The Tests of the Heart

God allows circumstances to be tests of the sincerity of our hearts, but promises grace and mercy when His word exposes a failing

Cider apples heavy on the tree

This article is based on the Bible readings set for Sunday, October 10 (in the Revised Common Lectionary) and The Living Word Bible Study for Oct 10 which takes a verse by verse view. This draws out the teaching point about God’s heart for us and where our heart is towards Him.

Readings

Here are the Bible readings with Bible Gateway links to read in the Bible version of your choice (or compare):

OT: Job 23:1–9, 16–17 — Job’s counsellors put his heart to the test as He steadfastly believes in God’s justice

NT gospel: Mark 10:17–31 — Jesus tests the heart of a follower who had done the right things, but not out of love

NT letter: Hebrews 4:12–16 — The word of God with our Great High Priest, Jesus, is the true test of our heart’s attitudes

• See also this week’s Really Quick Introduction video Who has my heart?

Job’s honest questioning of where his heart is

There’s a bit of background we need to know about Job’s speech placing His reliance on God’s gracious mercy. He has come to this position after considering honestly the advice of his friends Eliphaz (Job 4, Job 15 and Job 22) and Zophar (Job 11 and Job 20) who manage to use a great many words to tell Job that the cause of his trouble must, surely, be his sin and his rebellion against God. And Job has searched his heart and agreed that he cannot be without sin, but having acknowledged it before God, still trusting in His grace, He doesn’t have any rebellion against God in him.

Where is our heart towards God? Job’s questions and answers help us in our own journey. It may be for us that God is testing our resolve to trust Him, by not answering and appearing remote or disinterested — as Job experienced:

“But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him. When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him.

God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me. Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.

Job 23: 8-9, 16-17

When we are going through one of those uncertain times, times of difficult and confusion when God’s voice seems to be silent and his guidance withdrawn — be encouraged. Job lost more and was tested more severely. What was happening and why? Job gives us the questions, rather than the answers which are found more in Jesus’ teaching and following Pentecost, in Acts and the letters. It’s important to be asking the questions honestly, and they come down to the fundamental one is: Where is your heart? Where is your trust?

The man who ticked all the boxes

The next scene is the story of Jesus’ dialogue with a man of some social standing and a good record of keeping the religious law. In Matthew and Luke’s accounts he is described and a well-off but young man. He was probably a member of one or more of the courts and councils, and he was probably sincere in his question. It sounds a bit smug to us, but he was probably asking Jesus to confirm that he was doing all the right things that a Jew should do.

And that was the problem — the doing…

…A man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

…Jesus answered… “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” He said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor… Then come, follow Me.”

Mark 10:17–21 excerpted

Jesus goes on to talk about entering the kingdom of God, and how hard it is when we are well off, secure and strong in ourselves. Entering the kingdom of God is becoming a disciple of Jesus, which is about ‘being’ — being with Him, being submitted to His training and sending.

This young man was all about the ‘doing’ but he had not yet reached the change in ‘being’. Although Jesus framed it differently, this was in essence the one thing he lacked. He could tick the boxes but he didn’t look like a believer, a disciple, yet. There’s many a faithful church attender who is where this young man was. Faithful attendance and even service is one thing, but being one with Jesus and responding to His call as a disciple is another.

This story, and Jesus’ illustration which followed it about the merchant’s camel too wide and heavily-laden with goods to pass through the narrow city gate until it was unladen, go right to the heart of our walk with the Lord. ‘Churchianity’ doesn’t lead to salvation or give us new life now. Only giving our lives to Jesus and being prepared to be different as His disciple does. There’s a cost to that, as there was for this man, told to sell everything he had and give it away. It’s more about coming to a place of reliance on the Lord — not the self-reliance of what we bring to the party. It’s just the camel that can go through, not the baggage.

For Job, it was the questioning, like a modern day police station interview room, that satisfied Job’s friends and perhaps helped to confirm for him, that his heart was good and his trust in God’s mercy was not in doubt.

In the scene with Jesus, Jesus leads the young man to see that in all the good things he has done, the essential thing was missing.

How God’s word is the voice that tests our heart

Now in Hebrews, the letter written with Jewish background believers in Jesus in mind, we learn that God’s word is the voice that tests our heart. Some traditions elevate their traditions and man’s capacity to reason above God’s word — “after all, it was written 2,000 or more years ago”. But this is not just a literary or historical source. It is God-breathed, and rich with the resonances of the Holy Spirit who takes what appear to be mere words and sentences and brings His own revelation through them. It’s all a bit of a mystery to those who have not yet given Christ the Lordship of their lives but it is spiritual sustenance and daily guidance to the believer — the number one way God speaks to us, and the yardstick to test all other forms of insight.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4:12-13

This can be uncomfortable. God’s word is sharp and penetrating and cuts through our pretences and rationalisations to the heart of how we live as disciples of Jesus. Where we are concealing sin and independence from God, this comes under the spotlight.

But here is the good news! Satan, the accuser, needs to incite us to rebel against God (he tried hard with Job, but the Pharisees’ pride and prejudice offered opportunities for the taking). And here we have a testing routine, like the roadworthiness inspection that vehicle examiners carry out on your car, and if there are vulnerabilities that need to be put right, the inspection light of the word will find them. And we are enabled to change, and live free from the enemy’s attention.

God is not against us — far from it: He is for us, and understands us:

Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet He did not sin.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:15-16

God is good, and He loves us — let’s get that straight. So this is not so much ‘showing up’ what is in our heart that shouldn’t be, but more revealing not us what in our heart we still need to let God, in His merciful love purify — and help us to live as those continually being renewed.

The ‘quiet time’ of starting the day with God and the Bible open, letting Him speak through His word, has deep roots in Christian tradition. So has the more monastic form of the Daily Office with set readings and recitation — provided that it is not to ordered and mechanical to allow space for God to speak to his personally, and for us to respond.

But at a time when God seems to be silent, as if He has withdrawn — which was Job’s experience — the ordered way can be a lifeline, keeping us having a good focus on God and His word and being ready for when He does speak to us.

The promise is that there IS grace, and we DO find mercy in our time of need.

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Ian Greig

Ian Greig

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Husband+Father | Missional Christian | Author+ Speaker+Creator — offering ‘Faith without the Faff’ to encourage those not attracted to a formal club-like church