Twice in Ezekiel God makes a promise to give us a new heart:
“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,” (Ezekiel 11:19, ESV)
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26, ESV)
Both times our Lord is speaking to His people, Israel. Today, He is still speaking and these words are for us, His chosen people through Jesus Christ. As I was speaking with my wife last evening following a Bible study at church a revelation came on some things that God has been changing in me and changing in my heart. Over the years, I have noticed a great changing. My wife and I are passionate people, but sometimes my passions and my sense of right and wrong could kindle in me a desire to do harm to another. As a youth, I was very temperamental and early on knew the principles office very well. I learned to control it better and not act out, but that was always under the surface. I was pro-death penalty and felt satisfied when I saw people “get what they deserved” because “justice was served.” This is what I grew up around. Early in my marriage, my wife and I differed on the death penalty. I was satisfied when Timothy McVeigh was executed while my wife was saddened. Even through Seminary, these views were still there. I had no issues with war especially after 9/11. If my wife would’ve allowed I may have tried to become a military chaplain, but out of respect for my wife’s wishes I never applied (I would definitely be in much better shape physically if I had). Over time, though, I have felt my spirit change. First, it was with the death penalty but I relegated that to how I have become more and more pro-life and see that as more of a commitment from conception to natural death. But as I reflect I see my spirit is further being changed, anger is not my first response at wrongs as it once had been but sadness.
This has been a dramatic change over the past couple of years and has come through some great difficulties. I know that in the past I had responded with indignation and anger at some wrongs that had been done. In it I had not only hurt others with words, but also had done harm to myself. I can’t say that it has been a lesson taught through counseling or efforts on my own (with some of the things that happened I did seek out support to make sure that I dealt with some of the difficulties in a healthy way), but truly it has been a working of the Holy Spirit as I have felt my Lord and Savior’s gracious love and care in my life. My counselors were nice and they helped me to not stuff my emotions, but this didn’t come through psychological tools or videos, often those things seemed to want to help me in justifying my feelings of betrayal and working through that. No, what I have felt more and more is a greater sense of peace. I guess much of this started with the horror I felt as the people of New York City danced in the streets at the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. It has progressively been changing since then. God is giving me a heart transplant and he desires the same for all of those who belong to him. It is amazing how God’s Word never falls flat. It will change as Paul reminds us in Romans 12:2 (ESV), “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” When our lives our more and more turned over to him we become more malleable to His will.
I guess this is where I am affirmed in my agreement with the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther on his views of the bound will. I know my wife’s eyes glaze over every time she hears someone speak of the free will around me because she knows what is to come. I have gotten better not to always engage but I do love some of the conversations that I have had on this. It amazes me how people will defend this idea of free will with such virility. I do understand it to some extant as I think about it and reflect. It’s the struggle we have understanding God’s grace and power. As Americans, we need to defend our effort and work in being the good people that we are and how we are not like so and so or at least we don’t do such and such. It’s the “pull up your boot straps and get it done” mentality that is so pervasive. I am so glad that Jesus has done the work for me and I can rest in him. I know that I can’t do it, I’ve tried. I’ve heard the three steps to a better life sermon and have been left wanting. I have failed more than I have succeeded. God has lifted me up. I know I am not good, but I know who is and He covers me in his cloak and helps me on my journey. My heart is changing. I don’t know about yours, I pray that you are receiving the same treatment. A part of me is jealous because my wife has been able to sit ringside and watch. I can’t say that I’ve had the same pleasure. I would love to see the faces and the lives of the ones that have done great harm to me in the past change. I would love to see Christ’s love wash over them and be able to embrace them in the joy of our Lord’s love. Chances are I won’t but I also pray for them. In last Sunday’s reading from John 8, Jesus was accused of being a Samaritan and having a demon. An attempt to disparage his character and his sanity. I’ve had my character attacked with impunity and I still bear those wounds. My Lord is healing me. I don’t feel the anger that they once caused in my spirit. I thank my Lord for that. I forgive and continue to forgive because I know that my Lord has forgiven me. I am saddened when I hear of the actions of those that have harmed me are doing the same to another, but I pray that the Holy Spirit move upon them and they change. That change may or may not happen, but that is not under my control, only God can change the heart of another. I’m not equipped to do the transplant. Yet, I can pray.
The Lord is evoking great change in me and in many who believe and trust in Him. As a follower of Christ when I reflect on the state of our society I see many things that trouble my spirit greatly, but I also see a great mission field of many wounded needing healing balm. It reminds me of the hymn “There is a Balm in Gilead” and I laugh a little because in Seminary it was a favorite of the Seminary Pastor and was often sung one year in my studies. It seemed multiple times a month. Funny thing is I don’t remember the last time I sung it in church. Maybe, I’ll have to suggest it for a Sunday. But yes, there is a balm in Gilead and it does make all things new. Our Lord and His Gospel can fix even the most broken of hearts and shattered of spirits. He even can help in learning to trust again when people that called themselves friends and family betray you. That balm from the one who suffered all sin so that I could know the Lord, and that you may know the Lord as well. I seek His face every day and every day I pray for you. May His love fill your heart and your life and may you know that love the depth of your being that it break that heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. May that peace fill you now and forever. Amen.