In the Christian circles I live in there’s always been a lot of discussion about how we need heart change in order to actually act differently. The chorus goes something like; “the issue with sin is the sinful heart, not just the actions that flow from the heart. When our hearts change then our actions will change. We need to pray for God to change our hearts and then we’ll be able to act differently!”
While it’s absolutely true and resoundingly biblical that a transformed heart like what’s described in Ezekiel 13 is what we desperately need, it seems to me that somewhere along the way we’ve swung too far to the opposite end of the pendulum, moving from a “work hard and change yourself” attitude to an attitude that says we should sit around waiting for our heart to change before we take action.
Sitting around waiting for God to do something isn’t an act of faith if God has said he’s already it. Waiting for heart change when God has said “I have given you a new heart” is, quite simply, sin.
In Isaiah 58:13-14 the prophet’s logic lays out a challenge to our passive conceptions of heart change. He says,
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
– Isaiah 58:13-14
Notice the if/then statement here. If you keep your feet….If you call the sabbath a delight….If you honor it…Then you will find your joy in the Lord. The prophet tells the Israelites that if they speak and act as if they delight in the Lord they will delight in the Lord. If they begin practicing and proclaiming the goodness of the Sabbath, then they will find joy in the Lord. The lesson?
When we act in obedience heart change begins.
This is such a crucial principle for us to grasp. Obedience is faith. Rather than reading more scripture and hoping that faith will compel us to act by somehow removing every barrier and allowing us to float through the challenge with nary a struggle we need to acknowledge that time and again throughout Scripture faith is defined as action. Abraham’s faith was his action of going to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s command. David’s faith was his action of stepping out to face Goliath. James makes this point in his epistle, brazenly challenging those who claim their faith doesn’t need action to prove it.
Faith doesn’t sit waiting for God make everything feel easy; faith says that God’s word trumps our feelings.
Instead of sitting still and crying out “God change my heart so that I can do what you have commanded” it says “God, I’m going to do what you’ve commanded no matter how I feel. Thank you that you’ve changed my heart and enabled me to do it.”
Three principles that we can draw from this passage in Isaiah to help us align ourselves for heart change:
1.Actions influence emotions.
We humans have an amazing ability to adapt. Odds are that even if you’re terrified of heights, a couple weeks of hanging around the edges of tall buildings and cliffs would drastically lessen that fear. When Kelly and I first ventured out on our own during our time in Sri Lanka we were both nervous in the unfamiliar territory, but after a day or so we felt almost completely at home.
If you’re struggling with enjoying God, delighting in his word and worship, or being comfortable in the presence of his people, push yourself. Press through. Acclimate. Your actions will inevitably start to influence your emotions.
2. What we speak shapes what we think.
Isaiah tells the Israelites to “call the Sabbath a delight.” Speak out the truth that the Sabbath is a delight and your thoughts will start aligning with that truth. When you’re in the process of learning new spiritual truth, speak it (out loud!) on a regular basis. Bring it up in conversation. Ask questions. Doing so will embed the truth more soundly in your brain.
3. Habits have huge impacts on our beliefs.
Repetitive action and verbalization widens neural pathways and reinforces truth. Take a cue from Isaiah’s words to the Israelites and build into your life habits such as Sabbath, daily time in God’s presence, and regular reading of Scripture. Doing so will, in time, grow in you a delight in the Lord your God that isn’t going to happen if you just sit around waiting for it. Form habits that reinforce your faith by faith. Rather than waiting to desire it start acting as if you desire it and you will begin to.
My friends, don’t sit around waiting for your heart to change. If you are in Christ you are already a new creation. God has given his word that you’ve been given a new heart, mind, and Spirit. Let’s start living in line with that. Preach to yourself what is true and act rightly regardless of how you feel. God will work and transform your heart as you step out in faith.