Developing a Heart for God
Mark 12:30; John 4:24
July 11, 2004
by J. David Hoke
John Bisagno, former pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church tells the story of his coming there to candidate for the position of pastor many years ago. He said that as he entered the auditorium it was dimly lit, with just a few people huddled together. They were singing some old slow funeral type song that was depressing. Later that day he took a walk in downtown Houston and came upon a jewelry store. It was some sort of grand opening and there were bright lights and a greeter at the door to welcome you in with a smile. Inside there was a celebration going on. There were refreshments and people having a good time talking and laughing with each other. They welcomed him and offered him some punch. He said that after attending both the church and the jewelry store, if the jewelry store had offered an invitation, he would have joined the jewelry store!
No wonder our churches are not making much of a real dent in the unchurched of our communities. Vance Havner once said, “Most church members live so far below the standard, you’d have to backslide to be in fellowship. We are so subnormal that if we were to become normal, people would think we were abnormal.” If we show so little signs of life, people will conclude that if we are not dead yet, we are certainly getting sick.
For a church to be genuinely alive, it must be healthy. For the church to be healthy, the Christians that compose it must be healthy. Church health has become the real issue in our age. Church growth has been the issue, but now people are coming to see that church growth is the result of church health. Healthy things grow. Healthy churches grow. Healthy Christians grow.
But what are the characteristics of a healthy Christian life? When you go to the doctor for a check-up, various tests are run which indicate a basic level of health. If your temperature is normal, and your blood pressure falls within a certain range, and your blood work shows the right levels of those things that are supposed to be there and those things that are supposed to be absent, the doctor knows that these characteristics indicate a normally healthy individual. In other words, there are characteristics or indicators of health in the human body. And there are those indicators in the spiritual body as well.
Today we begin a three-week series that will examine six of those characteristics of spiritual health. The first two essential quality characteristics of a healthy Christian life are passionate spirituality and inspiring worship. We have summed these up as developing a heart for God.
There are at least two indicators that we have a heart for God. If we have a heart for God, we will love Him passionately and worship Him enthusiastically.
Loving God Passionately
How do I love God passionately? Jesus gives us four ways to love God. It is found in His reply to the question of someone asking Him to give him the greatest commandments in Scripture. We call Jesus answer the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30 NIV)
He tells us first that you must love the Lord your God with all your heart. To love the Lord with all your heart means to love Him with pure devotion. It’s not enough to give Christ a place in our hearts. We are called to love Him with all of our heart. We are all familiar with how it was when we met that one who captured our heart. We’ve all seen two dreamy-eyed young people looking longingly at one another. We’ve all heard of the “look of love.” When you love someone with all of your heart, you think about them almost all of the time. You long to be with them. They are the priority in your life. We call this being “in love” and it is wonderful.
Being in love is a genuinely thrilling experience. It is so exciting that many people are overwhelmed by it. And to love God with all your heart is much like that. It means that your heart is devoted to Him. It means that you are faithful to Him. He becomes the most important thing in your life. A. W. Tozer once said that, “We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.”
But the love we are to have for God has another characteristic. You are not only to love God with all your heart; you are to love Him with all your soul. The soul speaks of our emotions. To love God with all our soul means that our love for God ought to be full of passion. Indeed, when we think of a love affair, we think of passion. And we are all people of passion. While we may try to deny our emotions, our emotions have a way of rising to the surface in spite of all our efforts to hide them. Now, emotions are good. God created them. And we need to say that it’s OK to express them, especially as we express them in love for God. We ought to be emotional about our love for God.
Unfortunately, our culture is growing more cynical every day. People are disillusioned and have become apathetic. The word apathetic literally means “without passion.” I remember a Peanuts cartoon in which Charlie Brown was talking to Lucy. He remarked about the tragedy of so much apathy in the world today. Lucy responded, “Yeah, it’s terrible. But who cares?”
We cannot afford to be apathetic about our love for God. We must be excited about our relationship with Jesus. We must be passionate. In the Song of Solomon, we hear about the passionate kind of love we ought to have for God. It is likened to the love between a man and a woman. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth— for your love is more delightful than wine.”(Song of Solomon 1:2) Again, we hear: “Show me your face, let me hear your voice.” (Song of Solomon 2:14) And again, “You have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes.” (Song of Solomon 4:9)
Real love is passionate love. To love God with all our soul means that we must be involved with all our emotions in our relationship to Him. And when you’ve really given Jesus all of your heart, then it’s easy to become excited about following Him.
Our love for Christ begins with a pure devotion and expresses itself by being full of passion, but there is yet another element. Jesus says that you are to love the Lord your God with all your mind. This is a love that is thoroughly considered. Loving Jesus doesn’t simply mean turning cartwheels in the aisle. While we ought to be excited about Him and express our emotions, we are not talking about an emotional expression that bypasses the mind. There is a certain brand of Christian teaching that contends that the mind can get in the way of your relationship with God. Now, it is true that when people rely on their own intellectual capacity to figure out God, they always come up short. God cannot be figured out by human minds. And if you wait until you’ve figured it out, you may not get in on the blessing in the process. Our minds can be a hindrance. But our minds can also be a help.
It is clear from the Scripture that God fully intends for our minds to be involved in our love for Him. In Romans 12, we are told that our minds need to be renewed. In 1 Peter we are told to prepare our minds for work. And here, we are told to love God with our entire mind. A mind committed to Christ and being transformed by His renewing power can be a tremendous asset to the Kingdom. Christianity makes sense and anyone who thoughtfully considers the plan of God will soon be able to effectively communicate just how reasonable Christianity really is.
Further, I believe that a mind committed to God will become a mind into which God will pour His wisdom and His knowledge. Think about it: we have a relationship with the God of the universe. He has all wisdom and all knowledge. And as we commit our ways to Him, even our thought processes, He will begin to impart His wisdom and His knowledge to us. All of our mental ability ought to be dedicated to God. When it is, I believe He will show us how to really think. It is said we only use about 10% of our brain. Perhaps God is the one who must activate the other 90%.
Not only are you to love God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind, you are to love Him with all your strength. Christianity is not just a heart dedicated to God, a soul full of passionate love for Jesus, and a mind committed to thoroughly consider the whole Word of God. Christianity must be fully lived out. To love God with all our strength means to love God in all that we do.
In Colossians 3:17 it says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Again in that same chapter, verses 23 and 24 say, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” You see, Christianity that is just in the heart and in the head may be either sentimentalism or intellectualism. For Christianity to be alive, it must be lived out. This is what makes the Christian faith the most powerful force in the world.
There is a notion propagated by some civil libertarians in our country that it is OK to believe whatever you want, as long as you don’t try to practice what you believe in the public arena. But that is not religious liberty at all. To tell a man that he can believe anything he wants is, in itself, nonsense. Of course he can believe what he wants. Who can stop him? Others cannot dictate what you believe in the privacy of your own heart. You can believe what you want in the most atheistic society in the world, but you may not be able to live out that faith in practice. For the Christian faith to be a life-changing, world-altering force, it must be lived out in the lives of those who say they believe. Otherwise, it doesn’t make any difference at all.
To truly love God, you must love Him in all you do. A distinctive Christian lifestyle must be evident in the way you live your life, conduct your business, function on the job, and deal with your wife or husband or children. James tells us that we ought to be “doers of the word.” Christianity becomes powerful as it’s lived out in the marketplace of this world.
Worshiping God Enthusiastically
This brings us to the second characteristic of a healthy Christian life. Christians who have a passionate spirituality marked by a fervent love for God will express that love in the enthusiastic worship of God. This is inspiring worship. But how do we worship God enthusiastically?
Jesus said, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24 NIV) To worship God in spirit and truth means that we worship the true God. It means that our worship should be in honesty and integrity. It means that our worship should be spiritual, full of passion, engaging the whole person, and supernatural in nature. Our worship ought to be inspired and inspiring.
It really does make a great difference when you come to a service in which people are enthusiastic, in which people are praising the Lord, where there is a real celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and of His love for us. Let me again quote Vance Havner: “It’s about time we quit playing church in these services that start at eleven o’clock sharp and end at twelve o’clock dull.” One of our hymns says, “Let the Amen be heard from His people again.” When you are enthusiastic, it shows.
Some of you may know that the etymology of the word enthusiasm traces it back to the Greek words en (meaning in) and theos (meaning God). So enthusiasm means that we are filled with God. Enthusiasm is how someone filled with God acts. To be filled with God is to be filled with life, to be filled with love, to be filled with joy, to be filled with hope, to be filled with faith, to be filled with peace, to be filled with power. How would that make anyone feel and act? Well, they certainly would not act like they were in mourning, would they. No! They would demonstrate life.
It has always struck me as funny how people change when they come to church services. In church they are all solemn and grave. But you take these same people to a social gathering like an office party, birthday party, block party, or ball game, and they suddenly become excited and enthusiastic, and in the case of the ball game, raving lunatics. We are emotional people and emotions are good. In church, we should be free to be enthusiastic in our praise to God. We certainly should be joyful and happy. There is much to be excited about.
We serve a Savior who loves us, a God who has forgiven us, a Lord who provides for our true needs, and a Spirit who empowers us. When you think of all He has done for you, how can you not be excited about Him? We are told in Psalm 100:4 to, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.”
The Scriptures are full of encouragement to praise God. Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! (Psalm 66:1-2) Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music. (Psalm 98:4)
The world needs to see that we are excited about Jesus. So often the image that is portrayed is of a group of people having no fun and seeking to keep anyone else from having any either. But that is not Christianity, the Biblical kind. True worship engages the whole person and is inspired and inspiring.
A. W. Tozer once said, “In the average church service the most real thing is the shadowy unreality of everything. The worshiper sits in a state of suspended mentation; a kind of dreamy numbness creeps upon him; he hears words, but they do not register, he cannot relate them to anything on his own life level. . . . It does not affect anything in his everyday life. He is aware of no power, no presence, no spiritual reality.”
When we just go through the motions we get services like that. But when we prepare our hearts to worship, when we pray for the worship service, when we pray for the preacher, when we focus on the goodness of God, when we make Christ’s kingdom and His righteousness our priority, then we will be at worship, be ready for worship, be enthusiastic (or in God) in worship and our worship will be inspired and inspiring. And people will go away having been encountered by the living God who lives in us.
If you are not loving God passionately and worshiping Him enthusiastically, why not? It could be that you do not know Him, that you are not a true Christian. If you are a Christian, however, then you may have let other things crowd out your love for Him. Jesus spoke to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2 and condemned them for forsaking their first love. He told them to change their minds (repent) and do those things they did at first — when they were in love with Him. Don’t let your love grow cold. If it has then fall on your knees until you get it back.
It was said of King Rehoboam that “he did evil, because he did not prepare his heart to seek the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 12:14 NKJV) We must prepare our heart to seek the Lord. It was said of King Jeroboam that “He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been.” (1 Kings 15:3 NIV) We must surrender our lives to the Lord without any strings attached. And we must seek the Lord with a single-minded devotion. God promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV)
As Christians our lives should be marked by a passionate love for God of pure devotion, full of passion, thoroughly considered and fully lived out. Our gatherings should be marked by enthusiastic worship that comes from a heart full of Christ’s presence and grace. These are marks of a healthy Christian life.
 The six characteristics are taken from Christian A. Schwarz work, Natural Church Development, published by ChurchSmart Resources, Carol Stream, IL. Although Schwarz outlines eight qualities of healthy churches, we will focus on only six and apply them to the individual Christian rather than the church at large.