Jeremiah 9:23-26 – This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches,  but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.  “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh–  Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”
It’s great fun and a tremendous blessing to see the harmony of God’s Word in both the Old and New Testaments. Today’s text is a perfect example.
We often think discussion of God’s desire for a circumcised heart is the exclusive domain of the New Testament (and St. Paul in particular). However, this truth can be found in the Old Testament as well. Jeremiah 9 reveals God’s desire for this was not exclusively a New Testament phenomenon.
Israel regularly confused its position before God as a token of only the external. “It’s because our flesh has been circumcised that we are in good stead with God,” they seem to say. But it was never that. Instead, their physical circumcision was to be an outward expression of the inward disposition of their heart toward God. Our sacraments of baptism and communion function in a similar way. The external acts are not magical. They are outward and visible signs of God’s inward and spiritual grace in our lives. Going through the motions is not what counts. Our response of faith to God’s grace is.
Jeremiah prophesied God would one day punish those who relied solely on outward (even ethnic) expressions of religiosity. Jesus never had much good to say about mere external expressions of one’s faith. He likened such conduct to whitewashed tombs that were full of dead men’s bones. They looked pretty on the outside, but inside they were grotesque.
God’s Desire for You
This has been God’s desire for us from the very beginning. Abel gave to God from the best of his first fruits. He inwardly wanted to please God we are led to believe. There was no “going through the motions” for Abel.
How is with it with you?
Has your heart been consecrated to the Lord God Almighty? Is he your exclusive Master? Do you give him the first fruits of your time, talent, and treasure? Or, is God sharing the throne with you, receiving only what is left over in your life? The truth is, God will have none of that. He wants all of you, in every sphere of your life.
Why not lay all of your life on the altar before God as a living sacrifice of praise. I don’t know about you, but I know God can do a lot more with my life than I can. Why not let him have it – all of it – for his glory and your good.
Do you find yourself simply “going through the motions” in your spiritual life? Prayer? Bible Study? Worship? Why do you think that is? What are some ways you can renew your commitment to the Lord and focus on the inward motivation of your heart?
Grace and Truth,
Ecclesiastes 3:11 - [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Great saints of God have beautifully, if feebly, attempted to capture the height and depth and weight of such a majestic verse as this. In his Confessions, Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Pascal’s oft-quoted words that people have a God-shaped vacuum in their hearts only God can fill strike a similar note.
We do have a longing in our hearts for eternity, or better, the God of eternity. Perhaps C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory, best expressed this deep desire of our hearts. He wrote,
In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness… I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each of one of you – the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence… We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.
…The books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire, but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing in itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Eternity has been placed in our hearts by the King of eternity. Our longing is a homesickness of sorts. For though this is our Father’s world and was created good, it is now fallen. And when touched by the Holy Spirit we can no longer remain content with the things of this world alone, things that are temporal and destined to fade away.
Perhaps some do not experience such a longing for their true homeland because their hearts and minds are not yet set on things above where Christ our King is seated. Perhaps the ravages of sin have so infected their hearts and minds that a shadow has veiled their sight. We can only pray that the same gracious and sovereign Spirit who touched and re-created us will do the same for them.
In the end there is no end, for we were created for eternity. We are pilgrims and aliens traveling in a foreign land, longing for the City of God, not built with human hands, but eternal in the heavens.
May the longing of our hearts for things unseen serve as our true north, that we might one day arrive Home.
Have you ever sensed the longing described by C.S. Lewis? Describe that experience. Did you find that you tried to locate the feeling in something temporal or were you able to understand it was pointing beyond itself, to something eternal? What are some ways you could explain this experience to an unbelieving friend as a way of introducing them to God?
Grace and Truth,
Caveat: It's hasn't been (and will not become) my practice to include videos with these columns. However, the clip below is one of my favorite scenes out of 12 hours worth of The Lord of the Rings. It doesn't completely capture what I wrote, but it's in the ballpark.
Jeremiah 32:38-39 - They will be my people, and I will be their God.  I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.
The Promise Keeper
Our covenant-making, covenant-keeping God is ever pursuing and sustaining us. This passage from Jeremiah reminds us of this. God’s people had done every abominable thing imaginable in rebellion against God. They disobeyed him, ignored him, and chased after idols. And there were consequences. There always are.
Yet God had made a promise to Israel’s ancestors. And God keeps his promises.
A Promise Renewed
God once again renewed his covenant and declared he would draw his people back to him. Furthermore, he said he would “give them singleness of heart and action, so that they [would] always fear [him]…” What a blessing it is to have a single-minded passion and mind for God and the things of God – to serve him only! Such single-mindedness gives birth to a proper fear, or reverence, of God. For it is when we cease to fear God that we wander off in our own direction, after idols.
Compared to God, we are mere babes who do not know what is good for us. God has our good in mind, but not at the expense of his glory and honor. He will never sacrifice or compromise his character just so we can feel good about ourselves.
Pray for Revival
We must pray, even now, that God will revive our weary hearts, minds, and souls with singleness of heart and action so it might go well with us. But not only for us, but also for our children, the text reminds us. For God seldom works only with an individual in mind. Instead, he makes and keeps covenant with families and communities in mind – for a thousand generations.
Let us remember our covenantal faithfulness affects more than just ourselves. It touches those in our lives whom we may never even know in this life, but who may yet do great things for God. Let’s also remember our unfaithfulness has consequences as well.
O Lord, give us a singleness of heart for you and your Kingdom all the days of our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.
Our hearts, minds and souls must be awakened by God. Today, start praying for your own revival and that of your family, church, workplace, community, city, nation, and world. Develop a weekly prayer-schedule that will include all these spheres of influence. Ask the Lord to give you a singleness of heart and mind for him and his Kingdom.
Grace and Truth,
Psalm 63:1 – O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Longing for God
I think I know what it means to thirst for God, to long for him, to hunger for him.
When I Feel Close to God
I believe there are two different circumstances in which I experience this longing. One is when I have been walking closely with the Lord. I feel it when I am spending much time with him in his Word, in prayer and meditation, in worship, in the reading of books by godly authors, and so on. The more I am with him, the richer my time with him, the more I discover I want to be with him, the deeper I desire to go in my relationship with him. There is a true sense of longing during such times.
When I Feel Far Away
And yet, as strange as it sounds, during those times in my life of spiritual draught and depression, I also long for him. However, there’s something qualitatively different about the feeling. When things are going well in my walk with the Lord, it seems my deeper longing for him will yield great fruit. I almost expect a rich encounter with him. Yet, when I feel distant from him, though I still long for him, I wonder if I’ll ever have again with God what I once had. It’s almost a “longing of despair.” Have you ever experienced that?
My experience is a good example of why it’s often unsafe to put too much stock in our feelings. Our feelings are fickle and they have the capacity to lead us astray. Not only that, but there are many things that can affect our feelings, such as our health, our sleeping patterns, our diet, the time of day, and our relationships. I often treasure my feelings, but I am very aware of how unreliable they can be.
It’s when we gauge our spiritual life based on our feelings that we can get ourselves into trouble. For example, one day with the Lord may be a wonderful blessing and you may be tempted to think you should be canonized as a saint. Yet, another day might yield the opposite experience and you may begin wondering if you’re even a Christian at all.
Instead of living on that sort of spiritual roller-coaster, wisdom calls us to trust in the Lord always and continue plodding along with him every day, regardless of our feelings or circumstances.
God Himself is Our Reward
Hebrews 11:6 says God rewards those who earnestly seek him. Deuteronomy 4:29 tells us if we look for the Lord with all of our heart and soul, we will find him. In these verses, and others throughout Scripture, we are encouraged by the Lord himself, to seek him. His promise is we will be rewarded by finding him. You see, God is the reward!
Feelings are great. God gave us feelings. But they too are affected by sin which often makes them unreliable. Therefore, don’t put all your trust in your feelings but in the God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He alone is the One we are called to seek, thirst, and long for. He alone is worthy of such a grand pursuit.
Walking Points: When do you find yourself most desiring God? During what circumstances in your life do you feel the greatest distance from God? Closest to God? What can you do today that will help you more faithfully “plod along” with God during the good times and the bad times? Share your insights with a friend.
Grace and Truth,
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