For months I’ve been asking God how we receive His power into our circumstances. In response He’s been leading me to Scriptures that have taken me deep into a landscape I’ve never seen before. This is how the divine dialogue unfolds between the Lord and me. Occasionally He will stream an image into my mind, giving me “a picture” that illustrates my observations from Scripture, hi-lighting a specific principle He wants me to understand.
More than we realize, our heart determines how God’s power is going to shape our circumstances.
During these months, my Bible reading has covered a thousand years in the history of Israel. The spiritual topography has changed before my eyes as kings have risen and fallen, as people have walked in blessing and gladness savoring the best of life, to then find themselves struggling to survive in a time of despair.
In the midst of this, God gave me a picture. I saw a continent, whose geography changed from region to region. Pleasant verdant hills gave way to flat prairie and then desert wasteland, which then turned into green foothills slowly mounting into craggy alp-like mountains. Some places were lovely and inviting, while others felt harrowing and difficult. And there was a train, moving swiftly across the face of the continent, speeding toward its destination. I understood that the slowly changing topography of the land was a picture of our circumstances, and the train represented the movement of time bearing us through the spiritual geography of our life. It was comforting to me that the train took you through the most treacherous places, so they were not the last word. Change of some kind always lay ahead.
My quest to understand the dynamics of God’s power working in our lives coincided with my reading of Kings, Chronicles, and the prophets of the Old Testament. The authors of those books link unfolding historical events with the condition of the leader’s hearts. The history they recount is intriguing, but their “inside” commentary on why those events took place the way they did blew me away. . . as in the split of the kingdom of Israel into two nations . . . northern Israel separating from southern Judah. This is how they tell it:
King David first established the kingdom and subdued his enemies, as a strong empowered leader whose heart was devoted to the LORD. After David, Solomon became king. God loved Solomon, appearing to him in visions at night, giving him the gift of wisdom greater than any man before or after. In addition to wisdom, God also gave Solomon vast wealth and glory, so that he could not only rule his people well, but he had the resources to adorn Jerusalem with resplendent buildings and the breathtaking Temple. Dignitaries came from far and wide to see if the rumors of Solomon’s magnificence were true. Israel’s spiritual topography was one of splendor, but it was about to change.
For it came about when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. . . . And Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done. . . So the LORD said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant. Nevertheless I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.
I Kings 11: 4, 6, 11-13
All of Israel was on “a train”, moving through a landscape that was about to change. It is almost as if God’s power flows through the contour of a leader’s heart to shape coming circumstances and events. . . But there is often a delay, between the change of a heart’s topography and the resulting change in the geography of our circumstances. Let me explain.
David’s heart was wholly devoted to the LORD; and God’s power flowed through to create contours of blessing. Solomon began well but ended badly; his heart turned from God and he did evil in the sight of the LORD. His heart was determining how God’s power would come through . . . to split of the nation. But this outward national effect of Solomon’s inward apostasy was delayed, because the blessings flowing out of David’s spiritual legacy stretched over Solomon’s time, even when Solomon was going after other gods . . . so it appeared as if Solomon’s inner irreverence was bringing no outward effect. As Israel sped across the landscape, if anyone was concerned about the consequences of Solomon’s turn of heart, the magnificent scenery continuing to unfold outside the train window might have allayed their fears. But change was near.
God’s power, flowing over the contour of Solomon’s apostasy, was reaching forward to shape the political/spiritual topography that would emerge in the reign of his son.
If we had any idea how our hearts determine the course God’s power takes, we would take greater care guarding them.
Guard your heart with all vigilance,
for from it are the sources of life.
The outward, historical/political result of Solomon’s spiritual demise was delayed, because David’s heart for God had resulted in such strong blessing that it continued to shape the spiritual geography of Israel beyond his time. This is spiritual legacy, the effect that our relationship with God exerts on lives, events, and circumstances — not just during our life, but even after our time. For David’s sake, God delayed the outward effect of Solomon’s apostasy until the reign of his son, Rehoboam, when the kingdom would be torn in two.
Throughout the entirety of the Kings, Chronicles and prophets of the Old Testament, it is pointedly clear that the outward topography of a people’s circumstances is the somewhat delayed but incontrovertible result of their leaders’ hearts: wholly devoted to the LORD their God, or turning from Him.
The power of God to make strong, to deliver from danger, to subdue enemies, to teach, to make wise, to enrich, to protect, to keep us from error, to direct our path, to comfort and console, to support and provide . . . can only be received by and find expression through a heart wholly devoted to Him.
Solomon’s heart determined how God’s power came through: bringing national decline, civil war, division, and the loss of his kingdom’s resplendence. . . yet when his heart had been right, as a young man, God’s power had come through with every blessing.
Historians can tell what happened: how the leaders of the northern tribes came to Rehoboam, asking him to lighten the burden of taxes and forced labor Solomon had placed on them, and how Rehoboam sought the counsel of the elders, who told him,
If you will be a servant to this people today, will serve them, grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.
But he forsook the counsel of the elders, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him . . . And the young men spoke to him, saying . . . “Thus you shall say to this people . . . ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins! Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’” I Kings 12: 7, 8, 10, 11
But Scripture reveals why it happened the way it did: The power of God to make Rehoboam strong, to give him wisdom, to guide his path, to teach him — it was there — in latent form, in the counsel of the elders. Had Rehoboam recognized it and followed it, the power of God would have worked for him to strengthen the kingdom. But Rehoboam wasn’t concerned about doing the right thing, nor was he inclined to follow wholly after God. If he had, he would have been seeking God and he would have recognized how God was leading him.
The power of God comes through for us as we obey His word, listening to His voice, taking in His counsel, submitting to His commands. But if we do not heed His voice, the power of what He could have done for us remains a latent, unfulfilled potential. Even worse, if we pit ourself against God’s intention, we place ourselves in an adverse relationship with His power, which is always at work moving His cause forward.
His very power — intended to work on our behalf –begins to work against us.
Solomon’s choices had been shaping the heart of his son, and Rehoboam continued his father’s trend away from God, as he made his own decisions. Instead of resonating to the humility advised by the elders, Rehoboam delighted in the haughty counsel of his youthful friends.
When the northern leaders saw Rehoboam’s response, they were disgusted by their would-be king’s prideful heart and insolent foolishness. . . and they turned away from following him, as he had turned away from following the LORD. Eleven of the twelve tribes broke away to form a new government, plunging the kingdom into civil war.
God did it. His power brought the events about, as He said He would. But it was Rehoboam’s heart that determined how God’s power came through.
The spiritual condition of a leader’s heart
shapes the circumstances of the people he rules.
Blessing and well-being upon his people is the legacy of a leader whose heart follows wholly after the LORD. But a topography of trouble begins to form, when the heart of the leader turns away from God, doing evil in His sight.
At first I felt sorry for the people of Israel, stuck on the train, but I was shown two things:
- First, Scripture tells us to pray for our leaders for a reason — the greater our concern, disgust, or anger — the more we need to pray. If they are not following wholly after God, the future topography of our journey depends all the more on our own hearts wholly following Him.
- Secondly, the leaders we have are the leaders we deserve. Our leaders reflect what we, as a people, want. God gives those, whose hearts wholly follow Him, leaders who will be strong in Him. But people whose hearts have departed from Him, are going to have leaders who also turn from Him. Our leaders reflect our own hearts.
Apprehended by God
Yes, the application of this lesson to our nation and the rapidly changing topography gives me cause for concern about the lay of the land ahead of us. There may be a lag-time, a delay, but the spiritual dynamics quietly driving history’s unfolding are not going to be suspended, just because God loves us. No matter how times change, eternal verities remain. Our hearts, and the hearts of our leaders are going to determine how God’s power comes through.
This revelation drove me to a fearless self-inventory. I want to be a David, wholly devoted to God — not a Solomon, whose heart is turned away by a pantheon of foreign gods. But my self-inventory revealed a pantheon of distractions, drawing my heart away from whole-hearted devotion to my God. My weakness for entertainment, my emails first thing in the morning, hours lost on the web, connection through social media, endless news and updates, tempting travel destinations, filling up my calendar, my constant preoccupation with things needing to get done, keeping up with friends, diet, fashion, Facebook and Pinterest. . . None of these are not bad things, but they have crept in, to take more and more of the time, focus, and place in my life that would belong to my Lord . . . if I was wholly devoted to Him.
Rise up O men of God, Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and soul and mind and strength, To serve the King of Kings.
I know what it is like to have a heart wholly devoted to Him, but I had lost it. And now I wanted it back.
I wanted it back because of the relationship with Him, that being wholly devoted to Him makes possible. But I also wanted it because He was showing me that the power of God to make me strong, to deliver me from danger, to subdue my enemies, to teach me, to to protect me, to keep me from error, to direct my path needs a heart that is thoroughly devoted to Him to come through . . . I needed to be done with lesser things. I found myself wanting that heart again, more than anything else . . .
Seeing the truth and wanting it passionately is how we collaborate with God, so that He can work His miracles.
My clarity and intense, focused desire for that heart was the contour that His power flowed over to make it happen.
I suddenly found myself wanting to obey each word as it came, to let go of offense quickly, to refuse thoughts that would darken my heart, to make better choices with my time, to honor my husband from my heart, to believe the best instead of the worst in people, to let go of wrongs done, to be kind with those who expect more than is fair, going with them two miles if they have demanded just one . . . this came easily, and felt so right. I had my new heart back, and God was giving me not only the will but the power.
The train suddenly emerged from a tunnel speeding through a gentled landscape clothed in light, drenched with peace. A feeling of well-being buoyed me, cheering me. I saw clearly, no longer confused and frustrated. The answers to my questions surfaced quickly. I saw His hand suddenly accomplish what I could not make happen on my own. A fresh sweetness permeated my relationships. My days fell together better ordered. Thoughts sprang into my mind, lightening my workload by giving me creative shortcuts. I was blessed, rich, full and happy. He was making me strong.
His power was clearly coming through.
More than I have ever realized, it is my heart that determines how God’s power is going to come through to shape the topography of my life.