from a sermon by LeRoy Tonning on July 3, 1997
With the Lord’s help we are going to take a look at health care. To be more specific, we will focus on spiritual heart care. There is a lot of physical heart trouble these days. There seems to be more of it than there ever was before. We are told that it is due to our lifestyles: We do not eat right, we eat too much, we do not exercise enough, and we have too much stress. All of these things add up to what we might call a lifestyle problem that gives us problems with our hearts.
The same thing can be said about our spiritual hearts. We live in a day and age where spiritual pollution of all kinds affects our spiritual beings. It is important that we are aware of this and take care of our hearts. We are glad we have One who is waiting to help us who is a heart specialist. He knows us and knows our hearts because He created us. He starts with an operation. As we have heard before, it is a vital part of our well-being to have this operation done. In Ezekiel 36:26 we read, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”
How wonderful it is that the old heart that was stone dead is removed and we are given a new heart! What a unique heart transplant! It is a wonderful thing. God, our heart specialist, did not just take any heart, but He gave us a very special heart that came from Him. That is a wonderful thought.
This operation is explained in 2 Peter 1:4. We need to have it done so we might be partakers of the divine nature. Just think about it. We receive something that comes from God Himself, so we have the possibility to live with part of His nature. We receive a heart that is willing to obey, is sensitive to the Spirit of God, and is able to love. And with it we receive a spiritual Blood transfusion—a Blood transfusion from Calvary! It is wonderful to be treated by the Great Physician!
After we have received this new heart, it is necessary to take care of it so it will stay in good shape. In Proverbs 4:23 we read the word of the wise man, Solomon: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” In my Norwegian Bible it says, “Above all things give this top priority.” That is good admonition because out of the heart comes all things. It is the source of life. People do all kinds of things to take care of their physical hearts. Some visit health studios, have a jogging program, or take vitamin pills. We do our best to be healthy. That is what we have to do spiritually, also. The Lord has a solution for us.
King David wrote to his son about heart care. He had some important words to give him. Sometimes as fathers we feel it is necessary to give our children advice. We try to be very specific with the hope that they will listen to us. David said to his son, “And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever” 1 Chronicles 28:9. Here is the solution: serve Him with a perfect heart. In my Norwegian Bible, the different translations have small variations. This is not a problem; it can actually be enlightening. In my Bible it says, “An undivided heart.” This is a heart that is wholly given to the Lord, not divided between different types of interests. This phrase is translated in English, “with a perfect heart.”
Solomon listened to his father’s advice. After he became king, the Lord came to him and said, “Ask what I shall give thee” (1 Kings 3:5). We know what Solomon chose. He felt the need to ask for the right thing. He was worried about the responsibility he had been given, and he said, “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:9). The Lord loved that prayer! He replied to Solomon, “You will get what you have asked for and I will give you more as well.” That is what the Lord says to us: “Take care of your heart and I will take care of the rest.” We are glad that we have this example.
Sadly, Solomon forgot his desire and got into trouble later on because his heart was not as perfect as it once had been. We read in 1 Kings 11:4, that he did things that he should not have done. He had a thousand wives and concubines. Solomon seemed to forget his purpose to take care of his heart, and his heart went out to places it should not have gone. That gave him a problem. I can well understand. I feel that I have more than enough with one wife and one family to give them the attention they deserve. Can you imagine having a thousand wives? Of course he was very busy, perhaps too busy to pray, to meditate, and to read the Word of God. Sometimes we become too busy, but that is bad for the heart. Let us take care not to neglect what is necessary.
It is wonderful to study the heroes of faith—how they served the Lord, and how the Lord blessed them. I like to study the condition of their hearts and see the consequences of their choices.
I would like to draw your attention to Abraham. It is wonderful to look at Abraham because he had a heart of gold. He loved the Lord. He walked with God and God loved him. God said at one time, “Let us make a covenant.” This was an agreement that gave responsibilities both to God and to Abraham. They did so; they made a pact.
As a witness of their pact, God said, “You have to be circumcised.” This was an outer sign that something had been agreed upon—kind of a seal, you might say. This circumcision meant a lot for the people of Israel. Down through the years it set them apart from the surrounding nations. It also tied them together as an ethnic group. Through the circumcision and all that was connected with it, they have been kept as a people up to this day. But circumcision was also a type of something deeper—a deeper experience. God spoke about this in both the Old Testament and the New Testaments. He said, “I want your heart to be circumcised, so you are not tied down to your old ways and your own will, so you can do My will.” And that is what happened to Abraham. I believe that Abraham was circumcised in his heart because his heart was truly in tune with God.
It is wonderful to be in tune, to be vibrant in the right way. I thought of that as I listened to a saxophone solo in our church recently. There was something vibrant about it. It was not the technicality of it; it was the quality of the tone. The instrument sang! It is a wonderful thing when your heart can sing, when it can vibrate with the tune of Heaven. That is what happened to Abraham. When his heart was in this condition, he was able to tackle the problems that came along. It worked for Abraham and the heroes of old, and it will work for those of us who are living today. Problems will come, but how wonderful it is to have a heart that is conditioned and ready to take the challenge!
We could look at several incidents in Abraham’s life, but I would like to mention one in particular. Abraham and his nephew, Lot, both had large flocks, and there was strife between their shepherds because there was not pasture enough for all of the animals. Abraham said, “We have to do something. One of us will have to move.” This did not cause any problem within himself. His heart was at complete ease, so he said to Lot, “You do the choosing. Go where you would like and I will go the other way. It does not matter to me.”
Some people are so taken up about the things that they are going to lose or gain that they cannot see farther than the tip of their noses. However, Abraham had a right perspective. He was looking for the city that God had made. He had an eternal perspective that directed his life. He was not interested in getting the most out of everything in this world. On the other hand, Lot looked down and around and thought, I want the best. Instead of being polite like he should have been, and saying to his uncle, “You are the head of the clan. You should do the choosing,” he said, “I want. I want this and I want that.” I am afraid he had some greed in his heart that should not have been there, and that influenced him to do things he should not have done. He made some decisions that were a starting point of a decline that almost cost him everything, including his life. What a difference there was between these two men! One was free, the other was bound. In Lot’s heart was something that should not have been there. We want a heart of gold like Abraham, one that really can be assured, I will be all right no matter what.
Further on in the Book of Genesis, we read about a young man, Joseph. He had a tender heart. He loved the Lord, but life was not easy for him. He had brothers who were not very nice—they had hearts of stone. They did not do what they should have done. Oh yes, they had received religious training. They were circumcised, I suppose. Maybe they even took part in religious activities, but their hearts were not right with God. They had hatred in their hearts, and according to the Bible, that is the same as murder. It is a serious thing to have hatred in our hearts, or anything at all that should not be there. The job is to get our hearts right with God, to get the things that should not be there out of our hearts.
Joseph’s brothers made life difficult for him, but he was able to keep his heart perfect. How could he do that? It was through forgiveness. He was able to forgive these brothers, not just once or twice, but again and again. Peter asked Jesus one time, “How many times should I forgive? Seven times?” He thought he was suggesting a good number there. But Jesus said to him, “Seventy times seven.” In reality He was saying that forgiveness is a process that continues.
That was the case with Joseph. He had to keep forgiving in order to keep his heart in tune with God, to keep a tender heart. Think of what happened to him. He was sold into slavery, and deprived of all his rights. As he walked there in the desert, bound, thirsty, probably hungry, and tired, what do you think he thought about? Did he consider how dark the future was? I suppose he could have. But at the same time, he was able to forgive. He must have, or else his heart would have been filled with bitterness and revenge, and we know it was not.
For a time, life got a little bit better for Joseph, but then it went downhill again. He was falsely accused, and as a result he sat in a dungeon, probably whipped and ill-treated in many ways. Still he kept going. He kept forgiving. And his heart was kept in a marvelous way.
It is wonderful to see how the heart can be kept in spite of adverse circumstances! You say, “I have a hard life. It is not easy.” You are not alone in that, but God can give you grace. He can help you to keep your heart as it should be. We know that Joseph was a part of God’s plan, and that plan could only be carried out because Joseph took care of his heart through forgiveness. That is something for us to think about today. Can you forgive? Are you sure that your heart is filled with forgiveness no matter what? You probably are not going through situations as trying as those that Joseph had to experience, but you can forgive.
Many years later the nation of Israel found themselves in the wilderness where they spent forty long years in the wilderness because of lack of willingness to claim the promises of God. After forty years, they were again getting close to the Promised Land. None of those who had turned away the first time were still alive, except two men who had remained faithful. I would like to look at Caleb, one of those men. This man of God that was so enthusiastic that he had lived through forty years of disappointment, waiting for the day that he could go into the Promised Land. Finally that day came. As he looked across the River Jordan, he said, “Give me this mountain!” He still had in his heart the desire to take what God had promised him. He had not let any bitterness take the place of the expectancy and hope in his heart.
Caleb’s attitude was in strong contrast to another group of people who were part of the Children of Israel. I am thinking about those who had kind of settled down. They requested, “Bring us not over Jordan.” Can you imagine it? Caleb was looking forward to receiving the promises of God; he knew that God stood behind His Word. But some of the tribes said, “Bring us not over Jordan.” There was something wrong in their hearts—they did not have what it took to look forward to what God had promised them. They had things that held them back.
The problem was, they did not have undivided hearts, or perfect hearts. On the contrary, they had divided hearts. We read that they had a lot of cattle and they were more interested in taking care of them than in doing what God wanted them to do. They were willing to settle for second best on the wrong side of Jordan. As a result, they did not have the wonderful experience of seeing the River Jordan being divided so the people could go over on dry ground. That was a wonderful miracle that must have impacted every person who experienced it. Because of their divided hearts, you might say, they stayed back and did not experience this.
However, there was an even more serious result. After the Jordan River started flowing again, it was a barrier. Instead of being in the Promised Land, the people who stayed behind were on the other side. When the Children of Israel set up camp, life began going along in a normal way again. They could worship God as He had commanded. The Tabernacle was set up in Gilgal, and the people went at least once a year to worship God and make offerings. They were not to be made at any other place. This going to Gilgal was a wonderful thing, but those who were on the wrong side of Jordan did not have this possibility. They had to find some other solution. It was a substitute, and it gave them problems. So you see, if our hearts are not in the place they should be, there will be consequences. A divided heart will lead us down a path that will give us problems eventually. So our main task is to be sure that our hearts are as they should be. We should not be satisfied with less.
It thrills me to read testimonies of people who have come in contact with the Gospel and responded to it. Years back we heard of some who had a farm out in the Midwest. They read some Gospel literature and wanted to find out what this was all about. They came to Portland, heard what is preached here, and were excited. They went back, sold out, and moved to Portland to be with the people of God. We know that everybody cannot move to Portland, but I love the idea that individuals want more than anything to be where the Gospel is preached and where they can be with the children of God.
Sometimes we see the opposite. People say, “I have some interesting prospects over there. I think I will have to move.” And they move away to a place where they are quite alone as far as the Gospel goes. Of course the Lord can bless you and help you wherever you are. However, sometimes you wonder, what is it that made them move? Was it something necessary, or was it something in the heart that perhaps could be a little bit different? We want to live where God wants us to live, that is for sure.
Years ago we had an elderly brother in Stavanger who got saved when he was older. He was so excited about the Gospel. He had lived a rough life, and after he was saved, some of his friends asked him when they met him, “Where do you live?” He said to them, “Right now I am living in the Book of James.” He actually did not want to tell them where he lived, but he wanted to tell them that he had moved. His heart was moved from the life he had been living into God’s Word. He moved around in God’s Word and that was the desire of his heart. It was a wonderful life!
Sometimes you wonder if people are in the place they should be, or if their heart is one place and they are living in another place. I heard a story about a farmer who was sitting on his hay wagon one Sunday morning when he met the pastor. The pastor asked him, “Are you not you going to church this morning?” The farmer said to the pastor, “Well, I feel it is better to be sitting here on my hay wagon thinking about God than sitting in church thinking about my hay.” He had a point there! But I am afraid that his heart was full of hay. What he needed was a change of heart—to let God occupy the place in his heart that He should have. Then he would not have to worry about his hay. If it rained or the sun shined, his hay would be all right.
Let us forget the things of this world! Let us allow God to do something for our hearts so they will be focused on Him. We want a heart of gold, do we not? Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). I want my treasure to be in Heaven. I want my heart to be a perfect heart so God can bless me, and give me what I need.
I would like to close with the thought of letting our hearts be expanded so there is room for more of God. In the natural, to have a growing heart is considered an ailment. It can be dangerous, and one might even die if the heart grew too much. But that is not true in the spiritual sense. It is a wonderful thing when you can expand your heart and give room for more than you had before. Some people have such small hearts that there is hardly room for anything other than themselves. That is really too bad because they are living in small quarters, you might say. Others expand a little bit to include their family and some close friends. However, God wants us to expand our hearts so that we can reach out to others and take them into our hearts. While at our camp meeting a brother said to me, “I pray for you every day.” Here I am, living on the opposite side of the world, and this brother is praying for me every day! Our hearts should include caring about the whole world. God wants us to let our hearts be expanded.
We have a chance today to get this done. We know the Heart Specialist, the Great Physician. He can help us with whatever is necessary. He will give us the treatment that we need, no matter what it might be. The place of prayer is where we can get our hearts treated so we will have the heart that God wants us to have.