31 years ago, I attended a revival in a little Florida town called Niceville. Yeah, Niceville.
The preacher was Danny Duvall, fresh out of college and fired up for Jesus. He not only preached, but he gathered up the young people–yeah, I was young once–and took us on the streets evangelizing and in the suburbs passing out flyers for the revival.
He was excited, we were excited, and people my age (21) and younger filled the front rows for each evening’s preaching.
One night, in the middle of shouting, praising, and proclaiming, he looked out at me in the third row, and said, “Do you want to know what God has for your life, Paul? Fall in love with Jesus.”
I can hear his Arkansas accent as I type.
I never forgot his advice. It’s been one of the guiding principles of my life.
A reader who comments regularly expressed surprise (not here, but on FB) and asked me how that jives with everything else he’s seen me write. So now, here is the fourth or fifth full article response to comments he has made over the years. (In case it’s not clear, that makes him a favorite of mine.)
From the Abundance of the Heart
My initial thought was, there is nothing I would rather explain. Thank you for asking.
Truth is, though, that I believe “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” is true, and I would even if Jesus hadn’t said so.. It is a truism for me, a principle that is obviously true on the surface.
People say that we cannot judge the heart. Poppycock!
We judge hearts all the time. The mouth, especially in moments of high emotion, reveals the heart. Actions reveal heart. Our mouths announce to everyone around us what and whom we care about.
Let me give you an example. In Acts 8:19 Simon Magus asked the apostles for the power to lay hands on people and cause them to receive the Holy Spirit. Peter’s response is full of references to Simon’s heart:
Your money perish with you because you thought the gift of God could be purchased with money. … Your heart is not right in the sight of God. So repent of this wickedness of yours and pray to God so that the thoughts of your heart may be forgiven.
There are times when it is important to judge the hearts of others. The Scriptures tell us to help the weak, to comfort the fainthearted, and to warn the unruly. If you’re going to “speak, encourage, and rebuke with all authority,” like Titus did, then you’d better become skilled at distinguishing the weak, the fainthearted, and the unruly. That requires judging the heart; in fact, judging even a person’s motives.
While there are times when it is important to judge the hearts of others, it is always important to judge your own heart as wisely and with as much help as possible.
I said there is nothing I would rather explain than the importance of loving Jesus, but my writings don’t show that.
I’m not sure I should apologize. I do my best to write what I think God wants me to write. I may not talk about how being in love with Jesus motivates me, but it is certainly the love of Jesus that set me on this path. It is certainly my love for Jesus that moves me to write the things I write.
There are other things I could be doing; other things I could be writing about. People love my fiction stories, too, flavored with opinions–my own, of course–spoken from the mouths of wise or favorite characters.
Enough ado …
Falling in Love with Jesus
Falling in love with Jesus is the beginning of everything.
Well … no, it’s not. I take that back. Fearing Jesus is the beginning of Wisdom and knowledge.
“The fear of the Lord” is mentioned 30 times in Scripture. We are commanded to “fear the Lord” another 32 times. “Fear God” and “fear of God” get us up to 80 mentions of such fear in the Bible. And of course I’m missing such verses as 2 Cor. 5:11, where Paul says the terror of the Lord persuades him to persuade others. (“Terror” is a mistranslation, though. The Greek word is phobia, which should be translated “fear” there like it is everywhere else.)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge in Proverbs 1:7 and the beginning of Wisdom in Proverbs 9:10. In Psalm 111:10, it is not only the beginning of wisdom, but it is followed by the statement, “A good understanding have all they that do.” The WEB* puts it, “All those who do his work have a good understanding.”
*World English Bible
Love is tied to action.
It is also tied to knowledge. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).
Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus the Anointed One, whom you have sent.”
Love proceeds from knowledge. Yes, we humans are prone to falling in love at first sight. We love the feeling, and we even enjoy watching the behavior of those who are struck by the feeling, whether in real life, in a book, or in the movies.
Real love, however, requires something more than the tingling belly and cloudy head that comes from glimpsing a girl or guy who looks, walks, or acts just right for a minute or two.
Real love comes from knowing someone.
And there is no love like the one directed to our Lord and Maker, the Sovereign and Judge of us all, once we have bowed the knee to him, then found out that he wants us not as servants, but as sons and daughters.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom, but we love him because he first loved us.
We fear him because we touched Wisdom. Fear drove us, wisely, to do his will.
We love him because we found out he loved us.
Do You Want to Know God’s Will? Fall in Love with Jesus!
There are steps you must take.
You must acknowledge God as rightly sovereign over all his creation and Jesus as Lord, Anointed King, and final Judge of all mankind. That is the point of our preaching of the cross and the resurrection, to arouse this knowledge and this fear of God.
In view of that, you must repent (Acts 2:38; 26:20). You must bow your knee to this King if you wish to be a part of his kingdom. It is this repentance that leads to life (Acts 11:18).
You must come to know him. You must experience him. The very first thing that Jesus, through his disciples, offers to those who believe and bow before the King is the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5). He washes away your sins in the waters of baptism (cf. Acts 22:16), and he bestows the Spirit on you through the hands of sent and chosen disciples (usually; cf. Acts 8:12-17; 10:42-47; 19:1-6; 1 Tim. 4:14).
In general, I write for those who have experienced all the above, who are regenerated and renewed, born of water and Spirit.
Note: I am aware of what era I live in. There are exceptions to the pattern I described above–far too many, because we are so ignorant of Scripture and history, too often being lovers of tradition as badly as the Pharisees ever were. Nonetheless, it is a fool who misses that even some Pharisees submit to God and are subject to Peter’s proclamation, “In every nation, he that fears him and works righteousness is accepted by him” (Acts 10:35).
For those who are regenerated and renewed, I write about loving Jesus all the time. “If you love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus said (Jn. 14:15). John added, “This is how we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 Jn. 2:3).
Jesus died to produce a people zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14). Being zealous for good works is a product of repentance, regeneration, renewal, and a resulting love for him.
Remember Jesus faulting the Ephesians for losing their first love? He threatened them with extreme measures if they did not repent. He was going to take the light of God (their “candlestick”) away from them! He was going to reject them as a church! (Rev. 1:20; 2:5).
How did he want them to repent? Did he want them to say wonderful, flowery things about him? Did he ask for praise songs and whispers of love? Did he ask for orchestrated performances in a glorious cathedral?
No. He told them to repent and do the first works over again.
There is a way to judge the heart. The heart is judged by what we say and do. Even Jesus judges that way. When he opens the books on the last day, we will all be judged by our works that are written in it … even Christians (2 Cor. 5:10).
Paul says that fear is what motivates him to persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11).
I suppose if there’s a problem with what I write, it is not about loving Jesus. Loving Jesus is running in the way of his commandments (119:32).
The problem is assuming that people are as excited about that as I am.
Maybe I don’t write about Jesus loving us enough. Our loving Jesus is all I write about.
I felt my sins fall away, not at baptism, but at the very moment I confessed he was the Son of God. Mind you, for me, that was a difficult and automatically life-changing confession. If Jesus was the Son of God, then there was a LOT for me to change in my life, as much in my attitude and opinions as in my behavior. For me to confess Jesus as Son of God was to bow my knee to him. I knew no other way to acknowledge God’s Son, but to obey him.
I didn’t expect what followed. I was overwhelmed, transformed. I was not berated, but elated. I was not condemned, but crowned.
I understand the feeling the prodigal son must have felt, though I’m not sure I was “returning” to anything, just turning.
Perhaps the richest verse in Scripture to me is Isaiah 55:7:
Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Abundant pardon. What is like it?
I expected humiliation and the need for mourning and weeping. Instead, this ensued:
You shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace. The mountains and the hills shall break out into singing in front of you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Yeah, that’s pretty much what happened.
I suppose I’ve been assuming that I’m writing to those that love God and get excited about being exhorted to be careful to maintain good works (Tit. 3:8).
I’m not writing to those who love God if they don’t know the joy of God loving them.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atonement for our sins. (1 Jn. 4:10)
How can we joyfully run in his commandments (Ps. 119:32) if we feel like hopeless failures?
We can’t. We have to know that for the person who walks in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin 24/7 (1 Jn. 1:7). Sometimes we have to stop and confess because we have knowingly sinned (1 Jn. 1:9). Other times, we must lament and mourn and weep because we have been caught in a web of sin (Jam. 4:6-10).
But under normal circumstances, we are to be zealous for good works, diligently pursuing those works that God created us, personally, to do (Tit. 2:14; Eph. 2:8-10), confident that where we have unknowingly fallen short and walked in our own righteousness (or unrighteousness) that Jesus’ blood keeps us in that abundant pardon because we have kept ourselves in repentance and obedience.
The thought that God is the author of salvation only to those that obey him (Acts 5:32; Heb. 5:9) is scary to those that do not know the mercy of God for the forgiveness of sins and the grace of God to regenerate them as new creatures, no longer under sin’s power.
Fear, however, really is the beginning of Wisdom. That fear provides the sight to look for the deliverance that comes by both mercy and grace, by both remission and renewal.
Note: What’s with the “Free Bonus” thing? My posts can be really long. So “Free Bonus” is a way of saying “Beware: Rabbit Trail.” Some people like them. Others are in a hurry, and the “Free Bonus” is the best thing to skip, even if it is usually the most interesting section of a post.
Why do I keep capitalizing Wisdom?
I learned from the early Christians to take the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs very seriously. Jesus is not just the Word and Reason (Gr. Logos) of God, he is the Wisdom (Gr. Sophia) of God.
I read some writings of Gandhi years ago, and I was awed by his understanding of truth. He spoke of Truth like it was a being. Perform the acts of Truth, and Truth himself would “have your back.” Do the deeds of Truth, and you will win.
He was pretty good at winning. He drove the British nation from India. It was not singlehandedly, but it was. It was Truth that moved a nation behind him and drove a nation before him.
I’m pretty certain that most Christians understand Truth worse than Mohandes Gandhi and will be rewarded by him less. That shouldn’t seem a strange conclusion on my part because Gandhi was rewarded by the Truth more on this earth than most Christians, including myself, so why wouldn’t we expect the same in eternity.
Gandhi thought Jesus was awesome, and he thought it an unfortunate thing that Christians weren’t.
He didn’t know that Jesus is Truth. I’m sure he knew the Hindu definition of Truth:
In Hinduism, Truth is defined as “unchangeable”, “that which has no distortion”, “that which is beyond distinctions of time, space, and person”, “that which pervades the universe in all its constancy”. (“Satya”; Wikipedia)
Excellent beginning on a description of Jesus, I think. A fitting description, certainly, of the King of kings before he humbled himself to dwell in human form, and it is true now as well, as he has ascended to have authority in heaven and earth.
Gandhi freed a nation. What should we, who know more accurately that the Way of Truth is Jesus himself, do?
Paul said that the glory we have received is greater than the glory that shone from Moses’ face when he left the tabernacle (2 Cor. 3:6-11).
We have come to the one who is Wisdom, who is Truth.
Note: Don’t be afraid of the use of “she” and the reference to Wisdom as a lady in Proverbs. Chokmah is feminine in Hebrew, and the language requires the use of a feminine pronoun. In Spanish and German, your coffee cup is feminine and called “she” as well. We’re English speakers. We can call Wisdom “he” (and our coffee cup “it”).