Recognizing the Afflictions of Our Own Hearts

By Michael Brown Published on February 26, 2024

In the midst of his magisterial prayer at the dedication of the Temple, interceding for God’s future mercies on His people Israel, Solomon made a fascinating, parenthetical remark. I have put it in italics here for emphasis:

When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when an enemy besieges them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel — being aware of the afflictions of their own hearts, and spreading out their hands toward this temple — then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart), so that they will fear you all the time they live in the land you gave our ancestors. (1 Kings 8:37-40)

Being Aware of the Afflictions of Their Own Hearts

And so, while praying for mercy during times of national judgment, when the Lord had sent a plague or a famine on His people because of corporate sin, each individual Israelite should recognize the affliction of their own hearts — their own failings and sins and shortcomings. That is a posture that God will bless.

Jesus taught this in a parable as well.

As Luke recounts:

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

“‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”” (Luke 18:9–14)

Better to Praise God for Saving Us Rather Than Elevate Ourselves

The moment we look down at others with a sense of spiritual and moral superiority is the moment we commit our own grievous sin — not just the sin of judgmentalism but also the sin of self-righteousness. Better to say, “There I go but for the grace of God! That would be me if not for the mercy of the Lord.”

By all means, we should hate evil and speak against it and stand against it.

By all means, we should not compromise divine standards of holiness and purity and morality and ethical behavior.

Even if they sometimes seem unattainable, we must hold them high in our hearts, preach them without dilution, and seek to live them out, leaning heavily on the Spirit’s empowerment.

But we must never condemn others as if to say, “I could never do something like that.” Are you sure? One hundred percent sure?

Recognize the Reality of Our Own Souls

Do we not know the depravity of our own hearts, outside of God’s gracious help? Do we not know how much evil we could do if the Lord had not intervened in our lives? Do we not understand the depth of His mercy and the breadth of our sin?

It is true that, in biblical terms “sinners” are the enemies of God, synonymous with rebels and transgressors and evildoers. That is not our self-identity as followers of Jesus. In fact, the New Testament addresses us as “saints” (in Greek, “holy ones”; see 1 Corinthians 1:2-3), calling us “new creations in Christ” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).

We are not who we used to be. We have been born from above. (See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.)

That being said, we still deal with sin and temptation, and we still have seeds of corruption in our flesh, which we are called to continually put to death, consciously putting off the “old self” and putting on the “new self” (see Romans 6:1-14; Colossians 3:1-10). This is part of “renewing our minds” (see Romans 12:1-2).

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The moment we say, “That could never happen to me” is the moment we fail to understand the affliction of our own heart.

That doesn’t mean that all of us are capable of sinning in the same ways.

Every fiber of my being is repulsed by sins like pedophilia or rape or murder. How could human beings commit such sins? Even in my thought life, I could not imagine doing such things.

But that doesn’t make me holy and righteous.

We Live by Mercy

If God was to judge me for my own thoughts or attitudes or deeds or desires, I would be condemned to hell a million times over.

The same with every single one of us.

We stand by grace, not self-righteousness, and we live by mercy, not by boasting.

In fact, while on my knees praying recently, I was reminded by the Lord that I don’t have the slightest clue how much mercy He has had on me, how deeply He has forgiven me, how evil my sins have been sin, and how often He has delivered me. Not the slightest clue.

That’s why all of us do well to walk with a limp, recognizing that the only reason our own lives have not been destroyed by wickedness or scandal or crime or dastardly deeds is because of the prevailing mercy of the Lord. Only eternity will show us how extraordinarily vast that mercy has been.

For this, I bow low in worship. And in light of this, I embrace the limp.

 

Dr. Michael Brown is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. He is the author of over 40 books, including Can You be Gay and Christian?; Our Hands Are Stained With Blood; and Seize the Moment: How to Fuel the Fires of Revival. You can connect with him on FacebookX or YouTube.

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