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Friday, May 24, 2013

A Contrite Heart

We are well underway with our discovery of some of the character traits which may not be very evident in our physical appearance, but which make us quite "attractive" from the inside out.  As we begin today on our "C" List of character traits, there is really only one trait today where I'd like to focus - that of a CONTRITE heart.  For some, their first impression of "contrite" is that of being repentant, and therefore, remorseful because their is some sense of guilt one is feeling.  I don't think of a contrite heart in quite this same sense. Yep, I think a contrite heart is one with a "healthy" perspective on the value and practice of repentance.  Yep, I believe the contrite heart experiences some sort of "pain" whenever there is sinful behavior being acted out in their lives.  Yet, I don't believe for a moment God ever looks for us to be laden with guilt - remorseful in the sense of the shame or regret caused by the sin coming back to bite at us again and again.  If you did not realize this, the root of the word remorse comes from the old Latin word "remord" which means to bite again, nag, vex.  God's plan is for us to bring our sin to him, leave it there and never be "nagged" or "vexed" by it again!

For the high and honored One Who lives forever, Whose name is Holy, says, “I live in the high and holy place. And I also live with those who are sorry for their sins and have turned from them and are not proud. I give new strength to the spirit of those without pride, and also to those whose hearts are sorry for their sins.  (Isaiah 57:15 NLV)

“Heaven’s my throne, earth is my footstool.  What sort of house could you build for me?  What holiday spot reserve for me?  I made all this! I own all this!”  God’s Decree.  But there is something I’m looking for:  a person simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say."  (Isaiah 66:1-2 MSG)

Two passages were chosen for today's study, but I could have chosen many more.  The scriptures have a lot to say about the heart and its condition.  The book of Isaiah is written to a nation definitely determined to follow their own way, to pursue their own path in life.  This has not worked out so well for them.  They have encountered all kinds of not so "exciting" ramifications for their "independent" living - ranging from disease to captivity.  Their worship has become rote, their homes filled with all kinds of things God warned them would only take their eyes off of him, and their daily struggles to avoid the ever encroaching reign of the Assyrians in their midst.  Sadly, the same can be said of us whenever we choose our own path - determined to live independent of God's counsel, content to "find our own way" in life.  To this God says, "There is something I am looking for...a person simple and plain...reverently responsive to me!"  

A contrite heart is really a responsive heart - one which turns from the path it is on which may not be wholesome; one which looks to God to "author" the plan for each new day.  As we look at our first passage, we find several key elements of a "contrite" heart - sincere sorrow for sin, the willingness to turn away from sin (repentance), and a lack of pride.  Wow!  A pretty big list of "characteristics", huh?  This is probably why I decided to only put one on my "C" List for today - it is a pretty sizable character trait all by itself!  I think these traits need a little deeper exploring, so here goes:

- Repentance:  First of all, the translations I chose are probably not the best to describe the true "action" of repentance.  In society today, we often hear others say "I am sorry" without really seeing any "back up" to the words.  In other words, they are just words!  Repentance involves action - turning AWAY from what it is you have been pursuing and TOWARD a different path.  It has been likened to making a 180-degree turn.  You do an "about-face".  It is more than a little "sorrow" for your sin.  Too many times, we find ourselves "sorry" for our sin simply because we got caught in our sin!  If we look at our passages again, we find God looks for the heart "willing" to make a turn-around.  If you were driving a car today on a busy street, needing to get out of the flow of traffic moving in this direction on this side of the street to the flow of traffic moving in the opposite direction on the other side of the street, you'd likely call this a U-Turn.  To do this, you have to "commit" to make the turn and it is kind of scary when you have to change directions in the midst of going the other way.  Once you start into the U-Turn, you cannot look back!  You have to complete the turn!  God looks for the heart willing to commit to the turn!  He doesn't present "round-abouts" to us - he presents "U-Turn" opportunities.  "Round-about" turns just put us back where we started!  

- Humility:  Next, we see God comments about the "attitude" of heart he finds great delight in - humble, lacking pride.  There is nothing more pleasing to God than to find one who is willing to commit - but the desire to commit really comes when we are willing to admit the path we have chosen is not getting us to where we really want to be!  There is something about being honest about where we are at and where our present course will keep us headed.  An honest heart is an authentic heart (back to our A-List).  We don't really move into repentance without humbly admitting our choices have been wrong.  Even if the actions of our lives aren't producing "bad stuff" like anger, deceit, resentment, and the like, if the heart is devoid of God's Spirit, it isn't really producing all the "good stuff" it was designed to produce!  So, even "good people" need to develop an appreciation for their need for a change of heart.  God honors anyone who humbly admits their need for his presence in them.  In fact, he is delighted to hear this admission!

So, a contrite heart is really one which is responsive to him.  It might just involve repentance - sometimes more than we'd like to freely admit.  It definitely requires action on our part - and a willingness to be shown our choices may not have produced the best results.  The contrite heart is one which God can move into fully.  Just sayin!