Back on November 1, 2022, I published a blog post on this blog titled, “A Month of Gratitude.” Since that time, I made a list of all the things I’m grateful for, and I have tried to remember every morning when I first wake up and often before I get out of bed to thank God for each and every item on that list. Some of the items on that list include thanking God for his grace, mercy, forgiveness, protection, guidance, friendship, peace, salvation, unfailing love; for his help, his patience, his kindness, his healing, his presence, his joy, his Word (the Bible). I thank him for always being available 24/7 through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit, and for being my Savior and Lord through Jesus Christ. Sometimes the list is longer, sometimes shorter–like on Sunday mornings when I rush around getting ready for church as I hate being late for anything.
Last week I had the opportunity to take a look back at the past 14 years of my life. I wrote about it in a post on Substack.com, founded in 2017, and a new writing venue for me that I decided to try out, in a post titled, “What’s It All About, Alfie?” Sometimes I can get very somber looking back on the past couple of decades of my life that turned out to be nothing like I ever thought they would turn out to be at this later time in my life. To say I was clueless back then about the “inner workings” of life on Planet Earth is an understatement. I have discovered more about life during these past 14 years then, quite frankly, I ever wanted to know regarding how life actually operates at the unspoken and hidden levels all around us, yet it has been instrumental in my understanding of how the world operates including in my own set of circumstances.
Sometimes I find myself wallowing in self-pity which is one of the most unlovely of human traits. I ask questions of God like why didn’t I ever marry? Why didn’t I ever have children? Why didn’t I have what looks to be a “normal American life” as we (e.g., young women in my generation) were told to expect as in “that’s just the way life is” back then. Well, as I have gone through life, I never “fell in love” and that is the biggest reason I never married. My parents divorced (and it was an ugly divorce) when I was 12 back in 1964, so that no doubt has something to do with it. I was terrified of ending up like my mom (whom I loved very much–see this post published on July 25, 2012) who had a hard life after the divorce, and she died when she was 54.
During the years when I dated, I kept waiting for a “Prince Charming” type to show up, but he never did (that’s because “Prince Charming” only exists in fairy tales). And for me, without marriage, there wasn’t going to be any children, either, as it was drummed into me from the time I was a teenager that sex outside of marriage would bring down the wrath of God. I was more scare of the wrath of God than anything else, even though people can be very mean, too. However, God is, well, he’s God; and my fear of God was far greater then disappointing some guy (actually, a bunch) who I refused to sleep with during the years I dated (and at times I was beginning to wonder if guys ever thought of anything else). I hated dating, and I gave up on it in my early 50’s.
It’s funny the images we conjure up when we think about God and who he is. I remember a really good small book that was first published in 1953 and it is still in print today titled, “Your God Is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike,” by J.B. Phillips (1906-1982), English Bible translator, author and Anglican clergyman. He is most noted for his New Testament translation, “The New Testament in Modern English.” As of this writing, a 92-page PDF of “Your God Is Too Small” is available at this link.
The book is broken up into two parts: Part One: Destructive (Unreal Gods), and Part Two: Constructive (An Adequate God). There is a long list in the “Destructive” section that I’m sure many of us can relate to–here are some of the chapter titles: “Resident Policeman,” “Parental Hangover,” “Grand Old Man,” “Meek-and-Mild,” “Absolute Perfection,” “Heavenly Bosom,” “God-in-a-Box,” “Managing Director,” “Second-hand God,” “Perennial Grievance,” “Pale Galilean,” and “Projected Image.” Today we could add even more names to the “unreal Gods” list that we find posing as God in our lives.
From my earliest memories as a small child, I have always believed in God and Jesus Christ, and it has always been as natural as breathing. I have never doubted God’s existence, although at times many of the descriptions we come up with for God as described in the book above obscured my vision of who God really is. It has been through my most recent life experiences since the beginning of the 21st Century that I began to understand who God really is aside from our false perceptions of him. Words are mostly inadequate to explain what I have learned over this time period, but God has seen me through some very difficult situations, and I have come to understand that what the New Testament writers describe about the Christian life back then is still very much a part of what it means to be and live as a Christian today. It’s not all about glitz and glamour, or promises of materialism and wealth, educational attainment, social status and accolades, a perfect marriage (at least on the outside) and (hopefully great) kids, a cushy retirement, or a successful life as “success” is defined by society–read the findings in a 2019 Gallup poll titled “Americans’ Perception of Success in the U.S.” That is not to say that there is anything wrong with any of those things, but that’s not God’s definition of success. That is strictly outward trappings, and God is far more concerned with our heart attitude.
So what does our “heart attitude” entail? Joyce Meyer states that following in the opening to her article titled “Heart Attitudes”:
When God asks for our heart, He is asking for our entire life, which includes our personality, character, body, mind, emotions. The heart is the real person, not the person everybody sees. (Quote source here.)
A devotional reading I read this morning referenced some verses written by Paul found in Ephesians 4:17-32 & 5:1-20. In the NIV the subtitle for that portion of Ephesians is “Instructions for Christian Living”:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A “hardening of the heart” is one of first signs that there is something wrong in our lives (and it’s the easiest for us to dismiss in ourselves). In an article published on July 1, 2021, titled, “What Does the Bible Say Are the Signs of a Hardened Heart?” by Pam Morrison Ministries, the article mentions these seven signs of a hardened heart:
A hardened heart is basically a heart that is unmoved by things others would be compassionate about. It is a heart that is rebelling against God. But, there’s more. Here is a list of 7 strong warning signs that a heart has hardened and needs repair:
- Lack of ability to perceive, remember, or grasp events or ideas coming from God.
- Insensitivity to sin, sinfulness.
- Failure to follow God’s commands, the way of Jesus, the voice of the Holy Spirit.
- Arrogance and pride.
- One is easily offended, resentful, lacks ability to forgive.
- Indifference to the Word of God.
- Unbelief, drawing away from God. (Quote source here.)
We could add to that list how we treat others (as in all others) including those we don’t like or we gossip about. Do we have a hidden agenda regarding others who we don’t think quite “fit in”? And how does that relate to how we treat them behind their back (but not to their face)? Are we unmoved by how we treat others we don’t like even if we do it deceptively?
Other ways that our hearts can be hardened that are brought out in the article above are complaining and ingratitude, disappointment, and a lack of forgiveness. Nobody is perfect, but to let these things fester in our lives are deadly to us and our relationship with God.
Regardless of the circumstances I have found myself in over the past couple of decades, and in spite of what I have learned about life in general that I had no clue about back then, the message I have been receiving from God over and over and over again is to not let any of it turn into bitterness towards anyone or any situation, and to be open as to what God is doing in the world in every circumstance with a heart of gratitude.
Is it easy to do? No, it is not, and don’t let anyone make you think that it is. But it is so necessary especially in keeping an open communication with God. God is not a “meanie” looking down from heaven with a frown on his face when we fall short (as we tend to do on a regular basis); but he wants us to see him as he really is and as David knew him to be in the many psalms that David wrote including Psalm 23 that opens with, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want….”
I’ll end this post with the words of David from another psalm he wrote after one of his biggest failures. It is found in Psalm 51:10-17:
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit…
A broken and contrite heart…
Will not despise….
YouTube Video: “Heart of the Father” by Ryan Ellis:
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