Hosea 10:12 (NLT)
I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.’
As my girls were eating breakfast this morning I played a message my husband left for them. The end of the first nine weeks of school has arrived and since he’s out of town, Shannon left a message telling Rivers and Leah how proud he is of them. As I unloaded the dishwasher I glanced over to see a smile on Rivers’ face as she listened but then I thought no more of it.
Until I heard sniffles.
Dish towel in mid-air, I looked over to find Leah crying. Tears on her face crying. I could not register why she was crying…Shannon had included her in the message. Then Rivers simply said, “She’s happy crying. I know because my eyes teared up too!”
After a tight hug and making sure it was indeed a happy cry, we moved on with our morning. Yet I keep thinking about Leah’s tender heart. How important a tender heart is in life and how difficult it becomes to keep as we encounter some of the harsh realities of life. We harden ourselves to pain, to our regrets, to the gentle whisper of a God trying to lead one way when we are determined to go another.
In the scripture above Hosea encouraged the Israelites to plant seeds of righteousness so they would harvest a crop of love. He urged them to plow up the hard ground of their hearts and seek the Lord. Saying now is the time. Now. Then God would shower them with righteousness.
The Israelites were known for rebellion, for wandering and for worshipping false gods. So much of the Old Testament is the story of a timeless tug-of-war between Creator and a people bent on their own way as they lived with hard hearts. Over and over they would return to the Lord when sin finally broke them into bits. God would restore them and promise to care for them if they would follow Him whole-heartedly. They would for a period of time but then before you know it God is rescuing them once again. (Thank God He is the same today!)
I relate. Because some days I just want to shrug Him off. I don’t want to plant the seeds of righteousness (make choices that honor Him) that bring a harvest of love. Some days I check my email before I check in with Him. I listen to the news more than I listen for His voice. I watch the back of my eyelids rather than the sun rising with Him. I read my library book before I read His book. I absorb into my heart and mind the culture around me before I soak in the everlasting, unseen realities of Who He is. Who He always will be.
Plowing up the hard ground of my heart doesn’t bring feel-good goose bumps. You know what I’m saying? Letting God cultivate a tender heart within me requires a thousand little deaths every day. I might be tempted to skip over that part, but how else can I have a tender heart? How else can I live like my five-year-old, so tender-hearted that words of love and affirmation from my Heavenly Father easily soak into my soul and change me forever?
A thousand little deaths. A thousand little choices.
Am I not in large part today the sum of the choices I made yesterday or the week before or last year? As a family, are we not the sum of the choices we made yesterday and last week and last year? In our marriages and careers, our finances and children, are we not living out the fruit of the seeds we planted? As a nation, are we not the sum of our choices as a people? Last week, last decade and last century?
If we aren’t then what does it matter if my heart is tender toward the Lord or not? Is a tender heart, one that hears and follows the voice of the Lord, really necessary so that our lives, families and nation reap a harvest of love and righteousness? Does it matter if I die a thousand daily deaths? If my flesh, my going-against-God nature, screeches with the pain of surrender as I say yes to what He asks of me?
I think it matters more than anything. Sometimes I reach my limit, you know? I reach my limit with platitudes and church lingo and the broad strokes we use in painting over the deaths we refuse to die. Just like God’s people in the Old Testament, we so often want to give Him part of ourselves but keep our flesh on life-support. We live with a hard heart because we don’t really, really think we need Him. We can get by without the nearness of Jesus every day. We can get by without sensing the direction and pull of Holy Spirit in our hearts. We can manage. No need to die those little deaths. But I have to look around and ask, what is the sum total of our choices? The evidence comes out of my own mouth, my family and my community.
I know what I’m like, y’all. It’s humbling when you’ve worked so hard at being and proving your spirituality to face the sin-bent condition of your life. Your hidden thoughts, your “mixed motives.” I know, we readily admit we are sinners. Smile. But are we? Do we really believe the condition of our heart matters? Do we believe our daily deaths or refusals add up to anything at all?
I won’t do the automatic pilot, God-compartment religious thing. I have developed a real distaste for it, to be honest. Not because I’m so anything except exhausted from the fruitless results of disingenuous Christianity. My skies open up when I live convinced that only true obedience, a thousand daily deaths as needed, will shatter the hardness of my heart. Not my church attendance. Not my silver cross necklace or my bumper sticker. Not the way I worship in church or the way I pray in front of others. Not how easily I can quote Bible verses or tell someone else what to believe. I’ve done those things most of my life. And yet the sum total of my life, my marriage and my family was a falling apart mess. The costless choices that buffer my sense of duty and spiritual pride change nothing that really matters.
When my sin rages hot and heavy…when every death I refuse to die weighs down on me in a sum total too heavy to bare…as I’m laid open and stripped down from all I think I am or try to be…there I grow thirsty. My heart’s hardness begins to crack under the loving and affirming Words of my Father. A taste of healing and hope beckons me on. These are the times I once again shake loose the cumbersome ropes of pretending. I cannot hear His voice, heed His voice, without a tender heart.
I won’t pretend I die every death. But I won’t pretend it doesn’t really matter when the evidence, either way, is insurmountable.