“Taking Your Desires to God”

Scripture: James 4:1-3

Each of the enemies of the heart is energized by the idea that somebody owes something. Guilt says, “I owe you.” Anger is fueled by the notion that you owe me. Greed is kept alive by the assumption that I owe me. This fourth heart issue is no differently. Jealousy. Jealousy says, “God owes me.”

When we think about jealousy or envy, we immediately think of the things others have that we lack—looks, skills, opportunities, health, height, inheritance, etc. We assume our problem is with the person who possesses what we lack. But let’s face it; God could have fixed all of that for us. Whatever he gave your neighbor, he could have given you too. That’s why you may feel inside that he owes you.

Jealousy can terrorize your life and wreak havoc in your relationships. The good news is, this behemoth, like the other three, has a vulnerability. And it’s something you might not expect: stop coveting what others have and start asking God for what he knows is best for you.

As James says, our external conflicts are the direct result of an internal conflict that has worked its way to the surface. We want something but we don’t have it, so we get in fights with others. The desires James is referring to in this passage represent unquenchable thirsts—our thirsts for stuff, money, recognition, success, progress, intimacy, sex, fun, relationship, partnership.

So what do we do with desires and appetites that can never be fully and finally satisfied? James says we take them to the one who created them in the first place. In other words, James is giving us permission to pour out our hearts in an unfiltered conversation with our Creator.

Every concern you have, great and small, matters to the Father because you matter to the Father. Whether it pertains to your love life, your career, your marriage, your parents, your children, your finances, your education, or your appearance, bring it to him. And keep bringing it to him until you find the peace to get up off your knees and face the day, confident in the knowledge that he cares for you.

Let me assure you, your heart will always be dear to his heart.

What is your heart aching for? Spend some time in absolutely free, uninhibited conversation with God about what you feel you lack. Ask him to bless you in the way he knows is best—and to reveal his love to you along the way

“Watching Out for Greed”

Scripture: Luke 12:13-21

The third enemy of the heart? Greed. It’s when we feel that we deserve more and more worldly wealth and goods. Greed says, “I owe me.”

Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” Why? Because of the four heart conditions we’re considering, greed is the most subtle of all. Greed can take up residence in the heart and live there for years undetected. The unguarded heart is highly susceptible to this debilitating disease. It’s difficult to diagnose—especially to self-diagnose.

Jesus went on to uncover the lie that fuels all greed: “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” But doesn’t everybody know that? Do people really believe that their lives are equivalent to what they own? The answer is no and yes. No, not everybody knows that. And yes, there are people who believe that your life is pretty much the sum total of what you own. And many of us today are more prone to this belief than we might imagine.

After telling a parable, Jesus gave his definition of a greedy person: someone who stores up things for himself or herself but isn’t rich toward God. Being “rich toward God” is Jesus-talk for being generous toward those in need. A greedy person is the man or woman who saves carefully but gives sparingly.

Generous giving will break the grip of greed on your life. So whether or not you think you have extra, give and give generously. You’ve got to give to the point that it forces you to adjust your lifestyle. If you’re not willing to give to the point that it impacts your lifestyle, then according to Jesus, you’re greedy. If you’re consuming to the point of having little or nothing left to give, you’re greedy. If you’re consuming and saving to the point that there’s little or nothing left to give, you’re greedy.

I know that’s strong. Actually, it’s harsh.

But it’s true.

Break the power of greed through the habit of generous giving. It’s a habit that changes everything.

Assess your generosity in giving over the last twelve months. What does your charitable giving say about your heart? Pray about what it would look like for you to launch into a new level of generosity in the next twelve months.

“Letting Go of Hurt and Anger”

Scripture: Ephesians 4:25-32

The second enemy of the heart is anger. We get angry when we don’t get what we want.

Show me an angry person and I’ll show you a hurt person. And I guarantee you that person is hurt because something has been taken. Somebody owes them something.

We all know people whose anger could be verbalized in one of the following ways: “You took my reputation.” “You stole my family.” “You took the best years of my life.” “You stole my first marriage.” “You robbed me of my teenage years.” “You robbed me of my purity.” “You owe me a raise.” “You owe me an opportunity to try.” “You owe me a second chance.” “You owe me affection.”

The root of anger is the perception that something has been taken. Something is owed you. And now a debt-to-debtor relationship has been established.

How about you? What debt is causing the anger you feel?

How long are you going to allow the people who have hurt you to control your life? Another month? Another year? Another season of your life? How long?

I’d like to propose that today should be the day when you quit holding on to the hurt!

While it’s true that you can’t undo what’s been done, it’s equally true that you don’t have to let the past control your future. In Ephesians 4, we’re commanded to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger.” We do that by “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

The remedy for anger is forgiveness. If we hold out waiting to be paid back for the wrongs done to us, we will be the ones who pay. If, on the other hand, we cancel the debts owed to us, we will be set free.

Of the four monstrous forces we’re discussing in these devotionals, I believe this one—unresolved anger from intentional and unintentional hurt—is the most devastating. Yet in some ways it’s the easiest to overcome. You simply make up your mind to cancel the debt. You decide and declare, “You don’t owe me anymore.”

Follow this four-step process today: (1) Identify who you’re angry with. (2) Determine what they owe you. (3) Cancel the debt by forgiving them. (4) Don’t let the anger build up again.

“Fessing Up”

Scripture: 1 John 1:5-10

The first enemy of the heart is guilt. Guilt is the result of having done something we perceive as wrong. The message from a heart laden with guilt is, “I owe!”

Consider the man who runs off with another woman and abandons his family. Without realizing it at the time, he has stolen something from every member of his family. He has robbed his wife of her future, her financial security, and her reputation as a wife. From his children’s perspective, this man has stolen their Christmas, traditions, emotional and financial security, dinners with the family, and so on.

Now, the man who did all this doesn’t think in terms of what he has taken. Initially, he thinks in terms of what he has gained. But the first time his little girl asks him why he doesn’t love Mommy anymore, his heart is stirred. He now feels guilty. Dad owes.

Nothing less than paying that debt will relieve a guilty heart of its burden of guilt. People try to work it off, serve it off, give it off, and even pray it off. But no amount of good deeds, community service, charitable giving, or Sundays in a pew can relieve the guilt. It’s a debt. And it must be paid or canceled for a guilty heart to experience relief.

How do you get your guilt canceled? The answer comes in one of the first Bible verses I memorized as a child: 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (kjv).

Confession has the power to break the cycle of sin. And like most medicinal remedies, it works when applied properly. Proper application happens when we confess our sins, not just to God, but also to the people we’ve sinned against.

Guilty people are usually repeat offenders. And as long as you’re carrying a secret, as long as you’re trying to ease your conscience by telling God how sorry you are, you’re setting yourself up to repeat the past. However, if you start confessing your sins to the people you’ve sinned against, odds are that you’re not going to go back and commit those sins again.

Confess both to God and others, and you will slay this enemy of your heart.

What are you feeling guilty for? Confess your sin to God and to whomever you have hurt. Do it today.

“The Simmering Volcano”

Scripture: Matthew 15:1-20

Our tendency is to monitor our behavior while pretty much ignoring our hearts. After all, how do you monitor your heart? I can’t get too far off base in my behavior without somebody drawing it to my attention. But my heart? That seems a bit more complicated.

Jesus said something that still has huge implications today: “The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart,” and then, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts.”

The heart is such a mystery. In fact, one prophet asked of the heart, “Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Good question. The implication is that nobody can. With which I readily concur. And even if we do begin to understand it, we certainly can’t control it—which is all the more reason we need to learn to monitor it. Like the seismic activity of a dormant volcano, what you don’t know can hurt you.

Suddenly someone files for divorce.

Suddenly a kid’s grades drop and his attitude changes.

Suddenly a harmless pastime becomes a destructive habit.

Out of nowhere devastating words pierce the soul of an unsuspecting loved one.

We’ve all seen it, felt it, even caused it. Just as Jesus predicted, what originates in the secrecy of our hearts won’t always remain a secret. Eventually it finds its way into our homes, offices, and neighborhoods.

The heart seeps into every conversation. It dictates every relationship. Our very lives emanate from the heart. We live, parent, lead, relate, romance, confront, react, respond, instruct, manage, problem solve, and love from the heart. Our hearts impact the intensity of our communication. Our hearts have the potential to exaggerate our sensitivities and insensitivities. Every arena of life intersects with what’s going on in our hearts. Everything passes through on its way to wherever it’s going. Everything.

We need the courage to ask the heavenly Father for help to watch over, understand, and purify our hearts. He is eager to respond and to show us how to replace old bad habits of the heart with new and better ones that will in time make us more like his Son.

In the next four days of these devotionals, we’ll be looking at four enemies of the heart that everyone faces.

What do your recent thoughts, words, and actions reveal about what’s going on in your heart? Ask someone close to you for his or her opinion about this as well.

LEADERSHIP QUALIFICATIONS

LEADERSHIP QUALIFICATIONS

Even the prophet Samuel was fooled. When he looked at Jesse’s oldest son Eliab, he naturally assumed that God must have chosen this noble and sturdy young man to be the Lord’s anointed leader. But the Lord makes it clear in this passage that the people he chooses to do great things for him are called on the basis of inward character, not on the basis of outward impressiveness.

Verses 8–11 tell us that Jesse, David’s father, didn’t even include David in the line-up of his sons. He was an afterthought to Jesse. But qualification for leadership is not measured by inches or pounds or degrees or background. What does God look for? Why is it that when Jesse and Samuel were looking at Eliab, God was looking at David? God’s qualifications for leadership are evident in verse 7; read that verse again. For elaboration on what a leader’s heart should look like, flip over to 1 Kings 3:6 (p. 380) and 1 Kings 11:4–6 (p. 393). Whatever else qualifies people for leadership, no one is qualified for greatness—by God’s standard—until their heart is ready.

The leader’s prayer and focus of effort must center here. Skills, intelligence and hard work are all a part of the package. But God reminds us that, in the final analysis, one thing makes the difference. God looks at the leader’s heart.

1 Samuel 16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord‘s anointed is before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.