Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A United Heart

Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.
- - -  Psalm 86:11

It's a question that's not often asked, but which is instantly understood by most people: Do you have a united heart ... or a heart that's divided?  There are other ways of asking the question, of course: is your life marked by clarity and unity of purpose, or by indecision and conflict?  Do you have divided loyalties, or conflicting opinions and inclinations?

Most of us  suffer from "mixed emotions," and contradictory thoughts, at various points in our lives.  For most people, certainty and a real clarity of vision are hard to come by.  Sometimes, it can be a real problem: do my primary loyalties lie with my family, or my career?  Which course of study should I pursue: the artistic or the technical?  I want the baby ... but wouldn't a trip to the "women's clinic" be more practical at this stage in my life?  And where does God fit into all this?  Is He a priority, or an afterthought?

Life can be very confusing - - - but it doesn't have to be.  And, as we see in the words of David, in Psalm 86, God doesn't want it to be.

Having a heart that's torn between various priorities and loyalties is very similar to the problem of being "double-minded," about which we've written before. It's a pretty common part of "the human condition:" but the "human condition" is exactly what the Christian is able to overcome, if he or she has accepted Jesus Christ according to John 1:12.  It's possible to get rid of the "double-mindedness," and to have a united heart.

Teach me thy way, O LORD; David prays: I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name. Now, that's quite a mouthful, even if it were the only verse in the Psalm.  But, as usual, we need to examine the verse in context.  We don't have the space for a commentary on the entire thing, but we need to hit a few of the high spots:

Bow down thine ear, O LORD, hear me: for I am poor and needy (v. 1). David begins his prayer with an honest confession of his own inadequacy and need: and that's the very first step in achieving a united heart, a heart free from conflict and confusion.  Until we admit that we can't work out our problems or correct our thinking by ourselves,  we're hopeless.  A man who doesn't admit he's sick won't consult a doctor; a child who won't acknowledge that she's hungry probably won't get fed.  Achieving a united heart begins and ends with recognizing our dependence on God.

Preserve my soul; for I am holy: O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee (v. 2).  You and I aren't "holy" in the same sense that David was; the definition of righteousness for an Old Testament Jew was different than for a modern Christian, whose only righteousness is found in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). But notice those four little words: O thou my God.  Jehovah was David's God: His personal Lord, not merely the God of his parents or his culture.  David had a personal relationship with God.  And, if you don't have a personal, one-on-One relationship with Jesus Christ, which begins with being born again (John 3:3, 7), then you might as well forget about having a united heart, because you can't achieve such a thing on your own, and God won't help you to achieve it in your unsaved condition.  Of course, you don't have to stay in that condition!

Rejoice the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul (v.4). David knew where to go for help.  He had a divided heart at various times in his life, just as we do.  (For example, he certainly had some "mixed emotions" when he first saw Uriah's wife, Bathsheba, taking her bath!)  But he knew better than to take his problems to "Adulterers Anonymous" or some other human counsellor.  (Human counsellors, including psychiatrists, have their place, but only God can heal and unite the heart.) When David grew weary of having a divided heart, he knew exactly where, and to Whom, to go.

Looking at the next few verses, we need to notice two things: what David said in his prayer, and what he didn't say:

For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. Give ear, O LORD, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications. In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me. Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works. All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name. For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone (vv. 5-10).
Is David complaining and bemoaning his condition, and concentrating on his own fragmented heart?  (He certainly complained in other Psalms, but not here.)  No, he's praising God, and "reminding" God of His own greatness.  He's telling God how wonderful He is.  And God likes to hear that; He enjoys being praised.  Because He's conceited No, because He deserves it.  He's worthy.  And He wants us to know He's worthy.  (That's one of the reasons we sing hymns.) God responds to this sort of praise, much more quickly than He does to the "woe is me, I'm in such trouble" that He hears from so many of us - - - and from so many Biblical characters, who had plenty to complain about, like Job and Jeremiah.  It's not that He loves David more than those other men; it's that He responds to praise.

God already knows our problems, be they sickness, family troubles, poverty, or a divided heart.  We really don't need to spend a lot of time telling Him about them, although He encourages us to bring Him our problems and concerns (Philippians 4:6; 1 Peter 5:7).  But if we can praise Him in the midst of these things .... well, He appreciates it.  If you're a parent, you love your child, whether she's griping and screaming, or whether he's hugging your neck, telling you how wonderful you are.  But which do you enjoy more?

Then, finally, we come to it:  Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name. Now, we'll learn how to achieve a "united heart," to achieve single-mindedness, clarity of vision, and purpose (a word which has been much abused by some). We don't have to be double-minded, or divided in our loyalties, or even our desires.  We can have a "united heart" - - - on two conditions.

First is the prerequisite for having a united heart:  Teach me thy way, O LORD. The reason we're torn between God's ways and our own, or between our ways and some of our other ways, is that we don't understand God's ways - - - and we can't understand them until we know what they are.  This is where the Bible comes in: because the Bible is where God has propositionally revealed His ways to us.  We need to read it, and study it, and learn it.  We'll need human teachers and preachers, but more than anything, we'll need to get off by ourselves, away from the maddening crowd, and simply study God's word.  Unless and until we know His ways, we won't be able to have a "united heart."  (Unbelievers or skeptics or infidels, who sneer at God's words, don't have united hearts, even united for evil purposes: they're torn in a hundred perverse directions.)  We need God to teach us His ways.

Second is the purpose of a united heart.  Actually, there are many results of a united heart, such as peace of mind, freedom from certain psychological problems, and consistency in our behaviour.  All of those things are worthwhile and desirable.  But the real purpose of a united heart is to learn to fear thy name, to fear God as we should.  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7). And with knowledge comes wisdom: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10).  And the fear of the Lord is the result of a united heart, a heart undistracted from God and God's ways by the baubles of this world, or the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.

In the old days, people referred to an upright man or woman as "God-fearing."  You don't hear that word very often now, because generations of money-grubbing "preachers" and "Bible translators" have taught people that fear is evil, and that surely a loving God wouldn't want His creatures to fear Him!  But nothing could be farther from the truth.  Fear is one of the most positive and healthy emotions there is: ask anyone who brushed off their healthy fears, and didn't consult the doctor in time, or who didn't fear traffic and ran a red light once too often.  And again, if you're a parent - - - an intelligent parent, at least - - - you should understand that sometimes fear is the only motivation that works.  Your toddler might not understand that walking into the street can result in death; but if they know that it'll result in some unwanted discipline, they'll stay out of the street.  

And we are children, compared to God.  You can have the mind of Stephen Hawking in the body of Mike Tyson, but compared to your Creator, you're a helpless infant.   Those of us who are not too enamoured of ourselves will realize this.  And the fear of God is the beginning of true wisdom and knowledge - - - and the purpose of a united heart, with its clarity of vision and unity of purpose.

You still don't understand the fear of God?  That's because, God bless you, you haven't learned God's ways yet.  So why not get into the Bible right now, and start learning?  You'll be surprised at what you learn!

But first, just be sure that you've received Jesus Christ, and know Him on a personal basis.  That's your primary obligation - - - and your primary opportunity.

Tired of confusion and indecision and doubt?  You need a united heart: and God, in His mercy, has shown you how to achieve it.  But it doesn't stop there.  The very next verse gives us the "acid test" for knowing whether we've achieved a united heart: I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore (Psalm 86:12).

That's the result of a united heart: an ability, a willingness, and even an eagerness to praise God, to thank Him, in every circumstance.  Yes, God wants us to have peace of mind, and good mental and emotional health: after all, God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). But the Christian has something that goes far beyond that: the ability to praise God in everything, even life's disappointments or trials - - - once the heart is united.  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  For the Christian, that's not a "suggestion:" it's a command.  But it's only possible when we've achieved a united heart - - - a heart wholly given to God, focused on God, rejoicing in God, despite the turmoils and conflicts that might surround us.

God gives us commands, and has high expectations for us: but He never leaves us to our own devices to figure things out.  He gives us the power to obey, and the instructions on how to obey.  He tells us that we need a "united heart," and then tells us how and why it's possible to have it.

How gracious He is!  How worthy of praise, and how magnificent in His understanding! 


  1. Lots to ponder there. A couple of thoughts:

    1) the importance of even the OT saints having a personal relationship with the Lord. A quick search of my Bible software told me that the phrase "my God" appears 137 times in scripture; only twelve of them are in the NT.

    2) the fact that if we're wise, we'll let God deal with the matters of our hearts, and there's a world of difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. The head can know what God's word says, but as you said, He's the only One Who can heal and unite the heart, providing we recognize our dependence on Him.