Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Heart of a Servant

Some memories can be really vivid while others fade into the background. I remember white tile floors, porcelain and steel fixtures, and bright lights. It was in the late 60s. I remember the smell of ammonia and some other chemicals. I remember cushioned chairs covered with vinyl that stuck to your skin if you were sweating. I vaguely remember my dad—who was roughly my age right now, standing over the metal bed with a reassuring look on his face. The figure in the bed was one of the dearest people I remember: my grandfather. I remember being worried. Grandpa was having surgery—but not just any surgery: open heart surgery.

Today the procedure is simple and relatively easy. Back then, they had to cut you open. For a man in his eighties, this wasn’t going to be easy. Don’t know if it really helped grandpa or not.

Medical Technology has come a long way, hasn’t it? It was in 1967 when Dr. Christiaan Barnard of South Africa performed the first heart transplant—the patient just lived 18 days. Since the 80’s there has been a much greater rate of survival for heart transplant patients thanks to the drug cyclosporine which fights rejection. In 1982 Barney Clark was the first to receive an artificial heart. We’ve come a long way! Unfortunately, heart transplants are usually last resort and still are no guarantee of life.

However, there is a different heart transplant that is successful—one that is accomplished by God—although the recipient can still reject it. In Ezekiel 36, we find a passage that is filled with Messianic connotations. God is speaking of a time when Israel will be restored the way he had planned from the beginning. In Ezekiel 36:25-27 God is speaking saying he will replace Israel's heart of stone with a heart of flesh--a heart that will respond to God's direction. I want this new heart, don’t you? I don’t want a pacemaker, I’m not interested in by-passes or angioplasty—I want a total radical transplant! I want the heart of a servant!

As Jesus-followers, we lay claim to that promise that God has given us new hearts. But sometimes I wonder if we try to reject the transplant! Doesn’t it sometimes feel that way? I have to be honest with you, this is a real struggle. There are days when I feel the spiritual ticker is doing great—but there are days when my life is filled with heart murmurs and chest pains.

So how does a servant’s heart work? How do I know that it’s functioning within me? Let’s look at some very imperfect examples. I like these examples because, while they were very imperfect, their hearts were described as the kind God looked for—the kind he valued.

The first person we’d like to look at is a fellow by the name of Moses. He tries to lead Israel when he was 40--but that didn't work out too well. He killed an Egyptian and had to run for his life. He ends up becoming a smelly shepherd for forty years in Midian. The last thing he wants to do now is step into the limelight. Yet God calls him. With great reluctance, Moses takes the leadership mantle of Israel and through the power of God leads them out of Egypt.

There’s an interesting incident that takes place in Exodus 33 that gives us a glimpse into the heart of Moses. Moses sets up a tent and goes into it whenever he wishes to meet with God. The pillar-like cloud descends on the tent and Moses speaks to God face to face as a man does with his friend. Moses is concerned about God's help and direction. He asks God a special request. What is the request? Go with me! I know your name—but I want to KNOW YOU! Show me your glory! TEACH ME YOUR WAY SO THAT I MAY KNOW YOU. (Hang on to all of this and we’ll come back to it). Another incident that gives a glimpse into the heart of Moses takes place in Numbers 12:1-14 3. His sister Miriam and his brother begin to argue with Moses over his wife. They claim God has spoken through them, too--just who does he think he is? At this juncture God himself intervenes and strikes Miriam with leprosy. Notice that Moses doesn’t even speak during this incident except to plead for his sister! Verse 3 gives a little commentary here about Moses: Moses was a meek man--the meekest man in all the earth. Again, hang on to this—we’ll talk about it below.

We now move to another familiar figure in Hebrew history: David who would become king. We’ve just finished looking at David for the last three months or so. Perhaps the most telling thing about David is what God tells king Saul in 1 Samuel 13:14: “‘You have acted foolishly,’ Samuel said. ‘You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.’”

David is contrasted with Saul here. There is something about Saul that does not reflect the heart of God—something Saul is missing that David has. We see another incident in 1 Samuel 17 where David confronts the Philistine warrior Goliath. He points out he will not defeat Goliath by spear or sword, but by God's power. The interesting thing to me is what happens after this—he is offered the hand of Saul’s daughter, Merab in marriage. David’s reply—Who am I to become the son-in-law of the king? So Merab was married to someone else. Later on we begin to notice how all the people begin to rally around David. First Samuel 18:16 says all Israel loved him. Saul becomes more jealous. David knows he is to be the next king. And yet, even though he has the backing of all the people—even though he is anointed of God, even though Saul repeatedly attempts to kill him and even though David has more than one opportunity to kill Saul—he refuses to strike The Lord’s Anointed. We see him horrified in one incident that some of his mightiest warriors would risk their lives to give him a cup of water—he does not consider himself worthy of the honor. What is it about David? What is the nature of his heart?

Let’s take a little deeper look into some of the poetry written by David—on one occasion when David was hiding from Saul—he had just departed from the tabernacle at Nob and he writes Psalm 63. He speaks of longing for God as a deer longs to drink water. David also writes in Psalm 27:4-11 how he longs to seek the face of God.

What is it about the heart of Moses? What kind of heart did he have? What kind of heart did David exhibit? If we consider these stories and poems closely—we might find some striking similarities. First, we see two men who desperately seek the face of God. They want to know God intimately. They long for a deep face-to-face relationship with God. And they will devote themselves to that quest no matter how difficult, no matter what life hands them, whether they are great leaders or struggling to stay faithful themselves. They desperately want to know God. They spend time with him, they speak with him and more importantly—they listen to him. Secondly, we see hearts filled with humility. In other words, there is no self-promotion found in their hearts. Moses does not even defend himself before his brother and sister—David will not use subterfuge to become king—neither of these men seek the limelight. It is brought upon them by God’s calling. Third, they are men with responsive obedient hearts. Moses wants to know God’s ways to obey him—David is contrasted to a disobedient, rebellious Saul who seeks to do his own will rather than God’s. The heart of the prophet: closeness to God, humble and responsive. The heart of the Anointed King: a thirst for God, humble and responsive. Now doesn’t that sound familiar? Isn’t there another heart like that? How about the heart of the Prophet/King/Messiah: Jesus. One who would tell Satan that man doesn’t live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God—one whose practice was to go off alone to be with God. His was a heart that was filled with humility—His was a heart of responsive obedience—obedient to death…even death on a cross. He did not consider his equality with God something to be held on to with an eager grasp, but was willing to humble himself for our sakes. That’s the heart of a servant. That’s the heart I want.

Medical technology is something. I hope though I’ll never have to need heart surgery! But we all are in need of the ultimate heart transplant. God wants to remove our hard hearts of stone. He wants to replace them with a living, fully functioning heart that beats with his desire. He wants to fill us up with himself. He wants us to have a heart of a servant. How is your heart? Have you been trying to fix it all of this time—make a few changes here and there without really just letting God rip it out and put a new one in? Have you accepted the new heart God would give you—but it seems your natural self is getting the best of you—you’re actually rejecting the living heart God has placed within you…you are more and more selfish, proud, arrogant, uninterested in really knowing God or obeying him. You just go through the motions rather than chasing after him. I’m tired of playing around with following Jesus—aren’t you? Let’s quit playing! Let’s develop the heart of the servant! You must really want it—and if you can only do this—at least pray for the desire to have this heart! Spend time with God…schedule the time throughout the day. And if you have yet to accept him as the leader of your life—then you must do so. Accept Jesus by being immersed in water—a symbolic way of acting out his death, burial and resurrection—demonstrating that you are giving to him your entire person: body, soul and spirit.

So may you be given a new heart: a heart of flesh and not a heart of stone. May we thirst for God as a deer thirsts for water—and seek him as a hungry man seeks food. May we humble ourselves enough to trust him and respond to him by doing whatever he calls us to do—even it goes against the grain: especially if it goes against our pride.

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