"The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)
God can see things about you that no one else can see. Deep things. Hidden things. You know, those inner thoughts and desires that your family and friends have no idea are even floating around in your heart and mind.
We have a tendency to assume that a person's actions tell the whole story. But that is simply not the case. Just look at the apostle Peter for example. He had some serious lapses in judgment, and yet, his heart was right before God. He truly wanted to do the honorable thing in every situation. But his follow-through was not always as reliable as his intentions.
God is looking at that place inside you where your mind is constantly weighing various options. This means He is looking at more than just your behavior. He is looking at why you do what you do. That goes to the level of the heart.
After his sins of murder and adultery, King David needed a new heart. But he knew that he was not capable of providing it for himself. So he asked God to do it as he prayed these words, "Create in me a pure heart, O God." (Psalm 51:10) The word "create" is hugely significant. It reveals the fact that David knew he was powerless to fix his heart. It was too messed up.
But King David did by that time have one good thing in place. His motives were once again pure, even though his recent actions had been anything but pure. If your motives are pure, you will be moving in a good direction. It will be in the direction of godliness and righteousness, as compared to a continual chasing after things which are outside of God's will for your life.
Notice the distinction between our "intentions" and our "desires." Intentions, or motives, are what we "want to do" and what we "don't want to do." Desires on the other hand are what we are feeling "drawn to do." Do you see the difference?
Christians want to live for Christ because of what He has done for us. He gave us everything. His life. His love. His blood. And His free gift of salvation. Why wouldn't we want to give Him our entire heart, soul and mind? Why wouldn't we want to do the right thing in every situation?
The element of course which throws a monkey wrench into the mix is sin. And sin is more than just "what we do." It is also part of our being. The Bible calls that part of us our "sinful nature."
It is helpful to understand that your sinful nature is not the same thing as your heart. Your sinful nature is capable of producing an unlimited amount of evil desires, but with your free will as a believer in Jesus, you get to decide which desires to dwell on and which ones to resist. The more we embrace good desires and righteous choices with our heart and mind, the more those bad desires decrease in frequency and intensity.
One of the many problems with sin is that it has the power to corrupt our motives. When that happens, we as Christians can actually start to become "double-minded." This occurs when some of our intentions remain pure, while other motives within us have become impure. Talk about conflicted!
Bad desires lead to bad motives when the will acts on an evil desire rather than resisting it by God's grace. And bad motives will always increase bad desires. Only God can decrease them. Only God can replace them. Only God can forgive them. And He does that through the blood of His Son as we trust in Christ alone to forgive us.
Given the mess we are in if left to ourselves and our sinful nature, it is amazing that God would love us enough to reach down and offer us a new heart, and a new mind, and new motives. But that is exactly what He does. He not only washes away the sins of those who come to the Father through the Son, but He also begins to fill our soul with His living water. That refreshing experience leads to a new life. But only as the bad motives get replaced with good motives.
As D.L. Moody used to say, "We have to be emptied before we can be filled." As we admit our bad motives and sinful decisions to the Lord, we then ask Him to remove them and their chilling effects from our heart and soul. That emptying is crucial in order to make room for God's living water to fill us. Christians still have a sinful nature, but we are no longer chained to those desires. We are now free to pursue things which please God. (See chapters 6-8 of Romans.)
In the midst of our Christian freedom, we must be on guard daily against indulging the desires of the sinful nature. The moment we begin to do so with our words, or actions, or even persistent unholy thoughts, we begin to notice a subtle shift in some of our motives. That is what sin does to us. It corrupts our motives. It damages our heart. And it makes it next to impossible for us to please God until we set it right.
By talking to God about our issues and our sins, we are confessing to Him that we have gone astray. When we repent of our sin, we turn from it and seek to go in the other direction. And through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, we are liberated to live for God with a joyful heart. Now can you honestly tell me any better way to live than that?
As forgiven children of God, we are free to set our heart and mind on things that are pure and pleasing to God. We seek to fill our minds with God's Word and God's will so that there is no room in our heart for sinful thoughts and desires to take over and set up shop. When a sinful thought pattern becomes fortified in our mind, the Bible calls that a "stronghold."
In order to avoid strongholds, "we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (see 2 Cor. 10:4, 5) We have learned how critical our thought life is to our overall life of discipleship. This is why God's Word instructs us, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." (Proverbs 4:23)
A follower of Jesus Christ is first and foremost one who seeks to control his or her thinking. This discipline is far easier said than done, as each one of us knows from personal experience. But by God's grace, it can be put into practice. Here is the daily drill: "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." (Philippians 4:8) If you do that, everything else will pretty well fall into place in your life of discipleship.
It's no wonder that people who only dabble with Christianity give up so soon. The mental discipline can be rigorous at times. It is an hour-by-hour challenge, especially in our society today. But just because you have some setbacks doesn't mean you should throw in the towel. The narrow road you are on as a believer in Jesus is the only road that ends well. That is because after the brutal crucifixion of our Lord, His resurrection ended well. And when the last second on the clock of time ticks down to zero, the Messiah and His people will begin a celebration that will have no end, literally.
So if you run out of good things to think about, try focusing on the eternal reality of paradise with the Lord. In that land, the hearts of God's people will never experience even a hint of sinful desire or the restlessness which those desires produce in us here on earth. Everything will be on the up and up in heaven, and our senses will be in rapturous overdrive with a constant overflow of joy, peace and power. The Bible highlights the reality of "eternal pleasures." (Psalm 16:11) Let's just say that no one who goes to that place will ever be bored for even a microsecond.
As the Lord examines your heart and my heart today, He will be pleased if He sees faith in Christ and motives that want to do His will. If there is an area of our heart where that holy reality is not freely flowing, God can fix it. He can heal it. He can overwhelm our sin and our issues. But we must come to Him in repentance and humility just like King David eventually did.
Without the sincere motive to be walking on the Lord's straight path, we will experience much unrest and a continual longing for things which are outside of God's will. It's the same for all of us. We all have a sinful nature. We all get to choose our motives. And we all experience the fruit of our motives.
This is why all God has to do to see what someone is really about is to look at the heart. "As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man." (Proverbs 27:19) Actions reveal a believer's spiritual maturity, or lack of it, but the heart reveals our deepest intentions. And the strength of those holy desires and the depth of our love for the Lord tells God a whole lot about us.
So if you find your heart today filled with unholy desires rather than righteous ones, you can ask God to do something about it. Who else is capable of performing surgery on the soul? Who but the Holy Spirit can give us a genuine love for Christ and an ongoing desire to do His will in all things?
Bottom line: our Creator knows us better than we know ourselves. And He sees those issues within us that no one else comes close to seeing. Yet He still loves us even with all of our conflicted desires and imperfect follow-through.
Now that's impressive, because that is true love straight from the heart of God!