Developing a Heart for God

Scriptures: 1 Samuel 16:7

Introduction
Our society is obsessed with physical appearance. That’s why many people spend time at health clubs, why one of the fastest growing industries in this country is plastic surgery, and why people are continually on diets and joining Weight Watchers. Billions of dollars are spent each year in the health and fitness industries.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for physical fitness and being in shape. But God has another standard. When Samuel was looking for a man to succeed Saul as King of Israel, God said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Whereas man places a high price on the externals God examines deep within that man for something more. Man judges one on the basis of one’s appearance, but God critiques the heart.

In Biblical thought, the heart was the central organ that controlled all activities thus determining one’s character of living. The heart housed the place where qualities worth having in our lives were first formed. The heart embodied the womb of character.

David’s heart was right. He was the skinny little sheep herder who became King of Israel, the man whom Samuel sought and found to succeed Saul. He was a mighty warrior, a valiant general, an inspired leader, a successful businessman, a skilled marksman, and a gifted psalm writer. But the thing that impressed God about David was his heart. God “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will carry out all My will” (Acts 13:22). David allowed God to mold and fashion his heart into that which would be pleasing to him. God focused on his character more than physical stature. He concentrated on his integrity and not just outward looks.

Can you and I develop a heart for God, as David did? Yes. But before we examine how, let’s identify what will destroy a heart for God.

I. What will destroy a heart for God?
Our physical heart is positioned by God to provide protection from destructive external forces. Not so with the spiritual heart. It is susceptible to all kinds of harmful diseases and influences that might jeopardize its integrity. That’s why the writer of Proverbs said, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Prov. 4:23). The health and productivity of the heart cannot be assumed. It must be constantly protected to ward off these destructive forces. And what are they?

A. Success. Success crowds our heart with things and the signs of accomplishments. It tends to puff up our heart with counterfeit accolades causing us to say “look what I have done.”

B. Selfishness. Selfishness shrinks our heart to where there is room for only three – me, myself, and mine. It becomes grotesque and unable to face life because it alienates the needed life support of others.

C. Sloth. Sloth dries up the heart with inactivity, laziness, and lack of service. The heart is like love, it functions to maximum capacity as it pumps out service to others.

D. Sin. Sin hardens the heart to the things that really matter in life. The heart becomes blackened like a chain-smoker’s lungs as it is separated from its life source, God Himself.

E. Stress. Stress breaks the heart by placing unnecessary demands on it. The heart crumbles under the pressure. It fails to recognize the power that has been made available to prevent anxiety.

Each destructive force is a disease that must be held in check. Pretend that you are in doctor’s office for a heart examination. Would any of these heart diseases be detected? Are any of these diseases keeping you from living for God? Are they negatively influencing your character?

II. How to develop a heart for God
Developing a heart for God is not as difficult as it may sound. It involves concerning our heart with the concerns of God’s heart. We must develop those qualities that are worth having in our lives.

Each of these steps is an antidote, a cure, or a remedy, to the diseases we have just discussed. Based on David’s life, they provide the necessary ingredients for developing a heart for God.

A. Be humble in spite of success
Without a doubt, David was successful. “. . . and continued to be successful in all his activities because the LORD was with him” (1 Sam. 18:14). David first appears on the scene in the Bible to confront and defeat the giant Goliath. He led Saul’s armies into battle with arousing victories. “David marched out [with the army], and was successful in everything Saul sent him to do” (1 Sam. 18:5). In fact, David was so successful that the people sang songs to him, “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7). It was David’s success that drove Saul insane with jealousy and envy.

We learn from David that one can be successful and still have a heart for God. But in order to keep success from crowding God out of the heart it must be kept in check. The antidote is humility. Humility is not lowliness or to be humiliated or to be abased. One does not have to be a doormat to humankind to be humble. Humility is simply recognizing the grace and mercy of God. When it comes to success and accomplishment, humility recognizes where these things come from.

Former President Harry Truman used to say, “I was here by accident and I try to remember where I came from and where I’m going back to.” He studied history and noted how men who were impressed with themselves were poor leaders and failed to make needed decisions. These “highhats,” as Truman called them, were modern Pharisees whose lives were counterfeit.

The arena of politics, or sports, or business, or even the religious community teaches us that success and humility often don’t mix. Like water and oil they seem to dispel the other. But in so doing, a fall is certain. In a prayer, David said, “You rescue an afflicted people, but Your eyes are set against the proud – You humble them” (2 Sam. 22:28).

I keep a quote by John Henry Jowett, a preacher of the last century, on my desk. It reads: “A man’s devotion is apt to dwindle as he becomes more successful. Our piety does not keep pace with our purse. Absorption in bounty makes us forgetful of the Giver. We can be so concerned in the pasture that the Shepherd is forgotten. Our very fullness is apt to become our foe.”

Perhaps the ultimate test of a heart for God is: How do you handle success? The greatest test of our character is not adversity but prosperity. When things are going well do you pray as often? When you are enjoying promotions and bonuses do you recognize God as the ultimate source of those blessings?

B. Be mindful of the Shepherd
David is known for many things but one of his greatest feats was the writing of the majority of the Psalms. Inspired and composed in tandem with God, they are the original Rock music with a capital “R.” Many of these psalms probably were written when David sat alone on the Judean hillside tending his flock of sheep. They are expressive words directing his attention to his Heavenly Father. As one Psalm puts it, “Proclaim with me the LORD’s greatness; let us exalt His name together” (Psalm 34:3). The summation of David’s life could very easily be expressed in these words, “David inquired of the LORD” (2 Sam. 21:1). He worshiped and lifted up the name of the Lord.

The antidote for selfishness is the exaltation of God. Whereas selfishness shrinks the heart, the exaltation of God expands the heart. It creates room for God. It dispels the unnecessary things in life.

What are you worshipping? Be careful how you answer. David said, “I will not set anything godless before my eyes” (Psalm 101:3). For many we have filled our thoughts and our sights on those things that do not matter. They are insignificant and worthless. For a lot of people trivial pursuit is not a game, it is a lifestyle. We need to pray as David prayed, “Confirm what You said to Your servant, for it produces reverence for You” (Psalm 119:38).

C. Be available in service
God said of David, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will carry out all My will” (Acts 13:22). If we could eavesdrop on David’s relationship with God throughout his life we would probably discover a scene every morning of David approaching God saying, “Reporting for duty, Sir. What are my orders today?” He wholeheartedly served his Master through thick and thin, through easy times and difficult times. God could count on David. When he completed his life this is what the Scriptures said of him. “For David, after serving his own generation in God’s plan, fell asleep” (Acts 13: 36). He completed the task God had assigned him and then he died. Who would want to stick around here after one had finished his assigned responsibility?

The antidote for sloth is service. Sloth dries up the heart. Service opens a floodgate of life-giving resources to bring energy and power to one’s heart and devotion to God.

Jack Sanford tells the story of an old well his family used during their summer vacations in rural New Hampshire. The water was cold and pure and refreshing, and it never dried up, even in the worst summer droughts. When other people would be forced to go to the lake for water, the Sanford family had only to walk out the front door to the old well, which faithfully gave them its cold, clear refreshment.

The years passed, and the family decided to modernize the vacation house. Kerosene lamps were replaced with electricity and the old well with indoor plumbing and running water. The well was covered in order to have a reserve should the occasion ever arise. More years passed by, and one day Sanford became nostalgic for the old well and its water. He uncovered it to look inside and taste again. He was shocked to find the well bone-dry.

He made inquiries to discover what had happened. He learned that kind of well was fed by hundreds of tiny underground rivulets. When water is drawn from such a well, more water flows into it through the rivulets, keeping them open and clear. Otherwise, they clog up and close.

Our heart is much like that well. It dries up inside if the living water of God does not flow in. What makes the heart dry is not the absence of God’s Spirit, but disuse. Unless we go often and regularly to the well, unless we give of ourselves in service, we will become dry and hollow.

It has been said that God wants our availability before he wants our ability. The truth is he wants both. But the fact remains that he can’t use our ability unless we have made ourselves available to him. Have you made yourself available to God? Are you reporting for duty? Do you want to be used by God?

D. Be repentant of sins
I love the Bible for many reasons. One reason in particular, it doesn’t cover up anyone’s sins or faults. It paints a picture of people warts and all. David is no exception. A low point in David’s life involved his adultery with Bathsheba and the eventual murder of her husband Uriah.

David was a great sinner. But he was also a great repenter. He confessed, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam. 12:13). Psalms 51 is his confessional statement. He sinned desperately, but he wanted desperately not to sin.

From David’s life I learn that one does not have to be perfect to have a heart for God. One can be a sinner and still be devoted to God. One can experience a dreaded past and still be used of God. We are going to sin. That is fact. That sin separates us from God. It stains and hardens our heart. But the great antidote is repentance. Repentance occurs by not just feeling sorry for sin, but when we turn away from sin. One can’t repent and keep on sinning. Renunciation of sin has to occur.

I don’t have to ask if there is sin in your life. The question is: are you turning away from your sin? Are you repenting of known sin?

David prayed, “God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). He wanted a heart that was clean before God. This represents an individual who devotes their life to God.

E. Be trusting in a Savior
David experienced constant stress. For much of his younger adulthood he was pursued by Saul who sought to kill him. He became the king of a nation that endured wars, giants, national problems, famine, only to name a few. His family problems were horrendous. Sibling rivalry looked petty compared to the soap opera of David’s family. This guy was a potential psychiatric patient.

Stress breaks even the sturdiest of hearts. David had an antidote – Trust in a living God. This was the controlling factor in his life. David composed a song that began, “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my mountain [where I seek refuge. My shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold, my refuge, and my Savior, You save me from violence. I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I was saved from my enemies” (2 Sam. 22:1-4). David’s basic philosophy for dealing with the problems and frustrations of life stated, “I pray. I trust. I keep moving.”

In “Overheard in an Orchard,” Elizabeth Cheney expressed it like this:

Said the Robin to the Sparrow:
“I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”

Said the Sparrow to the Robin:
“Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.”

What about you? How do you stand the test of life’s battles? Do you get stressed out or trust in God? The battles of life will come. Count on it. But use it to bring your heart closer to the Savior. Hudson Taylor wrote, “It doesn’t matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies – whether it comes between you and God or whether it presses you nearer his heart.” Is the pressure of life drawing you toward the Savior or pushing you away?

As you expose your heart to the Master Physician what do the x-rays reveal?

Rick Ezell is the pastor of First Baptist Greer, South Carolina. He has served churches in Naperville, Illinois, Scottsburg, Indiana and Overland Park, Kansas. He is the author of several books including, The Seven Sins of Highly Defective People, Strengthening the Pastor’s Soul, and Cutting to the Core.
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