Today’s question is about the divided heart. The heart, even of the believer, puts up resistance against God. It’s frustrating but not unusual, and it leads to a great question from an anonymous man: “Dear Pastor John, hello. In the episode titled ‘Why Is My Delight in God So Short Lived?’ you suggested one way to make our delights in God last longer. You said, ‘When you read your Bible every day, pause before you read and earnestly, with as much heartfelt longing as you can muster, pray to God that he would come and meet you in the reading of Scripture, and open the eyes of your heart, and show you what is really there, and make himself real, and bring about amazing changes in your life.’ However, when I muster a longing that God would come and meet me, I find my heart is unwilling to welcome God. It seems afraid of meeting God. It does not want to be with God, and this upsets me. On one hand, I want myself to be willing to meet God sincerely and enjoy the sweet time with him. On the other hand, my heart opposes that. Such chaos! What can I do when I find my heart is resisting?”
Let me repeat the key issue as I hear it. He says, “When I muster a longing” — that’s a significant phrase — “that God would come and meet me, I find my heart is unwilling to welcome God. It seems afraid of meeting God. It does not want to be with God. . . . What can I do when I find my heart is resisting?”
So, this is clearly a divided heart. It’s not a heart that’s entirely welcoming, and it’s not a heart that’s entirely resisting. He says, “When I muster a longing for God” — so there is a longing. But he also says, “When I do this, I find my heart unwilling to welcome God.” This heart is in some measure a longing heart for God, and in some measure a resistant heart to God.
Now that’s important for him and for us to see. If we don’t see this division in the heart — that it’s a divided heart — we might overstate the problem and think there’s no real root of desire for God in me. Or we might understate the problem and think that our resistance is no big deal. “It can’t be that; I can’t be resisting God,” those who understate the problem might say.
It seems to me that this embattled heart is typical of the Christian life even if we don’t all describe it the way he does, with the language of longing and resisting. None of us as Christians has a consistently united heart in longing for God.
I have often tried to help others in their prayer lives by sharing what helps me — namely, the acronym I.O.U.S. I would commend this acronym to our friend with a focus on the letter U, which is the letter that usually doesn’t get a lot of focus. I’m usually focusing on the S, the O, and the I, but this man needs the U.
“The embattled heart is typical of the Christian life. None of us has a consistently united heart in longing for God.”
Let me work through the other letters quickly first. The letter I stands for incline. “Incline my heart to your testimonies,” we pray with Psalm 119:36. We ask God to take away resistance. We ask God to incline us toward God and his word instead of away from God. And so we admit all our inclination toward God is a work of God. The psalmist would not be praying like this if the inclination was ultimately within our own power. If it were, he wouldn’t be asking God to incline his heart. We plead with God to take our hearts in his hands and to incline them, bend them, toward his word.
Then the letter O stands for open. Psalm 119:18 says, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” We need God to work a miracle on the eyes of our heart so that we can see the truth, beauty, value of who he is right there in his word. If we are left to ourselves while meditating on God’s word, we will see nothing of his spiritual beauty and worth.
And then comes the third letter, U, which in this case is going to be especially important. It stands for unite. Psalm 86:11 says, “Unite my heart to fear your name.” What an amazing prayer: “Unite my heart.” So what’s the problem that this psalmist is praying to solve? The problem is a divided heart.
That’s what we’re dealing with here in this question. This man has a longing for God, and he has a resistance to God. His heart is divided, and it needs to be united in its longing for God. So I would say to our friend, “Recognize that you have a divided heart, and plead Psalm 86:11 in prayer: ‘O God, unite my heart to fear your name.’”
Fear as Friendship
To fear God’s name doesn’t mean to feel a resistance to God coming near to you because you’re afraid of him. It’s just the opposite. We fear running from him. What we fear when we fear God is that we fear resisting him. We fear pushing him away. We fear the horrible outcome of hardening our hearts against the sweetness of his fellowship.
God’s chosen people, those who embrace Christ as their treasured Savior, are the apple of his eye. They are his loved ones. As the psalmist says, “The friendship of the Lord is for those who” — surprisingly — “fear him” (Psalm 25:14). Do you hear the connection between Psalm 86:11 and Psalm 25:14? “Unite my heart to fear your name” and “the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him.” The fear of God does not drive us away from God. The fear of God drives us into God, where there are the pleasures of his friendship.
“The fear of God drives us into God, where there are the pleasures of his friendship.”
So, pray Psalm 86:11, “Unite my heart to fear your name,” and then preach to yourself Psalm 25:14: “The friendship, the sweet private councils of the Lord, are precisely for those whose hearts are united to fear God’s name.” Then preach to yourself the promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 32:39, where God says, “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good.” Essentially, God is saying, “I will give them a single, united heart — that they may fear me forever.”
Now we have not only the prayer that our hearts would be united in the fear of God, and not only do we have the promised result of that fear — his friendship — but we also have Jeremiah 32, the new covenant, which is Jesus’s blood-bought promise that God himself would take out the heart of stone and give us a single, united heart instead: “I will give them a heart to fear me.”
So when you find division in your heart, and a resistance begins to rise up that pushes out the welcome and the longing, declare this to yourself, and to your sin, and to Satan: “This resistance is not the new-covenant work of Jesus that he bought for me. No, it’s not. The new covenant work that he bought with his blood is a single, new, united heart that fears God, welcomes God, enjoys the friendship of God.”
Our new heart is united in its love for God, and so you throw this truth of the blood-bought, new-covenant promise in the face of the deceiver. And then you meditate perhaps on James 1:8 (“A double-minded man [is] unstable in all his ways”) and James 4:8 (“Purify your hearts, you double-minded”). And when you read these verses, you call down all the purifying power of the blood of Jesus.
Christ died that we might have a single heart for him, so don’t give up. I’m saying this now to our friend: Don’t give up. Don’t surrender to a divided heart. Resist your resistance of God. Call out to God for a single heart, and fix your mind on the promises — namely, that the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and that he will give a single, united heart to his blood-bought people. And then the S, the lonely letter at the end of our I.O.U.S. acronym, will come to pass: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love” (Psalm 90:14).