Saturday, March 01, 2008

A Burning Heart

It is one of my fundamental beliefs that God speaks to us. He speaks to us as individuals and as a church family. If this is true than it is absolutely critical that we learn how to hear God’s voice. Here is a question I would like you to consider: How do we know that God has spoken to us?

One of the major figures in the Old Testament is the prophet Moses. Most of us are somewhat familiar with his story. He was born to Jewish parents, grew up in the court of Pharaoh as the adopted son of his daughter, killed an Egyptian in order to protect an Israelite, and ran into the desert to escape Pharaoh’s wrath. 

In the desert he became a shepherd, and for 40 years he watched sheep for his father-in-law Jethro. One day, when Moses was 80, while he watched sheep a strange sight caught his eye. He saw a bush that was on fire but the bush did not burn up. Moses turned aside to see this incredible sight, and from the bush came the voice of God. From the burning bush God called Moses to return to Egypt and confront Pharaoh.

 Wouldn’t things be so much simpler for us if God called us that same way? Things would seem to be clearer and we would be able to forge ahead certain of what God wanted us to do. The problem is that burning bush moments are rare. In fact even in the Bible we only read about it happening once. Abraham didn’t have a burning bush moment, Samuel didn’t have a burning bush moment, David didn’t have a burning bush moment, nor did Isaiah. Only Moses had this moment with God before the burning bush. But that doesn’t mean God has stopped revealing His will to people. History is full of people, both good and bad examples, who have received a word from God that shaped the rest of their lives.

 Fundamental to this sermon is this idea Henry Blackaby wrote about in his excellent study Experiencing God: “God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways” (back cover of workbook). As we seek to move forward to become the people God has created us it will be very important for us to grab hold of this truth. God is speaking to us! What is it like when God speaks to us? Is there a booming voice from heaven? Is there a voice in our head? Rather than explain what it is like to hear God’s voice, let me share with you a few examples.

 John Eldredge in his book Wild at Heart wrote about an experience that he had.
“God’s word to me comes in many ways--through sunsets and friends and films and music and wilderness and books. But he’s got an especially humorous thing going with me and books. I’ll be be browsing though a second hand book shop when out of a thousand volumes one will say, ‘Pick me up’...In the introduction to the book that I rose to this day, the author (Gil Ballie) shared a piece of advice given to him some years back by a spiritual mentor: Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive. 
“I was struck dumb. It could have been Balaam’s donkey, for all I was concerned... Reading the counsel given to Bailie I knew it was God speaking to me. I set the volume down and without turning another page and walked out of the bookstore to find a life worth living” (p. 200-201).
Through a short passage from a book Eldredge had his life clarified and he moved forward certain that God had given him the direction.

 Dreams have been a way God has communicated with people throughout history. The summer after I graduated from high school, before I went to Nebraska Christian College, I had a dream that terrified me. In the dream I was with my family and suddenly I noticed my family was moving upwards and I began a slow downward descent. I woke up in a cold sweat and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was telling me that it was time for me stop relying on the faith of my family and to develop a faith that is all my own. That has become a driving force in my life.

 God will use a worship experience to speak. When I was the youth minister at the Stronghurst Christian Church we would go to Christ In Youth Summer Conference each summer. At the start of conference I would tell the students who came that there was something God wanted to share with them and so they needed to pray and ask God to help them hear what He had for them. It was the summer of 2002 and though we had been to Summer Conference for the previous two years this was the first summer that Sarah decided to go with the group. To put it simply Sarah was difficult to deal with. Not that she was a troublemaker, she just had to have things her way. On the van trip down to Summer Conference I could already hear rumblings from the other girls about Sarah. By Wednesday the rumblings had turned to grumblings, and I did what any good youth minister does in those situations, I ignored the problem and hoped that it would go away.

 That night in our youth group time that followed evening worship I asked the question that I always asked at this time: What did God teach you today? That is when Sarah began to share and cry. Now being the sensitive guy that I am I remember thinking at that moment; "please don’t cry." Despite the tears Sarah went on to talk about what God revealed to her during worship: that she had a problem with pride. She asked for the groups' forgiveness for always trying to get her way, and promised to try her best to change her attitude. And she did. Over the next two years there was a noticeable change in her behavior and attitude. When we open our hearts and minds in worship we allow the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to convict us of the truth.

 Through the words and actions of other Christians God will speak to us. At this time in my life I feel like God has called me to focus on my writing. The issue I face is That when I sit down to write I don't feel like I have anything worthy of sharing. It has all been said before. A few weeks ago I was explaining to my brother the dilemma I was facing and he shared with me a nugget of truth that brought clarity into my life. He told me that my responsibility was to share the truth God had given me from my unique perspective. The light bulb turned on and I realized that because of my experiences, education, reading, and relationships made my perspective unique to me alone and by sharing it I might be able to connect a person with God's truth in a way no one else could.

 Other times God might speak to us through a story. J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of such classics as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings wrote an essay about the power of story entitled On Fairy Stories. In it Tolkien wrote; “I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth,’ and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode” (Finding God in the Lord of the Rings; p. x). Have you ever had a story speak God’s truth? King David did.

 One spring when the armies went to war King David decided he would stay in the safety of the palace while Israel’s army went to defend her borders. During this time David discovered the beautiful wife of one of his men, and commits adultery. When Bathsheba learned that she was pregnant, and David realized that his sin cannot be kept secret, he called Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, back from the front line. David hoped that Uriah will spend his R and R with his wife, but Uriah committed himself not experience the pleasures of home while his comrades remained in the field of battle fighting the enemy. Since David cannot hide his sin he decided to have Uriah killed in a staged military accident and marry Bathsheba. So David sent Uriah, a man who would have given his life for David, back to the front carrying his own death warrant. Uriah was killed, David took Bathsheba to be one of his many wives, the child was born, and no questions were asked.

 Then one day Nathan, a prophet of God, came to visit David. Nathan told the king a story about a wealthy farmer with many sheep, and a poor farmer with one little pet lamb. When the wealthy farmer had an unexpected guest drop by he went to his poor neighbor and took the pet lamb so he could have a feast for his guest. David is outraged by the story. The Bible says; “David burned with anger..." This anger was turned to repentance when Nathan revealed, “You are the man.” For a year David did not repent for his sins or make things right, yet through a story God convicted David of his sin. We can assume that David still went to the Tabernacle, still studied the Scripture, and still worshiped God, but none of these things touched his heart with the need to repent. God used a simple story to get past David’s defenses and speak to His heart.

 God speaks to us in various ways. Sometimes it will be unique to us and other times it will be a message for a group of people, but whenever and however God decides to speak we can be confident that God is speaking to us. So how can we know that God is speaking to us?

 In Luke we read about two disciples of Jesus who had an unique encounter with Jesus and from this encounter I believe we will better understand those moments when God speaks to us.
 That same day two of Jesus' followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him. 
He asked them, "What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?" 
They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, "You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn't heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days." 
"What things?" Jesus asked. 
"The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth," they said. "He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago. 
"Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said." 
Then Jesus said to them, "You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn't it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?" Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 
By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, but they begged him, "Stay the night with us, since it is getting late." So he went home with them. As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! 
They said to each other, "Didn't our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?" And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, "The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter." 
Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread (Luke 24:13-35; NLT). 

 These men had what I have come to call a “Burning Heart” moment, and their “Burning Hearts” were the result of Jesus teaching them truth.

Though I do believe that we can discover from this passage in Luke two important truths about experiencing the voice of God in our lives that is not the main point of the text. The primary purpose of the passage is to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. This is essential to remember, for it is the central truth of Christianity. Without the resurrection Jesus’ death is meaningless and his teachings are no better than the philosophies of other religions. Even more than that the resurrection proves Jesus is who He says He is. He is not some good teacher or prophet, rather He is the Son of God. That is the most important lesson that we can take away from this text.

These men have left Jerusalem confused and hopeless. They have witnessed the events of the week, including the crucifixion of Jesus, and they are uncertain what their next move should be. They are crushed by what has happened and all they can think to do is talk about what happened.

It also seems they are confused by the reports they have heard about the empty tomb. They want to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but because of recent events they can’t help believing that the reality is the body has been stolen. As they rehash the events Jesus appears alongside of them, except God kept the disciples from recognizing Him. Jesus entered their discussion and traveled with them until they arrive at the place they were to stay. Jesus joined them, and it is only when they begin to eat that God allowed these disciples to recognize Jesus.

Our Burning Heart moments, those moments when God speaks to our hearts with His truth, will always be the result of an encounter with God. Obviously we are not going to have an encounter with Jesus like the encounter these two disciples had. They were able to see, hear, and touch Jesus. We are forced to relate to an invisible God, who we can’t touch or audibly hear. Nevertheless we can still encounter God today.

Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God wrote, “You never discover truth; truth is revealed. When the Holy Spirit reveals truth to you, He is not leading you to an encounter with God. That is an encounter with God!” (p. 78).

When we understand Truth, that is all that Jesus embodied in His life and the doctrines He taught; it isn’t because we are so wise or the preacher so skillfully explained things, but because the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts.

Sermons, prayer, other Christians, stories, and various circumstances open our hearts to receive the truth God has for us to learn. These things are not the source of the Truth, but are merely the tools the Holy Spirit uses to teach us truth.

One way we know we have encountered God is that we have received clarity or direction for our lives. These disciples came away from their encounter with Jesus with a new and living hope that conquered their despair and sent them running back to Jerusalem to share that hope with the other disciples. All because Jesus revealed Truth to them.

Jesus said; "But when the Father sends the Counselor as my representative--and by the Counselor I mean the Holy Spirit--he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I myself have told you" (John 14:26; NLT).

The Holy Spirit will guide us in truth. The Holy Spirit will remind us and help us understand what Jesus taught. Being taught by the Holy Spirit is the same as being taught by Jesus, for they are the source of Truth.

The second truth about “Burning Heart” moments that we need to remember is that they must be supported by Scripture. In 2 Corinthians 11:14 the Apostle Paul wrote; Even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. Satan can twist our experiences and he can make us have good feelings about things. Satan can get us to believe that Holy Spirit is teaching us the truth while he is distorting what the truth really is.

 So a “Burning Heart” moment isn’t about having a good feeling or even believing that we see things clearly. These are things that Satan can counterfeit and make us believe that he is telling us the truth when in fact he is feeding us lies. How many people have been led astray because they “followed their heart” instead of being true to the truth we find on the pages of Scripture? All the truth we think we have learned needs to be evaluated by the truth we know God has revealed in Scripture. Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God wrote; “Our experiences cannot be our guide. Every experience must be controlled and understood by the Scriptures. The God revealed in Scriptures does not change” (p. 13).

This requires us to be truth seekers in the mold of the Bereans. Acts 17:11 reads; And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those of Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to check up on Paul and Silas, to see if they were really teaching the truth (NLT).

The Bereans made sure that the truth the received was compatible with the truth God had already revealed.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus where hopeless and confused because the events they had witnessed. Jesus came near and talked with them, opened the Scriptures with them, and journeyed with them. The reason these two disciples knew the could trust the hope welling up in there hearts is because they had it confirmed by the Scripture they knew.

When God shares His truth to us through the Holy Spirit He doesn’t intend for us to keep it for ourselves. He intends that we share it with other people so that it maybe be an encouragement and a source of hope to theme as well. Just as John Eldredge went out to find life, just as Sarah asked for forgiveness, and just as David repented of his sin God’s truth comes to us so that we may change our lives and move forward to impact the lives of others with the Good News that has been given to us. 

Here is what I want you to take away from all this talk about “Burning Hearts”: God speaks to provide direction and clarity to our lives. Our lives our filled with moments of uncertainty, of temptation, and disappointment. If we are going to survive with our faith intact and if we are going mature to become like Jesus then we are going to need to hear from God.

What is our responsibility in this?

First, we have believe that God has something to say to us. Second, we need to spend time in the Bible, for the Bible contains all that we need to know for life. There is enough truth on the pages of Scripture that we can spend the rest of our lives trying to apply it. Third, we need to be obedient. As we obey the truth we already know God has revealed to us the more we will hear God. Fourth, it is important to ask God's help in applying the truth He has given to us. Blessed are the poor in spirit, and if we are going to experience God's Kingdom we have to turn to Him for wisdom, strength, and healing.

Burning heart moments provide clarity and direction for life, but we will waste them if we don't apply their truth to our lives. Burning heart moments are all about prompting action in our lives. Their purpose is to help us become the people God created us to be. Are you ready to act on the truth God has for your life?

  • Point to Ponder: God speaks to us so we can live out the life He created us to live.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 24:32
  • Question to Consider: How do we know God has called to us?
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