The Undivided Heart
“Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11).
The translators are divided on how to translate this phrase. For instance, the NASB says, "Unite my heart to fear your name." The CEB gives a more general sense, "Make my heart focused only on honoring your name.” Then we have this paraphrase from the ERV, “Help me make worshiping your name the most important thing in my life." Eugene Peterson (MSG) gives us this colorful rendering:
“Put me together, one heart and mind;
then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear.”
I like that because it sounds like the way I often pray: “Put me together, Lord, because right now my life is scattered in a thousand directions.” Most days my heart doesn’t seem “undivided,” and it certainly feels like it needs some kind of “uniting."So I like this phrase both ways:
“Unite my heart to fear your name.”
"Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”
The first speaks of my need.
The second speaks of my desire.
Because my heart is so often divided, I need the Lord to unite it somehow so that I might worship him with nothing held back. That is the situation many of us face right now. Our hearts are fragmented because we are pulled in so many directions at once.
Sometimes we treat trinkets as if they were treasure.
The world around us is no help. Last Sunday our pastor preached on “Trash, Trinkets and Treasures,” in which he commented that sometimes we are enticed by things that turn out to be trash, and sometimes we are distracted by things that are not bad in themselves, but when pursued as the goal of life end up being trinkets, little gaudy baubles that amount to nothing much when you look at them closely.
How hard it is to focus on the treasures of life!
How easy to mistake the trinkets for treasures!
In order to get some practical help in this area, let’s start with a very basic question. What are the marks of a divided heart?
1. Perpetual Ambivalence
It has been said that a narcissist is a person who is unable to commit to anything outside of himself. He flits from one relationship to another, from one job to another, from one friendship to another, from one church to another, from one promise to another, never staying in one place long enough to make anything stick. He’s here today and gone tomorrow. He promises and then makes excuses. He says, “I’ll call you tomorrow,” and then forgets and apologizes later. Or maybe he never remembers at all. He dates one girl after another, never able to pop the question because he’s so easily distracted and because he deeply fears making a commitment that will require him to stay married for the rest of his life.
He’s here today and gone tomorrow.
As I pondered this situation, a verse came to mind from 1 Chronicles 12, which lists the soldiers who came to David’s aid when he was in Ziklag and later in Hebron. These soldiers from various tribes in Israel realized that even though David was not king over Israel yet, God’s hand was upon him and he was bound to replace Saul sooner or later.
So you have the list of men from Benjamin, Gad, Manasseh, and so on. Perhaps the most famous are the men of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32) who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” Many fine sermons have been preached in praise of these men from one of the lesser-known tribes. Then in the very next verse we find this note about the warriors from the tribe of Zebulon. They are described as
Experienced soldiers prepared for battle with every type of weapon, to help David with undivided loyalty-50,000 (v. 33).
Here you have a great host of trained soldiers who came to David ready to fight. They showed up in full battle gear, shield and spears and bows, ready to go to battle at a moment’s notice. But that is not their finest quality. There is something even better to be said about them. They were men of “undivided loyalty.” The original Hebrew text emphasizes this in an unusual way when it uses the word for “not” and the word “heart” repeated twice.
Not heart and heart.
Not partly for Saul and partly for David.
But having made their choice, it was one heart all the time, nothing held back.
Are you “double-hearted"?
These men said, “David, we are all in. Where you lead, we will follow. Say the word and we will go into battle. We serve at your command-and only at your command.”
Three thousand years after the men of Zebulon came to David, we remember them not for their military prowess (which must have been great) but for their hearts.
They were not “heart and heart.”
They were not “double-hearted.”
They were in all the way.
People with a divided heart can’t talk that way.
They are in and out at the same time.
There is a second characteristic of a divided heart . . .
2. Divided Priorities
In Matthew 13 Jesus told a parable about a man who went out to sow seed. Some fell on the path, some on the stony ground, some among the thorns, and some on the good ground. When Jesus explained the parable, he said that the four soils represented four responses to the message of the kingdom. Let’s focus on the seed sown among the thorns. Here is that part of the parable:
“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants” (Matthew 13:7).
And this is the explanation:
“The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22)
If you have ever planted a garden, you understand what Jesus is saying. No matter how good the soil may appear from above, weeds lurk just below the surface. If you do not pull them up, they will choke out the seed you have planted.
Weeds lurk just below the surface.
Jesus said that some people are like that. They are fence-straddlers. They say “Yes but . . .” when they hear the Word. Maybe they mean business, but they never pull the weeds out of their life. In this parable Jesus mentions two particular kinds of weeds. First, the worries of this life. This refers to any consuming concern in your life that catches all your attention. It could be something that in itself is not bad–such as a genuine concern for your job or your health or your personal financial situation. It could be a relationship that takes up all your waking moments. It could be a family issue that keeps you tossing and turning at night.
Second, there is the deceitfulness of wealth. Again, we all understand this. Money is addictive. The more you have, the more you want. You’ve probably heard the story of the rich man who when asked when he would stop working so hard, replied, “When I have enough money.” How much is enough? “Just one more dollar.” That is the deceitfulness of riches. And it’s not just a temptation to the rich man. The love of money comes to all of us, seduces us, whispers to us over and over again: “If only you had a little bit more , you would be happy.”
Money is addictive.
It’s important to remember that Jesus is not describing “unusual” or “strange” temptations. We all have things that worry us. Several months ago I happened to see the Wednesday night prayer list that our church publishes. It was printed on a legal-size piece of paper. The list of the sick took up one side of the sheet, printed in extremely small type, so small I could hardly read it. So many names, so many needs.
We all face sickness, family crisis, medical issues, financial troubles, marital problems, struggles with our children, disappointments, setbacks, career issues, and periods of doubt and anger and spiritual struggle.
We live in a very fallen world.
No one is exempt from the troubles of life.
No one is exempt from the troubles of life.
We get sick, our loved ones get sick.
Financial pressures weigh on all of us.
Death knocks on our door sooner or later.
How quickly the “thorns of life” arise to divide our heart and divert our attention. These problems, trials and difficulties can choke out God’s work and leave us spiritually anemic.
There is a third sign of a divided heart . . .
3. Unclear Identity
This follows logically.
When the heart is divided, you won’t know who you really are.
When the heart is divided, you won’t know who you really are.
You can’t decide what team you’re on.
You don’t know what uniform to put on.
You act single even though you are married.
You have two sets of friends that you keep separate.
You have two vocabularies depending on where you are.
You know how to fit in wherever you happen to be.
You are like the proverbial chameleon, changing your colors so you will always blend in.
Living with a divided heart messes up the mind eventually. When you join the devil’s team, you won’t feel comfortable going back to the Lord’s locker room at halftime. The strange, sad case of the Apostle Peter provides a prime example. On the night before the crucifixion, when Jesus met with his chosen men in the Upper Room, Peter took a look around and wasn’t very impressed with what he saw:
“Lord, I don’t know about these other guys. They look a little weak to me. I wouldn’t count on them if I were you. But don’t worry. You’ve got me. I’m your man. No matter what the rest of them do, I will never betray you. You have my word on it. I’ll never let you down.”
Or more simply put,
“Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:33 NLT).
I’m sure Peter meant it. If you had asked him, I’m sure he would have said, “I know I’m a little rough around the edges, and sometimes I put my foot in my mouth. It’s true I’m a fisherman and not some Torah scholar, but I know my own heart, and I will never desert you, Lord."
When you join the devil’s team, you won’t feel comfortable going back to the Lord’s locker room at halftime.
But that’s the problem. Peter didn’t know his own heart.
Less than five hours after proclaiming his loyalty, the bold apostle turned to butter.
All it took was a servant girl to bring him down.
When the sordid triple betrayal was over, Peter wept bitterly and went away to be by himself, awash in shame and regret.
Then came Easter morning when the women went to the tomb, little knowing that Jesus had risen from the dead. When they arrived at the tomb early on Sunday morning, an angel announced the good news and instructed them to “go, tell his disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7). What does that mean-"his disciples and Peter?" Peter’s denial has separated him from the other disciples. No doubt he wondered to himself many times, “What am I now? Am I a traitor or am I a disciple?”
How quickly he fell.
No wonder he is confused.
His divided heart has tripped him up.
That happens when we decide to play for Jesus’ team and for the Devil’s team at the same time.
At some point you’ve got to make up your mind.
Choose a team and stick with it!
Follow Jesus-or don’t!
But stop messing around with most basic commitments of life.
When You Know Who You Are . . .
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of teaching the book of Daniel to 120 eager students at Word of Life Bible Institute in Hudson, Florida. Whenever I teach Daniel, I start out in the first session talking a lot about Daniel’s decision not to defile himself with the king’s food.
But I don’t start with Daniel.
I start with a quote from Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard:
“And now with God’s help, I will become myself.”
That leads to a question that is hard to answer:
“Do you know who you are?”
Until you do, you’ll never really know where you fit in.
Once you know who you are, you can fit in anywhere.
Do you know who you are?
That was the secret to Daniel’s greatness. He knew who he was, even in Babylon, hundreds of miles from Jerusalem, ripped away from his homeland, forcibly marched across the desert to the pagan city of Babylon.
There he was enrolled in a school he did not choose.
Leaning a language that was not his own,
Absorbing a culture both foreign and utterly pagan,
Being trained to serve in the Babylonian court.
Then he was given a pagan name. The name Daniel means “God is my judge,” which tells us that he was raised in a godly home. The Babylonians called him Belteshazzar, which means something like “Bel, protect his life.” It was a prayer to a pagan deity.
To all of these changes he either gave his assent or at least he did not actively protest. In the case of the deportation to Babylon, he had no choice. He and his friends were captured and taken by the Babylonians against their will. When they arrived in Babylon, he and his friends were put in a three-year, all-expenses-paid training program. Without doubt, it was a great honor to be chosen to serve the Babylonian king.
The King always eats well.
Part of that training involved eating at the king’s table. It would like eating at Buckingham Palace. The king always eats well. They give him the best of the best. So to eat at the king’s table meant the best food, expertly prepared, served with the best wines.
It meant eating well every day.
It was the best the world had to offer.
And Daniel said no.
“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank” (Daniel 1:8).
The King James version says he “purposed in his heart.”
You can only “purpose in your heart” when you have an undivided heart.
Daniel purposed in his heart.
You know the rest of the story. Daniel and friends ate water and cereal for ten days. They ended up looking healthier and stronger than those who ate at the king’s table. As a result, they were recognized and rewarded by the king himself (Daniel 1:17-21).
Good story. Happy ending.
One question hangs in the air. Where did Daniel find the strength to say no to the food from the king’s table? My answer is simple. Daniel knew who he was so he knew where to draw the line.
Daniel never forgot who he was and he never forgot where he came from. It was as if he was saying, “I may look Babylonian on the outside, but I’m 100% Jewish on the inside."
Daniel never forgot who he was.
This teaches us that you can’t corrupt a man from the outside. You can change a culture but not a character. You can change his name but not his nature. Daniel may have looked like a pagan, but on the inside he was a servant of the living God. Even the mighty Nebuchadnezzar could do nothing about that.
We live in a world where biblical values are constantly under attack. We won’t change the world’s way of thinking any time soon.
But will the world change our way of thinking?
That’s the question that hangs in the balance.
When I taught all this to the students, I told them it finally comes down to one great principle:
When you know who you are, you can serve Christ anywhere.
And the reverse is also true: When you are unclear about who you really are, you will struggle to serve Christ anywhere.
A man with a divided heart cannot grasp his true identity.
He will be pulled this way and that.
Under pressure he almost certainly will cave in.
But the man with an undivided heart knows who he is.
Because he knows who he is, he doesn’t have to constantly make decisions.
Once you make up your mind, life becomes simpler (though not always easier).
Years ago I used to watch a preacher on TV who had one signature line that he repeated over and over again:
If you’re going to be a Christian, be one!
That strikes me as excellent advice.
It starts by having an undivided heart.
If you’re going to be a Christian, be one!
And that brings us back to the beginning, back to Psalm 86:11, “Unite my heart to fear your name” and “Put me together, Lord.” As Spurgeon contemplated this verse, he offered this succinct summary:
A man of divided heart is weak, the man of one object is the man.
The italics are in the original. Sometimes in our conversation, we will say of so-and-so, “He is the man.” We mean he is a man of one purpose, the man we admire and want to follow.
Such a man is the man.
After I shared some of these thoughts at our Men’s Bible study, the Lord seemed to grant us a kind of holy introspection. One man later told his wife, “I’ve got some business to do with the Lord.” Another man said, “I think we all have a divided heart."
That’s why David prayed this prayer.
He looked within and saw his heart pulled in a hundred directions.
So he prayed, “Unite my heart, O Lord.”
We marinate in hate.
There is no prayer more appropriate and more needed in our day. Every honest man or woman must at times say, “My life is far from what I want it to be."
We run low on love.
We find ourselves distracted, worried and easily confused.
We fall prey to little temptations that lead to bigger ones.
We marinate in hate.
We dawdle in our duties.
We make excuses for every failure.
We find ourselves both disagreeing and disagreeable.
We love the world more than we love God.
We live in unbelief instead of walking in faith.
We refuse to submit because our pride is at stake.
And so it goes, this struggle of the soul to find rest and peace.
No wonder we are frustrated.
When the heart is not united, nothing works right. Without God, we will be fragmented and torn and pulled and distracted.
A Prayer for a United Heart
We must do as David did. We must pray, “O Lord, take the scattered fragments of my heart and unite them so that I may praise you.” Only God can do this, but God can do it if we will come to him in humility and sincerity.
The hardest part is coming. Until you admit you need God’s help, you will be stuck exactly where you are.
We must do as David did.
So here is a prayer that may help us all:
I need to hear these ancient words once again:
Unite my heart to fear your name.
I am so scattered, Lord.
Pulled in so many directions.
So easily distracted.
How quickly I forget who you are.
How quickly I forget your goodness to me.
Unite my heart, Lord.
Put it back together again.
Refocus my thoughts.
Clarify my purpose.
Grant that I should want you more than anything else.
Thank you for your many gifts, freely given.
Forgive me for loving your gifts more than I love you.
In confessing this I ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ name.
Here is my heart, Lord.
Come in and rearrange things.
Make me new from the inside out.
Thank you for loving me even when I seem to lose my way.
I love you, Lord. Do your work in me.
Unite my heart to fear your name.
You might want to say that prayer aloud. Perhaps you should print it and post it somewhere so you can use it again when you need it.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.
These lines from Come, Thou Fount speak to our deepest need:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
If the first two lines describe our need, then the last two lines describe our prayer. May God take our scattered hearts and unite them, seal them by his grace, that we might serve him with joy on earth as one day we will serve him in heaven.
Do it, Lord. Unite our hearts to fear your name. Amen.
- Listen to this sermon (46:47)
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