Today I received a package in the mail from a friend in Florida. It contained two books. After opening it I immediately started looking through each one and found this "thought' which I share with you today. It comes from a book entitled: "Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands." The author is Paul David Tripp, a lecturer at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.
It has to do with how true change takes place in anyone's life, and how that change is really impossible apart from changing a person's heart. For true change, as he points out, is not simply a matter of behavior modification, but deep heart-transformation. Enjoy.
"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.
Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick pigs from thorn-bushes or grapes from briers. The good man brings things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of evil stored up in his heart. For out of the abundance of his heart his mouth speaks." Luke 6:43-45
"If you want to be a part of what God is doing in the lives of others, you need to know how God designed human beings to function. Why do people do the things they do? Why can your toddler be so contrary? Why did your friend get so upset in the middle of the conversation? Why is your teenager so angry? Why is Amy so swallowed up in depression and despair? Why would a man risk his family for twenty minutes of sexual pleasure? Why do you get angry in traffic? Why is that once-romantic couple now engaged in guerrilla warfare? Why is Bill so driven in his career? Why is Sue so critical and controlling? Why does George speak so bluntly and unkindly? Why is your daughter afraid of what her friends will think? Why does Pete refuse to talk? Why do people do the things they do? The simplest and most biblical answer is the heart...
The Bible uses the word "heart" to describe the inner person... or your spiritual self (Ephesians 3:16).... [The heart] encompasses all the other terms and functions used to describe the inner person -- spirit, soul, mind, emotions, will, etc. These terms do not describe something different from the heart, Rather, they are aspects of it... The heart is the real you. It is the essential core of who you are. For example, when you say you are getting to know someone, you are not saying that you have a deeper knowledge of his ears or nose! You are talking about the inner person, the heart. You know how the person thinks, what he wants, what makes him happy or sad. You can predict what he is feeling at any given moment. Because the Bible says your heart is the essential you, any ministry of change must target the heart...
Sin, for instance, has its roots in the evil stored up in the heart (Luke 6:43-45). In Christ's example (in that passage) the roots of the tree equal the heart. They are therefore underground and therefore not as easily seen or understood. Jesus' point is that a tree has the kind of fruit it does because of the kind of roots it has -- we speak and act the way we do because of what is in our hearts... In many ways we deny this connection and blame people and circumstances for our actions and words. Here Christ calls us to accept responsibility for our behavior. He calls us to humbly admit that relationships and circumstances are only the occasions in which our hearts reveal themselves. If my heart is the source of my sin problem, then lasting change must always travel through the pathway of my heart. It is not enough to alter my behavior or change my circumstances. Christ transforms people by radically changing their hearts. If the person's heart doesn't change, the person's words and behavior may change temporarily because of an external pressure or incentive. But then the pressure or incentive is removed, the changes will disappear...This often happens in personal ministry. From a distance it looks as if the person has really changed...But the changes don't last and in six weeks or six months, the person is right back to where he started. Why? Because the change did not penetrate the heart, so changes in behavior were doomed to be temporary.
This is what happens to the teenager who goes through the teen years fairly well under the careful love, instruction and oversight of Christian parents, only to go off to college and completely forsake his faith. I would suggest that in most cases he has not forsaken his faith. In reality, his faith was the faith of his parents; he simply lived within its limits while he was at home. When he went away to school, and the restraints were removed, his true heart was revealed. He had not internalized the faith. He has not entrusted himself to Christ in a life-transforming way. He did the "Christian" things he was required to do at home, but his actions did not flow from a heart of worship. In the college culture, he had nothing to anchor him, and the true thoughts and motives of his heart led him away from God. College was not cause of his problem. It was simply the place where his true heart was revealed. The real problem was that faith never took root in his heart. As a result, his words, choices, and actions did not reveal a heart for God. Good behavior lasted for a while, but it proved to be temporary because it was not rooted in the heart.
Christ's illustration in Luke 6:43-45 establishes three principles that guide our efforts to serve as God's instruments of change in the lives of others:
1.) There is an undeniable root and fruit connection between our heart and our behavior. People and situations do not determine our behavior; they provide the occasion where our behavior reveals of hearts.
2.) Lasting change always takes place through the pathway of the heart. Fruit change is the result of root change -- and the root is the heart... Any agenda for change must focus of the thoughts and desires of the heart.
3.) Therefore, the heart is our target in personal growth and ministry. Our prayer is that God will work heart change in us and use us to produce heart change in others that results in new words, choices, and actions."
If you would like to know how that change takes place, tune in to next weeks' thought. Yes, that's right -- this is my first "to be continued" thought for the week! Until then you may want to consider if you are one of those people who appear to change when things get more peaceful and situations are less tense, but go right back to the old you when those things or situations become tense again. If so, then chances are you are only engaging in behavior control or behavior modification and not true heart change .... which we will look at next week.
Yours in the bonds of Christian fellowship, Pastor Jeff