As we lead our families, we need to continually strive to have a clean heart before God.
From a very young age, I’ve always been impacted by the prayer and song “Create in me a clean heart.” I think it’s because my failures and sins weigh heavily on me (most of the time), and I want to be free of it. Many times I’ve found the prayer David prayed after committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband to be of immense help (Psalm 51).
But what do you do when you’ve missed that somehow?
This week I was encouraged and refreshed by the practical nature of John Piper’s advice on this topic, on his “Ask Pastor John” podcast. (If you don’t listen to this short, every-weekday podcast, you should).
Here’s the audio from it. Go ahead, listen to it now and then I’ll give you a couple of my observations about it.
I love how John is always able to get to the root of the issue…no matter the topic. In this case, it’s that we humans are indeed frail and failing.
That’s a fundamental truth about ourselves that we need to not only acknowledge, but to embrace. In my experience, it’s a frame of mind that enables me to remain in a constant state of dependence on God, so that I can find His grace to help me in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16). If I don’t embrace it as truth about me, then I tend to wander off on my own, doing things my way, and getting myself into contexts where my heart is prone to be hardened.
I don’t want to go there. No true Christian does. So what do you do about it?
Let’s look at the things Pastor John suggests:1 Understand that believers can drift into calloused frames of heart. (Hebrews 3:12-12)
Sometimes we get the idea that because we are saved, everything is alright. But the reality is that sin is deceitful… it is able to fool us into a frame of mind and heart that is calloused toward God, holiness, and the right and wrong of how we should be living. We have to admit this and be on guard in light of it.2 Get help from folks who will point you to a greater concern for holiness.
Pastor John says no work has had a greater impact on him regarding holiness and a sensitivity to sin, than the book “The Religious Affections” by Johnathan Edwards. I’ve read the book before and can vouch for its power. After hearing John talk about it, I think it’s time for me to re-read it again.
But some cautions are in order:
- It’s a tough book to wade through. Edwards is brilliant, but also hard to understand at times. That’s not a reason to avoid reading the book, but you do need to be ready.
- It’s well worth your time, if you will stick with it. Edwards is so insightful… you need to have exposure to a heart and mind like his. He’ll get you thinking along lines that I guarantee you have probably never considered, and your soul will be helped by the effort. You can find a FREE copy of the religious affections here.
Pastor John also recommends “Justification Reconsidered” by Steven Westerholm – in particular the chapter on the depth and seriousness of sin. I’ve not read this book, but it just went onto my “must read” list. I can always use more encouragement about my sin in light of God’s holiness. You can get a copy of the book here.3 Meditate on the beautiful picture of what God wants for us in the way of kindness and charity in our hearts.
In particular, Pastor John recommends getting a copy of the book “Heaven is a World of Love” by Johnathan Edwards. This is another book I’ve not read but plan to read soon. Pastor John says that the description of who God is, what holiness is about, etc. “blew him away.” You can read this short work here.4 Pray that God would deliver you from hardness and make you tender.
I find this one to be especially important and powerful in my life. There’s very little I can accomplish in my life or on a spiritual level if I don’t have the grace of God to help me. I NEED His help. I need Him to do the work in me that I’ve been unable to do for myself. I sometimes think of it as begging and pleading with the LORD to do the miraculous work of heart-change that I so desperately need.5 Surround yourself with those who are sensitive to sin and who love holiness.
Community is helpful in fighting sin and loving holiness. John makes the observation that many of us think that we are doing outreach by hanging out with worldly people and it turns out that they are not being missional, but being malleable (easily influenced). It’s a dangerous balance we walk. We need to impact the culture for Christ without the culture impacting us… and sadly, too many of us fail at it.
Pastor John mentions the forms of entertainment we watch, the things we read, and the people we hang out with.6 Join with others in regular heartfelt worship of God.
Focusing on the beautiful love of Jesus for us enables us to grow in our softness and sensitivity to God.
How do these points strike you?
- Are you doing a good job of keeping yourself in a place where you can grow in holiness?
- Are you being wise about keeping your heart from a calloused attitude?
- What do you need to do in order to move more toward the purity to which the LORD is calling you?
I thought I’d end with a video of the song, “Create in Me a Clean Heart.” This rendition is sung by Keith Green, who I believe is the author of the song. Keith was known for his fiery zeal for the LORD and an uncompromising desire to follow hard after Christ. He seems to have understood the need to be asking the LORD for a clean heart, day by day.