware of how much I personally don’t know.
In my personal friendship with God, I press in and ask questions when He does something beyond my scope of understanding. I ask, “Jesus, how were you able to be so present and vulnerable with people that often misunderstood you?” Most recently, I’ve been wondering, “How were you able to be totally vulnerable with Judas, sharing so openly with him even though you knew he was the one to betray you? How were able to not change the way you loved him? Were you even a little tempted to leave a corner of dust or donkey poo on his foot when it was time to wash his feet?”
Ultimately, the way I learn this type of love is by asking these questions and having this level of intimacy in the first place. As I learn that God never intended to be my taskmaster… I stop trying to be His. Our relationship moves past lists and demanding requests camouflaged as prayers and turns into something beautiful; a place where we can safely exchange with Him and Him with us. A place where we can see and know His heart, and open ours for him to see. Therefore, discovering that God “never called [us] servants…”( John 15:15, TPT) messes me up in the best way possible. We’re free to participate in this everlasting friendship that grows, stretches, and deepens.
Much of discipleship is about overcoming an orphan spirit and poverty spirit. The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, to block our inheritance - this has been the enemy’s strategy since Genesis 3 and this is what Jesus came to save us from.
Jesus came as a man and lived fully as a Son and as an heir. He died and rose again to give us ALL, in Christ, access to the same. Many believers have accepted Jesus’ provision of forgiveness, but are still living as orphans, disconnected from inheritance. In giving us life, Jesus restores our connection to God as Father. In giving us abundant life, He restores our access to inheritance.
While on the journey of discovering who we are as sons and daughters, the answers are not found at the surface - they are found in the depths of our hearts and there is a Tour Guide who knows those depths better than anyone or anything; His Name is Holy Spirit.
The role of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to lead us into Sonship. He works within us to restore our relationship with the Father. He speaks to us about who we are, whose we are, and the inheritance we have access to as a result of our identity as sons and daughters.
It’s not an easy path, but as we choose to embrace the process of living wholeheartedly, we begin to realign ourselves to how God originally designed, created, purposed and destined us for.
Growing up I picked up the message that love meant obligation and loyalty, not tenderness or affection. So when I encounter someone with a kind and gentle heart, I find myself both pleasantly surprised and deeply moved. I’m the one who’s always crying at the tender moments in a movie. My heart has always yearned for such kindness, but it has been a journey to learn how to trust and receive what my heart truly needs.
God’s Kindness Frees Us to Change Romans 2:4 describes the power of kindness: “It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance”. He knows that the last thing we expect if we are struggling is to be met with understanding. The world-and sometimes the church-would tell us to feel ashamed if we make a mistake, to expect rejection. Frustrated parents and leaders in our lives have sought to motivate us with judgment or blame. It doesn’t really work, but people do it anyway.
Safe and Tender Arms of Love But God says, “if a change is needed in your life, come to Me and I will not only receive you, I will adore you and enjoy you. I will listen and be attentive to you. I may not agree with your perspective, but that does not alter in any way My profound affection for you. I understand how situations and people have hurt you, and how much you need My help to move past them. Just come to Me, and let Me come to you, and in My safe and tender arms of love all things are transformed.”
Disarmed by Perfect Love Kindness opens up a space that frees us to be vulnerable and honest with our feelings without the fear of rejection. God is so brilliant; He understands our hearts so well. With His open arms of acceptance and tender eyes of compassion we can lower our self-protective walls and allow our true selves to be seen. With one glance of His eyes, with an unveiling of His true heart to ours, we encounter unconditional grace. When we receive tenderness and not judgment the need to guard ourselves dissolves. We can step into that broad place of being seen and known as we really are.
Come Hungry and Receive, Freely! The Prophet Isaiah encourages us to come hungry and open as God lavishes His unconditional love upon us. His goodness and His tender mercies are-the only things that can truly satisfy our soul:
“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David. Is 55:1-3 NLT
His covenant promise to you is to pour unfailing, unconditional love upon you continuously, in every situation, no matter what the circumstances. Come and receive what has already been paid for; the only condition He makes is that you open up your heart to receive and believe!
I gave my heart to Jesus when I was 12. I discovered on that day that Jesus was so much more than a historical figure who had done amazing things. He was alive and he loved me and gave his life for me. By God’s grace alone I was able to recognize him as my Savior, and so I began a journey with him that’s traversed more than 43 years. I wish I could say that because of my brand new life in Christ, I was completely done with my old ways and that I never made any more poor choices that hurt myself and wounded others around me. That just wouldn’t be true. The truth is, I’ve needed the grace of my Savior Jesus each of the nearly 16,000 days since giving my heart to him.
In Luke 15:4-6, Jesus tells a story describing the true heart of God. It’s a story of a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep in the field to go find one who is lost. He paints a vivid picture of our heavenly Father’s heart who will go to any lengths to search for and find a wandering child of his. This story also conveys the joy of heaven (not punishing or shaming) when that lost one is brought back again. So just who is that lost sheep Jesus is talking about? As I’ve tried to convey, we all need a Savior each and every day of our lives. And what does a Savior do? He saves us! The Greek word for salvation (sozo) is not a “once and done” word, but it is an ongoing action of One who continually saves, delivers, sets free and makes us whole in every way imaginable. Jesus didn’t just save us at one point in our lives, such as when I was 12, Jesus saves us and saves us and saves us. Each of us is that lost sheep on more occasions than we even know.
Every time we forget who God has made us to be as carriers of light and we allow the hiddenness and shame of darkness to creep back into our lives, we’re that lost sheep. Every time we cut ourselves down and get mired in discouragement, hopelessness and despair, we’re that lost sheep. Every time we refuse to forgive another, we’re that lost sheep. Every time we go back to trying to figure our lives out on our own, we’re that lost sheep. This description could go on and on but I’m sure you get the point.
There is a Savior who is seeking you out at this very moment! Respond to his love! Jesus, I need you! Carry me back to safe places. Tell me again why you died for me and why you chose me. Remind me how much you love me. You’ve always loved me! You see the treasure in me. You have good plans for me. I can’t do this on my own. Thank you for saving me and saving me and saving me. I choose to rest in your embrace of forgiveness and grace and love!
Lean into this promise from Jesus to you: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-20, Message)
What’s our response to such grace and kindness? Love and gratitude to our sweet Father, our sweet Jesus and our sweet Holy Spirit. Oh, and there's one more response: the privilege and joy of carrying his heart of forgiveness and love to a whole lot of lost sheep out there who are looking for hope and needing a Savior just as much as you do.
For this week's encouraging email, I was drawn to share this piece by Rich Oliver. Rich and his wife Lindy oversee The River Revival Network. The pastors of Blazing Fire have their ordination through this network. As you read this, consider how you've grown, how you've changed over time because of God's love and interactions with you. And then, please express your gratitude and wonder! Russ Fochler
I Am Better by Rich Oliver
I love how God is always helping me grow.... When I get angry with someone or frustrated with their actions, I find myself taking a moment and talking to God.
What begins as my pleas for justice or complaints of criticism or cries of pain ends with me contemplating things that I could have done better, ways I could have reacted in love, ways that I carelessly spoke out of turn...
Usually, I am humbled and silenced by how much I still have left to learn.
It's so easy to get caught up in the moment. Pride can flare up in a flash. Emotions can cloud good judgment. A perceived slight builds into a quest for retribution. All too quickly I can slip back into behavior that I know is not reflective of who I am in Christ, and Holy Spirit begins working in me.....again!
God is showing me that I am better. I don't have to give into pride, I don't have to react in turn, and I don't have to inflict pain just because I am hurting.
I am better.
I am better because God loved me enough to send His Son. I am better because His Son chose to die for my sins. I'm better because when I chose to accept His Son as my Savior, I received forgiveness, love, redemption, and His Holy Spirit! On top of that, I am counted as a joint heir with Christ, I am a victor not a victim, I am a overcomer not overcome!
I am better.
As this better person, I can respond in a better way to the world around me. I don't have to sink to the level of the world around me. I don't have to make hasty decisions that leave lasting scars. I'm not always the victim, but in the Power of the Holy Spirit, I can be victorious in every situation.
NO, it’s not always easy. NO, I'm not all the way there yet. Sometimes it literally hurts to swallow back that smart retort or respond in love to anger. But knowing God is happy with how I'm living and understanding how love can change any circumstance is helping me grow.
Knowing that I can do in HIM, makes me want to do it all the more. God's growing me... and I love it!