Does my heart match the image I convey?

I think it's fair to say that most, if not all people, desire to experience good national leadership during the course of their lifetime. Jeremiah's life spanned the reign of multiple kings of Judah, but the events spoken of in Chapter 7 took place during the reign of a godly king. For a time, Josiah reigned as king in Judah. His reign began when he was eight, but when he was sixteen, he became a fully devoted follower of the Lord. In his 20's, he sought to eradicate idols from the land. He also ordered the remodeling of the temple. In the process of remodeling, the books of the Old Testament Law were rediscovered and Josiah encouraged the people to begin obeying the Lord's teaching again.

2 Chronicles 35 tells us about the completion of the work on the temple and the celebration of the Passover that took place at that time. The people were excited, and in a very celebratory mood. From all outside appearances, it would have seemed like a great revival was taking place among the people and that a renewed interest in walking with the Lord was taking place on a large scale. But the Lord knows people's hearts. He knows when we're faking. He knows when we're trying to craft an image that's the opposite of what's taking place in our hearts. It was into this context that the Lord spoke through Jeremiah to address the distant hearts of the people of Judah that were being disguised by their outward display.


1. Is there an area of my life that God wants amended?

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord.  Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
— Jeremiah 7:1-4, ESV

I wonder what the experience was like when Jeremiah received a word from the Lord. There have been times in my life when it was clear to me that the Lord wanted me to say something to someone or to a group of people, but when I look at a passage like this, I imagine that there may have been an added layer to how the Lord was communicating these specific messages to and through Jeremiah.

Very clearly, Jeremiah understood that the Lord was telling him that the hearts of the people were far from Him. They were going through the outward motions of worship, but internally, they weren't truly walking by faith. Through Jeremiah, the Lord was reaching out to the people and encouraging them to amend, or change their ways. He was inviting them to genuinely trust Him, instead of trusting the vain promises of the false prophets who had been teaching the people that no calamity could come upon them because of the fact that the Lord's temple was located in their nation. But of course, the people didn't heed what Jeremiah shared and continued living their duplicitous lives.

I don't want to be that kind of person and I hope you don't either. Even though we profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, it would be a lie for us to pretend like the things of this world have no power to tempt us. You and I both wrestle with all manner of temptation and it would be a mistake to lie to each other, or lie to ourselves and pretend like we didn't. And sometimes, in our weaker moments, we give in to the things that tempt us. At times, we might even give the devil a foothold in our lives when our temptations become our addictions. But yet our desire is often to convey a picture perfect image on the outside, while inside, we're nurturing our secret idols.

It's into this kind of activity that our Lord speaks. And just as He encouraged the people of Jeremiah's time, He's also encouraging us to be willing to listen to His fatherly voice and amend our ways. To believe the good news of the gospel all over again. To stop giving idols a foothold in our lives, and to experience the renewal and refreshment our hearts crave which ultimately only Christ can supply.

The Lord calls us to repent of our false beliefs because false beliefs lead to ungodly behavior. He's inviting His people to trust Him again.


2. Do the deeds of my hands reflect the heart of Christ?

“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
— Jeremiah 7:5-7, ESV

In the near future, my children, in rapid succession, will all become licensed drivers. They're excited about it. I'm cautiously excited for them. I remember the first Summer I had a license. I was driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, headed to a concert near Harrisburg with my sister. But sadly, my piece of junk car didn't make it. The car overheated and I spent a good portion of the day trying to nurse it along while antifreeze spewed out of the radiator. Observing my dilemma, a thoughtful elderly couple pulled over to help me. They kindly gave me a gallon of antifreeze they had in their car so I could refill what spilled out. That seemed to help for a while, but the car quit again. Thankfully, another family pulled over and offered to give us a ride to the next exit where I could find a payphone. They even started sharing the gospel with us, which I thought was awesome. They were pleased to learn that my sister and I were also believers.

I mention that because that was a day when I was in genuine need of compassion from strangers and I felt relieved when they offered it. Exercising compassion toward others is part of God's calling on our lives because it's evidence of the presence of Christ within us. We're called to reflect, or mirror His compassionate heart.

Through Jeremiah, the Lord was calling the people of the time to practice justice, show kindness toward transient foreigners, and look after widows and fatherless children. Many of the people thought the fact that they showed up at the temple and celebrated Passover was sufficient, but the truth is, the Lord isn't impressed by our ceremonies and pageants. He's looking for changed lives. He wants us to reflect the heart of His Son, forsake our idols, and serve one another just as He has graciously served us.

As followers of Christ, a passage of Scripture like this should encourage us to ask ourselves if the deeds of our hands reflect the compassionate heart of Jesus.


3. Am I consistently walking in the light?

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?
— Jeremiah 7:8-10, ESV

Something that the Lord has been teaching me to value during the course of the years that I've known Him, is the blessing of genuine fellowship with Him. As I have come to know Him, He's fostered a desire within me to know Him even more, on a deeper level than before. A curious thing begins to happen to you when this becomes the pattern of your life. You begin to become very aware of His continual presence with you. He moves from the back of your mind to the forefront and you become quite mindful of His presence when you're tempted to go in a direction that is outside His will. Walking with Christ develops personal integrity. He transitions you from walking in darkness to walking in the light. 

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
— 1 John 1:5-7, ESV

In the same respect, it becomes evident that a person has either an immature faith or no faith at all when walking in the light of Christ isn't much of a priority. Strangely enough, if you've ever watched a stereotypical mob movie, you've seen how this plays out. The mobsters commit murder, robbery, and adultery, then ask a priest to give them a blessing or a ritual to absolve them of their guilt. If anyone believes that approach actually works, I'd encourage them to read this passage from Jeremiah.

In this context, Jeremiah lists the secret sins the people of Judah were engaging in. Murder, robbery, dishonesty, adultery, and idolatry. These were being practiced in the activities of their hands and the desires of their hearts. But then they'd go to the temple, engage in ceremonious acts, declare themselves delivered, then rush right back into the life of sin they embraced before.

Please tell me that this isn't an apt description for us as well. Jesus cautioned us that our hearts can easily drift toward these things.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire..... “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
— Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, ESV

Could it be that some of us are still trying to pretend with God and one another? What hope do we have if we aren't truly walking in the light? The only hope we have is to fall on the mercy of Christ, seek His cleansing, and ask Him for the strength He supplies to walk with Him daily.


4. Am I trying to place my trust in something made by men?

Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.  Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.  And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh.  And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.
— Jeremiah 7:11-15, ESV

It became clear that the people of Judah thought of the Lord as their escape card that would allow them to go in whatever direction they wanted to with their lives, without consequence. They had grown so used to God's blessings that they began taking them for granted. The Lord had established them as a nation, performed miracles in their midst, raised up prophets, priests, and kings for them, and decreed that His temple be built right in their midst. In time, the people of Jeremiah's day began thinking of themselves as special and unlikely to experience any form of divine discipline because of their lack of faith.

Instead of trusting in their Creator, they began placing their faith in the temple that was meant to point them to Him. Can you think of any examples in our lives where we may have done the very same thing? Is our ultimate hope in something made by man or is our greatest hope in Christ through whom all things were created? Do we trust the creation or the Creator?

In looking at a passage of Scripture like this, it becomes clear that the Lord desires a consistency and a genuineness in our faith. He wants our hearts to match the image we convey. He isn't interested in a show. He isn't interested in falsehood. He isn't interested in pretense. His desire is that we experience a genuine relationship with Him through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

This world has enough fakers. This world has enough people expertly working to craft a fake image. Christ isn't calling us to go through the motions for a few short decades. He invites us to experience a real, transformative faith, that results in a new heart, a changed life, and a new family, not just a new group of people to pretend in front of.

© John Stange, 2018