Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Cultivating the Fire in our Hearts for God: Hearts on Fire
Dr Alex Tang
To cultivate and maintain a heart on fire for God requires regular intake of the Word, an attitude of praise, worship and thanksgiving, purity of heart, body and mind, service to others and a sense of commitment to glorify God and finish the race. A heart on fire creates love: for God and for our fellow human beings.
1.1 The 4 Habits of Highly Effective Disciples.
In our journey together as disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to develop good habits. In an earlier sermon (Sunday 11th January 2004), it was suggested that the 4 habits of highly effective disciples be:
§ Developing informed minds (Principles of Orthodoxy)
§ Cultivating hearts on fire (Principles of Orthopathy)
§ Living contemplative lives that experience the Presence of God in all things (Principles of Orthopraxis)
§ Being filled with the Holy Spirit (Principles of Empowerment)
1.2 Cultivating a fire.
How do we keep a fire going? When I was a Boy Scout, I love to go camping. I love to make a fire of twigs and watch it burn. Nowadays I still love to make fire. Unfortunately, the only fire I make nowadays is for the BBQ pit. To make and keep a fire going. There are certain requirements. You need wood. The wood must be dry and not too thick. There must not be too much of wood or the air cannot get in. Fire needs oxygen.
The same applies to this habit of keeping the fire in our hearts going. There must be certain conditions to be met in order to maintain the fire. Otherwise, the fire will go out or be extinguished.
1.3 Anatomical Structure of the Heart
Our heart is a wonderful organ. It starts beating when we are six weeks old and does not stop until we die. The heart has 4 chambers. Deoxygenated blood from the body flows into the right atrium, which is then pumped into the right ventricle. From there the blood is pumped to the lungs where the blood become oxygenated. From the lungs, the blood is pumped into the left atrium which it is pumped into the left ventricle which then pumps it to the rest of the body. In actual fact, the heart is made up of two pumps.
1.4 Spiritual Heart
In the New Testament , the word heart Greek kardia rarely refers to a body organ ( Lk 21:34; Acts 14:17; Jas 5:5) Frequently denotes the seat of intellectual and spiritual life of the inner man, mind, will, heart, soul, understanding. The inner life as opposed to external appearances. (2 Cor 5;12; 1 Thess 2:17); man as standing before God. The heart is that in man which is addressed by God. The heart is the seat of doubt and hardness as well as of faith and obedience.
So when we talk about hearts on fire, we mean our inner spiritual life or our souls to be on fire for God.
2. Cultivating the Fire
How do we cultivate a fire in our hearts? Firstly, as in making a fire, we need firewood that can burn well: firewood that meets certain criteria like dryness. Similar, our spiritual heart needs to meet certain criteria before a fire can burn in it. Using the model of a human heart, I would like to suggest the following criteria:
2.1 Regular Intake of the Word (Right Atrium)
How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"
2 Tim 3:16,17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
A regular intake of the Word of God will be the first criteria for a heart to catch fire and to burn well. We should know the Word of God so well that it is not only in our conscious thoughts but it is in our subconscious. I love the story of a ninety years old committed Christian lady who was undergoing surgery. In the recovery room after the surgery, she was heard to be murmuring to herself. When the nurses lean close to her, they found she was quoting Scripture! That’s having the Word in our subconscious.
The Word of God is important because
§ It tells us about God
§ It tells us about ourselves
§ It tells us about our purpose in this life
§ It tells us about our purpose in God’s purpose in this creation.
2.2 Attitude of Praise, Worship and Thanksgiving (Right Ventricle)
I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.
I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me, you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.
The second criteria for a heart to be on fire are to have a correct attitude. The correct attitude we should have is one of praise, worship and thanksgiving. We should cultivate this attitude because by nature, most of us are grouchy, grumbling people.(especially before the first cup of coffee in the morning).
Let us wake up every morning, before we open our eyes but after we turn off the alarm clock, praise the Lord. Praise Him for another day. Praise Him for the night’s rest. Praise Him for protection during the night. And let this praising of the Lord set the tone for the rest of the day. Keep on praising Him as you do your stuff during the day and praise and give thanks to Him before you drop off to sleep.
Worship Him in your daily life. Look at everything with eyes of wonder. Wow! The Lord God Almighty has made this. Thinks of all the lives in this church that He is coordinating.
Give Him thanks in all things. Just think, what is there in all that you have that did not come from the Lord? You did not choose your birthday. You did not choose your parents. You did not choose your genetic code. You did not create the opportunities that gave you an education, choose a mate, have children, and build a career. The man who sang “ I did it my way” is a fool. God did it or gave you the opportunity to do it. So do not be proud of an illusion and give thanks to whom it is due.
2.3 Purity of Heart, Mind and Body (Left Atrium)
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
The fire of God will burn brightly only in those with pure hearts. This is the third criteria. Purity of hearts, minds and body. Integrity in character. This does not mean that we do not sin or do wrong. As Martin Luther said, we are redeemed sinners. Being pure is to recognise that we do sin but we should try to avoid sinning. And when we failed and sin, we must confess and repent.
We need to develop a habit of reviewing the day before we drop off to sleep each night. To think of all the happenings in the day. Could we have handled the situation better? Could we have given someone a little kindness? Do we have to get angry? And if we discover that we have sinned, we should then confess and repent. If we find that we harbouring resentment, we should forgive and release the resentment.
2.4 Service to Others (Left Ventricle)
Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.
A heart that is on fire for the Lord will be a heart that is serving the Lord. That is taking part in God’s purpose in building His Kingdom and the redemption of creation. Some of us are called to be contemplative- to withdraw into solitude and to represent the rest of us in communion with God, others to be intercessors while others to evangelise, be pastors and many other work of service. Each of us has a role to play. There is this testimony from a pastor. He said there is this little old lady in his church who sits in the front row with her head bowed, apparently asleep during his sermons. This went on for about 20 years and the church grew from a small church to a big one. One day, the old lady was dying and this pastor went to visit her. He asked her, “I hope you don’t mind but why have you been sleeping during my sermon every Sunday, all these years”. She replied, “I wasn’t sleeping. I was praying for you!” And who knows how much of this pastor’s ministry success is due to this little old lady’s prayers. Each of us has a job to do.
Serving also keeps us from getting cold. A piece of coal that drops from a fire, it cools quickly and grows cold. Being in the heat of the action is being on fire.
2.5 Commitment to Glorify God and to Finish the Race (Pacemaker)
Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
What keeps the heart beating? The pacemaker. The pacemaker is a very small organ in the heart that makes the heart muscles to beat at a certain rate. It will go on and on and on. Commitment is our pacemaker. A commitment to glorify the Lord and to finish the rate. It is a dogged determination that says, ‘no matter what happens, I will go on and finish the race.’
Being a disciple of Christ is not easy. Of course, there are good times like special blessings, miracles, answered prayers and warm fellowship. But there are also difficult times with painful struggles. Being a Christian doesn’t exempt us from pain and suffering. Christians die from sickness and old age like every one else. Christians feel pain like everyone else. It is when all the chips are down, when all seem hopeless and a lost cause, the little pacemaker will say, ‘in spite of it all, I will go on and trust the Lord’. Ulysses, the hero of the Odyssey by Homer, was old. In Lord Tennyson’s poem, he calls to his friends to go out for one last adventure.
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Make weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Commitment is what keeps the fire burning. Like Peter, we have to say, where else are we to go?
3. The Holy Spirit (Oxygen)
As a real fire cannot burn without oxygen, a spiritual fire in the heart cannot burn without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit must permeate every part of the spiritual heart: Word, attitude, purity, service and commitment. That’s why another habit of a highly effective disciple is to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
4. Concluding Remarks
4.1 Hearts on Fire
A normal fire provides heat and light. A heart on fire creates love. Love for God and for our fellow human beings. A heart on fire fulfills the Great Commandment to love.
Jesus replied: " `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.'
John of the Cross has been called the greatest mystic in Christian tradition. Born in Spain, he entered the Carmelite order at age 20 years old. His extraordinary mystical experiences, his writings and poetry made him one of the most studied Christian mystics. He is the one who wrote The Dark Night of the Soul. One of his greatest poetry is the Living Flame of Love which described his loving union with God. He wrote it when he was imprisoned in Toledo for 9 months because of his church reforms. In a dark narrow cell in solitary confinement, he wrote the Living Flame of Love. One would imagine that in another person, such dark experience would put out the fire in his heart rather than fan the fire.
We cannot really love until our heart is on fire. To cultivate and maintain a heart on fire for God requires regular intake of the Word, an attitude of praise, worship and thanksgiving, purity of heart, body and mind, service to others and a sense of commitment to glorify God and finish the race. A heart on fire creates love for God and for our fellow human beings.
Soli Deo Gloria
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