I'm reading a wonderful book in the moment called 'Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands' by Paul David Tripp. Tripp is the main speaker at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London this June, which is the one Pastors' conference I try to get to every year. I've had it my bookshelf for a few years, but last week I thought to myself 'Seeing as I'm going to be hearing this guy speak, I really MUST get round to reading this!'
I'm so glad I did.
The subtitle gives away it's theme: 'People in need of change helping people in need of change.' Tripp's central thesis is that every Christian is called to be a 'minister' (with a small 'm'), ministering into the lives of others, for the maturing of the church. His aim is therefore twofold: to help the reader see where change is necessary in their life and to equip the reader to help them minister into the lives of others so that they change to be more like Jesus. I've read lots of books before about how to pastor others, but few that are as helpful and insightful as this one.
What's been really significant is how the themes in the book have resonated with the themes of my evening sermon series in Luke. In Luke we have been looking at how Jesus confronted the Pharisees and exposed their religious hypocrisy. Jesus said that it's what's on the inside - in our hearts - that really matters to God - not what we appear to others.
Tripp's theme is the same.
Chapter 5 is entitled 'Understanding your heart struggle'. In it he says:
'What controls our hearts will exercise inescapable influence over our lives and behaviour... Our desire to set up our own kingdom in direct conflict with the King who has come to rule in our hearts. This is the war beneath all others. Who will rule that tense situation at work - your desire for a raise, or God's glory? Will God rule that conversation with your child, or your desire for peace and quiet? Will God rule your relationship with your father, or your desire for vengeance for years of mistreatment? these skirmishes within your heart are battles in the most important war.'
So... how do good desires gain control of our hearts so that they become ungodly desires that lead to conflict with others and with God? Or as Tripp puts it:
'How do desires that were okay in themselves become our functional masters?'
Trip uses the opening verses of James 4 to show that the objects of our desires are not always evil. However our desires have a trendency to grow and the conflict and control they exercise over our hearts can then lead us away from God and into ungodly thinking and behaving. Unless we hold them in check, good desires can become idols.
'What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?' (James 4:1)Our desires must therefore always be held in submission to God's desires. Our hopes must bow before THE great hope: God's kingdom purposes and plans.
How then can we guard our hearts and diagnose our own condition?
Tripp says part of this is understanding that there are 5 stages in the capture of our hearts and the conflict that ensues:
1. DESIRE morphes into DEMAND ('I must..')
2. DEMAND quickly becomes NEED ('I will...')
3. NEED inevitably produces EXPECTATION ('You should...')
4. EXPECTATION leads to DISAPPOINTMENT ('You didn't ..!')
5. DISAPPOINTMENT leads to some form of PUNISHMENT ('Because you didn't, I will...')
Tripp explains this last stage in this way:
'I am angry because you have broken the laws of my kingdom. God's kingdom has been supplanted. I am no longer motivated by a love for God and people so that I use the things in my life to express that love. Instead I love things, and use people - and even the Lord - to get them. My heart has been captured. I am in active service of the creation, and the result can only be chaos and conflict in my relationships.'
This is a terrible position to be in!
So, what is the solution to a captured and conflicted heart? What is the way back to right thinking and behaving?
Surprisingly, in James 4, James' solution to the conflict that overgrown desire brings to a captured heart is not horizontal (I need to sort out my relationship with other people), it's vertical (I need to sort out my relationship with God).
'Submit yourselves, then, to God... Come near to God and he will come near to you... purify your hearts you double-minded... humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up' (James 4:7-10)
The solution to a captured and conflicted heart is to put God in his rightful place again - on the throne of our hearts. Our desires must be supplanted by a desire for Him. Our priorities must submit to his priorities. Our hearts must surrender to him as King.
The fruitful Christian is one who has a heart captivated by God himself.
If you want to get hold of a copy of 'Instruments in the Redeemers' Hands' follow this link or get in contact with Alistair Walker-Cox at Grace Cards and Books on Droitwich (01905 774856). I've since discovered that Peter Barham is reading his during his sabbatical.