Day 172

It's the Heart that Matters

Wisdom Proverbs 15:11-20
New Testament Acts 14:8-28
Old Testament 1 Kings 8:22-9:9

Introduction

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. He said, ‘The smile came on my face and my heart was filled with peace.’

Extraordinarily, he was the only one of the group of sixty-nine accused who was acquitted. He told his story, at our Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall. His face radiated the joy of the Lord. 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 at least seventeen times in the passages for today. The Hebrew understanding of ‘the heart’ included the emotions, but it also involved the mind, the conscience and the will. It means everything that is going on inside of you.

All the men and women whom God chose to use greatly had weaknesses and made mistakes. But God saw that their hearts were turned towards him. It is your heart that matters. Your heart lies ‘open before the Lord’ (Proverbs 15:11). Only God sees and knows the heart of every human being (1 Kings 8:39).

Wisdom

Proverbs 15:11-20

11 Death and Destruction lie open before the Lord —
  how much more do human hearts!

12 Mockers resent correction,
  so they avoid the wise.

13 A happy heart makes the face cheerful,
  but heartache crushes the spirit.

14 The discerning heart seeks knowledge,
  but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.

15 All the days of the oppressed are wretched,
  but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.

16 Better a little with the fear of the Lord
  than great wealth with turmoil.

17 Better a small serving of vegetables with love
  than a fattened calf with hatred.

18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
  but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.

19 The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns,
  but the path of the upright is a highway.

20 A wise son brings joy to his father,
  but a foolish man despises his mother.

Commentary

Your face reflects your heart

Some 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’ (v.13). I remember a preacher 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.

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, that you see beyond the outward appearance into my heart. May my face reflect the love and joy you put in my heart and bring encouragement and confidence to everyone I encounter.

New Testament

Acts 14:8-28

In Lystra and Derbe

8 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.

19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

The Return to Antioch in Syria

21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

Commentary

Your heart can be full of joy in spite of outward circumstances

Paul faced huge difficulties but was filled with joy because his heart was right, and he was making a massive difference to the world.

Joy comes from the heart and is not necessarily connected with your outward circumstances. God loves you. He approves of you. Of course, we all have weaknesses and make mistakes but God sees your heart.

Paul 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 the faith with the greatest number of followers in the world today. 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:

1. 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.

2. 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).

3. 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.

Prayer

Lord, thank you so much for the inspiring example of those like the apostle Paul. 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.

Old Testament

1 Kings 8:22-9:9

Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.

25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’ 26 And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.

27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

31 “When anyone wrongs their neighbor and is required to take an oath and they come and swear the oath before your altar in this temple, 32 then hear from heaven and act. Judge between your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing down on their heads what they have done, and vindicating the innocent by treating them in accordance with their innocence.

33 “When your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you, and when they turn back to you and give praise to your name, praying and making supplication to you in this temple, 34 then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land you gave to their ancestors.

35 “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and give praise to your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, 36 then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance.

37 “When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when an enemy besieges them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, 38 and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel—being aware of the afflictions of their own hearts, and spreading out their hands toward this temple— 39 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart), 40 so that they will fear you all the time they live in the land you gave our ancestors.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

44 “When your people go to war against their enemies, wherever you send them, and when they pray to the Lord toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name, 45 then hear from heaven their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause.

46 “When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin —and you become angry with them and give them over to their enemies, who take them captive to their own lands, far away or near; 47 and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly’; 48 and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their ancestors, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; 49 then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. 50 And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their captors to show them mercy; 51 for they are your people and your inheritance, whom you brought out of Egypt, out of that iron-smelting furnace.

52 “May your eyes be open to your servant’s plea and to the plea of your people Israel, and may you listen to them whenever they cry out to you. 53 For you singled them out from all the nations of the world to be your own inheritance, just as you declared through your servant Moses when you, Sovereign Lord, brought our ancestors out of Egypt.”

54 When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the Lord, he rose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven. 55 He stood and blessed the whole assembly of Israel in a loud voice, saying:

56 “Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. 57 May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us nor forsake us. 58 May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors. 59 And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, 60 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other. 61 And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”

The Dedication of the Temple

62 Then the king and all Israel with him offered sacrifices before the Lord. 63 Solomon offered a sacrifice of fellowship offerings to the Lord: twenty-two thousand cattle and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep and goats. So the king and all the Israelites dedicated the temple of the Lord.

64 On that same day the king consecrated the middle part of the courtyard in front of the temple of the Lord, and there he offered burnt offerings, grain offerings and the fat of the fellowship offerings, because the bronze altar that stood before the Lord was too small to hold the burnt offerings, the grain offerings and the fat of the fellowship offerings.

65 So Solomon observed the festival at that time, and all Israel with him—a vast assembly, people from Lebo Hamath to the Wadi of Egypt. They celebrated it before the Lord our God for seven days and seven days more, fourteen days in all. 66 On the following day he sent the people away. They blessed the king and then went home, joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the Lord had done for his servant David and his people Israel.

The Lord Appears to Solomon

9When Solomon had finished building the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and had achieved all he had desired to do, 2 the Lord appeared to him a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. 3 The Lord said to him:

“I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

4 “As for you, if you walk before me faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, 5 I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’

6 “But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. 8 This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ 9 People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.’”

Commentary

Your heart should be fully committed to the Lord

As 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.

We all have weaknesses and make mistakes. But God sees your heart. He loves you and approves of you. Be filled with his joy today.

Prayer

Lord, my heart is turned towards you. Yet, 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 that you fill my heart with joy. Help me to follow you wholeheartedly today.

Pippa adds

Proverbs 15:13

‘A happy heart makes the face cheerful…’

Proverbs 15:13 says, 'A happy heart makes the face cheerful' And smiling at someone might change that person’s day. But it is hard to smile when life is tough.

One of the things 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.

Verse of the Day

Proverbs 15:17, MSG

‘Better a bread crust shared in love than a slab of prime rib served in hate’
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References

Acts of Paul 3, ‘The Acts of Paul and Thecia’, Paragraph 2, in J.K.Elliot, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), p.364.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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