Psychological Shots

“A German philosopher many years ago said something to the effect that the more a man has in his own heart the less he will require from the outside; excessive need for support from without is proof of the bankruptcy of the inner man. The average man has no central core of moral assurance, no inner strength to place him above the need for repeated psychological shots to give him the courage to go on living. He has become a parasite on the world, drawing his life from his environment, unable to live a day apart from the stimulation which society affords him. No one with common human feeling will object to the simple pleasures of life… such things if used with discretion may be a blessing along the way. The abuse of a harmless thing is the essence of sin.” AW Tozer

This passage hit me hard today. The notion that so many souls have lost (or never found) that thing which fills the heart and makes it want to continue onward in spite of difficulty is devastating. That so many among us really do require “psychological shots” just to keep going is absolutely terrifying.

We put everything we have out there for the world to approve, and then die a little inside when they don’t. Take a shot.

We spend money that we don’t have on the latest fashions we think will satisfy us, but they don’t. Take a shot.

We travel to the far corners of the earth but it’s never far enough. Take another shot.

I am in awe of a culture that has acquired so much knowledge and information and yet is totally devoid of any wisdom or useful truth. We follow the well-beaten path to happiness only to find out it’s a dead-end. We pop the pills the commercial says will make us less depressed and we feel worse. I was talking with my boys yesterday about the importance of just being in community and helping people out. The gist of the conversation was that we are blessed when we bless others, tis better to give than receive, etc. It sounds cliché, but the truth is that until we understand we are created for more than the seeking out of our own happiness, we are doomed to a life of futile searching.

This thing that Tozer writes about, the idea of being unable to live without the constant stimulation of the world, the little ‘shots’ of temporary happiness, this frightens me. We are addicted to all the wrong things and are conditioned to crave temporary fixes. People charge ahead, taking hit after hit of their drug of choice and eventually just smack right into a wall. It’s that abuse of the harmless things and the neglect of the necessary ones that has us so desperately mixed up.

Some people obsess over work, others fixate on exercise. We have our social media accounts, our video games, our alcohol, you name it. We crave diversion and entertainment wherever we can find it, but whenever these things become our main thing, they’re going to disappoint. I was stunned when I came across this display at the bookstore the other day:

Now, to each his own in the entertainment department and I realize you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and all that, so I looked up the synopsis for the this little gem on the left: “The sinister mystery of how a teen girl named Brooklyn became the epitome of evil in this terrifying prequel to the series MTV calls “Mean Girls meets The Exorcist.” Please note to what group of readers this is marketed towards. And we wonder why kids are so nasty, so mean, so utterly lost.

Friends, we are absolutely created to enjoy life, but not at the expense of our souls. We are created to live from the inside out, not the outside in. No amount of stimulation from any outside source is ever going to satisfy that proverbial “God-shaped hole” in our souls. Our hearts can be downright deceitful at times and lead us off to follow after the wrong things (Jeremiah 17:9). We are not meant to go at it alone, not ever. It’s natural that we hunger and thirst and seek… but we have to go hard after the thing that will fill us and steady us in an unsteady world.

Some will say that following Jesus is too simplistic for todays problems. Others will find the burden of picking up ones cross and following entirely too complicated. The truth though, is that it’s the only cure for what ails us.

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.” Psalm 119:37

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” —Proverbs 4:23

We can’t overcomplicate it, nor can we underestimate the power Christ has to infuse lasting joy into our sin-sick hearts. Take delight in Jesus first and foremost, and He will satisfy those deepest longings (Psalm 37:4).

Like a Perfect Loaf of Bread…

I saw a t-shirt yesterday that read “Eat All The Carbs”… I didn’t buy it, but I relate to it. I love all things bread and I’m pretty sure I’d be a far less interesting person without them. I came across some verses recently that kind of reminded me of the perfect loaf of bread, so I’m gonna go with it, because God knows the way to my heart, lol.

“They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry.” Zechariah 7:12

“I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.” Ezekiel 3:9

Flint is of course, an incredibly hard rock used to start fires. It’s pretty unyielding in its hardness which is why it was and is an excellent survival tool.

The verse in Zechariah speaks of the Israelites making their own hearts hard like flint. They stopped listening to God’s voice, they quit obeying His commandments, and with each choice to follow their own selfish ways, their hearts became harder against God. “For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes have closed…” (Matthew 13:15). Their disobedience led them to be blind and deaf to God’s voice and His ways. They hardened their hearts.

Compare this to the verse in Ezekiel where God Himself tells the prophet that HE will harden Ezekiels head so that he will not be terrorized by these rebellious people. Two big differences here: it’s the head, not the heart that is being hardened, and it’s God Himself doing the hardening.

How interesting is all this?!

The job of the prophet was to warn the people and speak hard truth to them about what was coming down the line if they obeyed/disobeyed. God knew Ezekiel was up against some hard-hearted people who weren’t going to receive that message with open arms. Did Ezekiel change his message to become more palatable? No. God Himself shielded His servant from all the backlash He knew would be coming. Ezekiels job, much like our own in this day and age, was to deliver the message in truth and love and leave the rest to God. Stay the course. God knew the retaliation that would be coming Ezekiels way from the people who refused to hear the message, so He provided his man with some supernatural protection. Not a hard heart, but a hard head.

How fantastic would it be if we could have soft hearts toward God and people and a hard head when it comes to sin? What if we could go out and be bold, truthful AND loving and not obsess over what people think about us? If we could teach our children to be hard-headed to the ungodly junk that bombards them constantly but soft-hearted toward Jesus and their companions?

I wish at times I’d have had a harder head and a softer heart. A God-given forehead of flint that doesn’t crack when the winds of persecution blow, a mind protected from worrying so much about everyones opinions, and a softer heart to be able to see and hear what God desires to come out of it all.

Sometimes we can do all the right things and still get the backlash. Other times, we can do what’s totally against God’s will for us and receive praise from the world. It’s vital to know God’s voice and obey it. Let the chips fall as they say. Hard isn’t always bad and soft isn’t always good, its how and where they are placed. The prophets weren’t afraid of the backlash because they had God-given protection against it, hard heads. It didn’t stop them from speaking up for what was right, it just made it so they didn’t worry so much about the response. They still loved God and their people, soft hearts. I pray that we as believers can allow God to strike this supernatural balance in us – that we would love people and stand firm against anything that goes against God’s word. Hard outside, soft center, like a perfect French baguette.

Lets Hang Out

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man… a wee little man was he… he climbed up in a Sycamore tree, the Lord he wanted to see…”

That’s was pretty much my knowledge of the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. When my kids were little, that was a catchy little song we sang about this wayward little man who climbed up in a tree to see Jesus passing by. Somehow they ended up having dinner together or something.

So when we read the story together a few nights ago, we were open to learning some new things about this guy.

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.  And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”  So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.  But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”

Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”

 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:1-10

The head tax collector made his money from taking what he could from his fellow Jews and giving it to the Romans. Not a popular guy. This short little man may not have had stature, but he was rich and he was hated. I wonder why he even wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus at all. Maybe sheer curiosity. Maybe something inside his small little heart thought this really could be the promised Messiah. Whatever the reason, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up a tree in order to see this Jesus.

“How did Jesus know his name?” one of my boys asked. Something I didn’t even notice. Jesus, surrounded by a huge, pushing crowd of Pharisees and do-gooders, noticed this little guy up a tree and addressed him by name. “Zacchaeus!” What he must have thought being addressed by name! So it is for all of us – Jesus seeks us out (even when we are up a tree so to speak) and He calls us by name! He seeks out the sinner, the outcast, the short people… and he calls us by name.

The next thing we noticed was how strange it was that Jesus invited Himself over to this tax collectors house for dinner. He called Zacchaeus down from his tree and said “lets go hang out!” With all the people vying for Jesus’ attention and time, He goes and chooses this guy. Maybe Zacchaeus was super proud that he had beat them all out. Maybe he was shocked and scared. We are told that the crowd was “displeased” with the choice Jesus made of where to spend His afternoon. Of course they were. They did not yet understand Jesus came for sinners and those who admit they need a savior. He saw Zacchaeus’ heart even if no one else could.

This must have been some meal. What did they talk about? The passage skips all those details and jumps right to the shocking ending. Zacchaeus suddenly announces he’s giving back all he has stolen and that he’s giving half of what he has to the poor. WHAT?! All this transpired over one meal? Personally, I don’t think Jesus scolded him or told him much of anything. I think the heart of this man was completely changed by simply being in the presence of Christ and His unconditional love. I think Zacchaeus sat at a table with God incarnate and he couldn’t help but be changed. All because Jesus simply said, “I’d like to come to your house for dinner.”

What an amazing and simple thing this was for us to read together. No matter what we have done, no matter how bad or nasty we’ve been, Jesus seeks us out by name and wants to hang out with us.

He doesn’t point a finger and yell at us for our messes. He’s not even mad. Time with Him alone changes hearts. It changes intentions. I kind of wish the details of the story were in there somewhere, but they aren’t. I think the reason is for us to simply understand that spending time in the presence of the Lord is enough. No rules. No formulas. Just go be with Him. He wants our time. It doesn’t have to be fancy, He just desires us.

After a short meal with Jesus, this man stood up and announced he was changing everything. He wasn’t forced. That’s a heart change. Time spent with Him is never wasted. Hearts are changed by the smallest things.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves about things like this. God doesn’t require perfection. He came for the imperfect. He came for us who know we are messed up and messy. Hang out with Him. Commune with Him and abide with Him and who knows what kind of heart change will come of it!