Watching and reading the daily news gives the feeling that things are not getting better on the planet we call home.
Current conditions make me want to offer a simple prayer,
“Dear God, things are not so good down here. I am sure I am not telling you anything you don’t know but this world is really messed up. I usually tend to be optimistic, but lately it’s been tough. Even when I feel that things are going well, I can’t escape a sense that more bad news might be right around the corner. God could you please tell us what your answer is for this mess? I know you didn’t originally plan for things to be this way and I realize that we chose to rebel against your good plan for us. But where can we find hope in such a dark world?”
Take a few moments and consider God’s answer to the human problem from an Old Testament text. In Ezekiel 11, God revealed his answer for our deepest need.
What will help us with our personal and relational crises?
The answer to our waywardness and our departure from our Maker is not more laws; it’s not better education; it’s not even civil rights. Though none of these things are necessarily wrong, they too often prove to be mere external adjustments. They give you the feel of rearranging the deck chairs while the ship is sinking.
What we learn from Scripture is that our real need is for nothing short of Divine intervention.
Listen to these words of action from God.
“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
God says that He will take on the needed work.
- “I will give them…”
- “I will put a new spirit in them.”
- “I will remove from them… and give them…”
In the order of God’s work, divine intervention proceeds inner transformation. We need far more than a few external adjustments. Only God can give someone an undivided heart and a new spirit. Only God can remove a heart of stone (a hardened and stubborn heart) replacing it with a heart of flesh (a humble and teachable heart).
The pattern of God’s work looks like this:
- Divine intervention: “I will give, put, remove, give…”
- Life transformation: “Then they will follow.. and be careful to keep…”
- Personal relationship: “They will be my people….I will be their God”
But does Scripture provide insight about the kind of person who receives this gracious intervention of God? Yes. And it might surprise some people.
The answer is found in a story Jesus gave in Luke 18:9-14, When you read it below, look closely at the contrast between two types of people.
One man has a heart that is hardened in prideful self-righteousness; the other, a heart overwhelmed with unworthiness and in desperate need of mercy.
“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).
The self-righteous person sees no need for intervention. Rescue? Salvation? These things are for the degenerate ones! The self-righteous person is doing quite well in his own estimation.
But to make matters worse, the self-righteous use others to leverage their deluded sense of superiority. They boast about their deeds and fill their proud hearts with contempt toward those whom they consider unworthy.
By contrast, Jesus pictured this chest-beating, mercy-pleading, self-confessed sinner. Here is a man who is not even sure he should be in a place where God dwells. He keeps to a distance and feels the weight of his wretchedness. He knows his need for divine intervention. He finds nothing about himself to boast of and only appeals to God based on mercy.
While the first man builds a case for justification before God, the second pleads with God to withhold the judgment he knows he deserves. This second man, rather than the other, receives the gift of divine intervention, this chest-beating, mercy-pleading self-confessed sinner goes home justified before God.