Pray First – Heart
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. -Jeremiah 29:12-13
Not too long ago, my wife and I were busy packing late into the night for a long-awaited family vacation. We were working hard to make sure we had all the essentials for a week of travel with four young children. We had what seemed to be an endless “To-Do” list and not enough time to accomplish everything before our early morning departure. Then, we turned on the news and realized that our area was under a tornado warning and rotation was being confirmed nearby. We paused, heard the sirens, and immediately prioritized what really mattered: our kids! We left everything – even our shoes – to grab our children and get to our safe spot. By God’s grace, the storm passed and nothing was lost. But in that moment, what we really treasured was revealed through our actions and our affections. We were willing to give up anything and everything in order to focus on the main thing.
Jesus did not come to simply give a weather update with the anticipation that life could return to normal. He was proclaiming the good news of God’s coming Kingdom, one that would ultimately turn the whole world upside-down. If it is near, then it should be natural for those who are seeking it to get their priorities straight. When Jesus was asked about the Greatest Commandment in Mark 12:28, by someone who wanted to be ready for the Kingdom to come, Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
This commandment to love God with every aspect of our life does not just summarize the Law, but it also calibrates our focus, sets our priorities, and brings us closer to God’s Kingdom (cf. Mark 12:33-34). The good news of Jesus is that through His work, especially on the cross, God’s Kingdom is coming. And God’s people, who are to be seeking His Kingdom before and above all else, will ultimately be marked out, not by our sacrifices and offerings, or rules and rituals – all the religious extras – but by love. The urgency of the coming Kingdom requires a singular focus on that which really matters… and it begins with our hearts.
In Deuteronomy, God promised that real restoration would come when His people obeyed His commands with all their heart. However, we could not truly obey until our hearts were circumcised and enabled to love Him fully (Deut. 30:1-6). Jesus, through the work of the Holy Spirit, has circumcised our hearts (Col. 2:11-12). Ezekiel 36:26-27 said this loving obedience would happen from the overflow of a new heart and new spirit that God would put within us. Jesus, through His death and resurrection, has given us a new heart and has put His Spirit within us (Rom. 5:5). And in Jeremiah we learn that the promise of a hope and a future is connected to us being given a new heart that fully seeks after God (Jer. 29:11-14, 31:31-34). In fact, Jeremiah 29:12-13 says, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jesus has given us a new covenant, not only forgiving us of our sin but also freeing us to live with our actions and our affections abiding in Him (cf. Luke 22:20, Rom. 6:17-18, Galatians 4:6).
The heart is the controlling factor of our lives (cf. Matt. 6:21, 12:34). So, if we want to see God’s Kingdom come in our lives, our families, our churches, and our communities as it is in heaven (cf. Matt. 6:10) we must first address our hearts. Otherwise, if our hearts are dull toward God, we will become fruitless and it will be difficult to hear from Him, understand Him, or see Him moving (Matt. 13:15-23). But Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). So, when our hearts are tempted to love other things first, let us be reminded of this good news: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins… We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:10, 19).
Father in Heaven, I praise you for the blessing of a new year and I thank you for allowing me to participate in your Kingdom. Would you free my heart from selfish desires and vain pursuits, and would you enable me to love you wholeheartedly as I seek first your Kingdom in response to your love for me through Jesus my Lord?
How is your heart? Are you soft-hearted, loving God and the people around you well, or has the world and the presence of sin hardened your heart? Are you allowing God to nurture your heart? Are you loving Him with every breath? Who or what captivates your heart's attention? Is Jesus your first love? Is the Gospel the mission of your heart?
Practical Life Application
Set boundaries. In this world, your heart can easily be in a daily game of tug-of-war. Learn to say no to the world so you can be open to what God has in store for you. Don't let your phone be the first thing you look at in the morning. Before you speak to your loved ones, communicate with He who is love. Don't believe what culture says about following your heart. The Bible tells us that the heart is deceitful. Trust God above everything. Listen to Him through His word. Spend time with His people. Set aside time for just you and Him.