Psalm 51:10-12: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Psalm 51 is a famous Psalm. I have preached on it a number of times. Many praise and worship songs have been inspired from it. It is the Psalm of David where he comes to terms with the depths of the sin he has committed against God and against others. David honestly looks at the heart of his problem, his heart.
David, who had been nicknamed, “a man after God’s own heart,” recognized that somewhere along the road he had embraced a change of heart or compromised in his heart which led not only to outward actions against God and others, but it also resulted in a loss of joy. He wanted his joy back. Have you ever felt that way? That is where David was.
So, in this Psalm, after he confessed his sin, David not only asked for forgiveness, but for restoration and repair in his heart so that he wouldn’t continue to do the same things he had just asked forgiveness for. That’s true repentance. David didn’t just want forgiveness for what he had done. He also wanted to ensure he wouldn’t continue to sin. He knew his heart needed attention if he was going to regain the joy of his salvation and be able to sustain a right relationship with God.
Too often, people pray for a pure heart, for forgiveness, and they stop short of praying for part b, the willing heart, to keep them walking on the right path. A pure heart is the goal. Yes. God creates purity by imparting His holiness to us, however, that pure heart is maintained in part as a byproduct of a willing spirit. Only as we are submitted to God, only as we are “all in” for the things of God will we be sustained on our journey and have the joy that salvation is supposed to result in.
So what is a “willing spirit” or “willing heart?” Let me try to flesh it out for you this morning.
A willing heart is a growing heart. Some people get discouraged in their Christian walk because they conclude God is only after perfection. Therefore, because of regular failures they often feel defeated. Listen, perfection is the destination, but the journey is what is most important. In order to journey towards perfection, we must cultivate a teachable, open heart. Let God take care of the destination. Pay attention to the journey by being willing to grow in your faith and be submissive to the things God desires to teach you.
I received a Facebook note on Friday from a young man in our church that I found so refreshing. It read:
Dear friends and family, This is Orian. I want to thank everyone that gave me work last spring and this summer. I was able to pay for all my football equipment ($515.00). And I splurged a little by going to a few movies. Now that fall is coming I need to prepare for wrestling costs that start in November. I would also like to start saving for my car. My mom and step-dad said they will match me up to $1,500 towards my car. Again I am willing to do anything and willing to learn everything. Respectfully, Orian.
Wow! That is quite a statement from a 14 year old boy. There will be no limitation on what he can accomplish with that attitude.
I remember my high school voice teacher telling me when I was 15 that he felt I would be able to go far as a vocalist not because I had talent, but because I was coachable. I was teachable. How far we will go in our Christian walk doesn’t depend on how much we already know, but on how much more we are willing to learn.
David had a heart that was open to correction and teaching. It was demonstrated in his prayer in Psalm 139:23-24. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
What an open prayer. David was saying, “God, there are things I don’t know even about myself. I need You to search me. I need You to reveal some things to me. Please teach me about myself.” He asked God to lead him in the way everlasting. People who are willing to be led are people who realize they don’t have all the answers, and that they haven’t fully arrived.
I find it interesting that this prayer in Psalm 139 comes after Psalm 51. It wasn’t until after his sin that David realized the importance of regularly being open for inspection by God, regularly desiring to be taught by God in order that he would have a pure heart and would avoid falling into sin. Psalm 51 was both a low point and a high point for David. He was brought to his knees because of his sin, but he recognized in that moment that only as he was willing to be led by God every day could he avoid the pitfalls of sin in the future.
In Psalm 86:11, also after his low and high point in 51, David prayed, “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”
Do you see the connection? David understood that having a willingness to be taught by God was tied to having a pure heart.
God can do great things in a marriage where people are willing to submit to His Lordship and let Him teach them and lead them. God can do great things with your career when you are willing to let Him lead you and show you how to do business. God can do great things with you as you plan out your life if you are willing to recognize Him as the Master Planner.
Proverbs 3:5-6 ought to be memorized by every person under the sound of my voice because following this prescription will keep you on the right path. It simply says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”
There are many people who come to me for help from outside the church (and sometimes from inside the church). Often I am able to have more than one encounter with them. In those meetings, it often becomes clear that the people just want a minute of relief or a handout. They don’t want their path directed. They don’t want lasting change. They don’t want to be “told what they should do.” They don’t think they bear any responsibility for their situation. It’s always everyone else’s fault, and there comes a point when even though I want what is best for them, and I know God sent them to me, because they don’t have a teachable spirit, because they don’t want to learn what God has in store and walk in that way, I have to wish them well and let them know there is nothing more I can do for them.
People who come to Christ with a proud heart offer Him nothing. People who come with a teachable heart offer Him the most important thing. No wonder Jesus couldn’t work with the Pharisees. They already “knew it all.” In Matthew 23 Jesus called them hypocrites, snakes, and a brood of vipers. He went on to expound on why He had chosen such names for them in verse 37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
The Jewish leaders weren’t willing to be taught by Jesus. Therefore, He couldn’t work with them, in them or through them. How sad. The people who were maybe best positioned to join Him on His mission failed to get on board because of an un-teachable spirit.
When I ask you to pray silently before I preach, that God will speak directly to you through the message, your willingness to do so and level of sincerity in doing so demonstrates a teachable spirit. God can work with us when we truly desire for Him to work in us.
A willing heart is also going heart.
Isaiah, in Isaiah 6 is a great example of someone who had a willing heart. He was open to whatever, wherever, and whenever if God had a plan to use Him. Isaiah had an encounter with God in which He was forgiven, purified, and cleansed of all sin. That purity of heart led to a willingness of his spirit. Again, there was a connection between having a willing heart and a pure one.
We read in Isaiah 6:8, Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah didn’t put parameters on God. He didn’t say, “You can send me there, but not there.” He didn’t say, “You can use me for 6 months out of the year, but then I get six months off.” He didn’t say, “I’ll do this, but not that.” Isaiah’s willingness to go wherever God wanted to send him was without strings.
Perhaps proof of our Christianity or devotion to Christ is found more in our willingness to “go” when God sends us than in any other attempt we make or spiritual discipline we practice. Have you ever considered that obeying God in going where He sends us is a spiritual discipline? I totally believe it is, as our willingness to be led to the places where He would send us and our willingness to rely on Him for the words or resources or strength to do the assignment He sends us on is a huge exercise of our faith and witness to the world around us.
Turn with me to Acts 8.
When was the last time you could say you went somewhere on an assignment from God? Philip, in Acts 8, went on mission as he followed directions from an angel of the Lord.
Acts 8:26-35 26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road–the desert road–that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (He had no idea what going south would mean for his life or for anyone else’s life!)
27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” (Who knew what was lurking in the chariot? He had no idea what was about to happen.)
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
What a story! Perhaps one could say that in order to have a “going heart” you must first have a listening heart. How else can you hear the command to go anywhere? Has that been on your agenda any day this past week? Have you asked God to speak to you in order that you might be able to go wherever you were needed?
Philip was evidently open to hearing from God. Without knowing any particulars or even any generalities, he just went as he was told. People who venture out in faith, hardly ever know what they are getting into. That’s why it is called FAITH! Who could have comprehended the far-reaching impact of Philip’s obedience?
Did you notice who the Ethiopian Eunuch was connected to? Scripture says he was a big wheel, an important official, in charge of all of the Queen of Ethiopia’s money! That whole encounter was very strategic. Remember in Acts 1:8 the disciples were told that they would be witnesses for Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world. Perhaps they never contemplated that God would bring the uttermost parts of the world to them! The Gospel would be spread to Ethiopia all because Philip was willing to go to someone’s chariot as he was just passing through.
Listen. If God tells you to go, there is always a bigger picture. There is always a brilliant strategy. God is always at work in the details behind the scenes to empower your going and to make you effective. Philip had it easy. The guy was already reading the Bible. The guy asked Philip for help understanding it. Philip didn’t even have to start the spiritual conversation! The guy he was sent to got the whole ball rolling.
Verse 36 of Acts 8 goes on to explain that the Eunuch was not only reading his Bible to try to understand spiritual stuff, and he not only asked Philip to explain spiritual stuff to him, but then he went on to direct his own discipleship path and said, “Pull the chariot over. There is water. Don’t you think I ought to get baptized?” I wonder what went through Philip’s mind! Perhaps, “Yes, that’s a great idea, why didn’t I think of that? I’m the disciple!” Literally, Philip was just along for the ride!
People whose hearts are willing to go, realize they are servants. They realize they are messengers. They realize we are not only to be taught by God, but we are also to be used of Him as well.
Philip could have bristled at the command to go down the desert road. After all, he was practically a rock star by this time! Earlier in Acts 8 we read about how he had preached to crowds of people in Samaria. He was doing miracles. He was casting demons out of people. Paralytic people were getting healed under his ministry. Verse 8 of Acts 8 tells us there was great joy in the city. People were thrilled with Philip’s ministry.
Philip could have gotten puffed up at the success he was encountering and the following that he was gaining. He could have resisted the invitation to go. Why leave where he already was? He was being effective. The whole city was celebrating what God was doing. He could have told God he wanted to stay where the action was. He wanted to be where there was already great momentum. He wanted to be where people were gathered around what God was doing. But on the heels of all of the great celebration and spiritual success, God told Philip to go out of his way, to go down a dusty dirt road into the middle of the desert. There would be no crowd, no excitement, no one to testify to their miraculous healing. Why would God send Philip out into the middle of nowhere when where he was, was already hot and happening?
Why? Because God will stop at nothing to reach all people, and because God had a plan to reach people in Ethiopia through the conversion of one soul in the desert.
What out of the way place may God want to send you to? Who might be contemplating spiritual questions in the middle of some desert? How might their conversion impact exponential numbers of people? Are you listening for the voice of God to send you on an assignment? Are you willing to go if God calls?
Finally, a willing heart is a giving heart. Allow me to share a couple more Scriptures with you. Exodus 35:29 All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do.
“All who were willing brought freewill offerings.” When you have a willing heart, giving to the Lord is never difficult. It doesn’t have to be coerced. It’s not a burden. Giving just becomes another spiritual discipline that helps keep our hearts in perspective. When we are willing to give we recognize it’s not about hoarding our stuff. It’s not about acquiring resources so that we can trust in a kind of self-sufficiency. It’s not about desiring more than we need. It’s not about building up a personal empire or winning some kind of contest with the Jonses.
It’s about recognizing that all we have is a gift from God and if it can be used for His glory it is available to Him to have at a moment’s notice. Many people will claim they are willing to follow Christ until He asks for their bank account. God doesn’t call all Christians to a life of poverty. I believe few are asked to sacrifice in that way. However, God does demand that He be the One in charge of all we own and that we freely, willingly, with pure hearts use our resources as He directs. So relax. God isn’t after your money. He is simply after your willingness.
1 Timothy 6:18 says: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”
Yesterday you shared with the people of this county as you gave of your time, as you extended yourself in friendship, as you invited people to church, as you put on a carnival and served the food that you donated, as you took people’s blood pressures, and as you gave out the clothes and school supplies you also donated. For the Christian life it isn’t about hoarding but helping. It’s not about self-preservation, but about throwing a life preserver to one in need. How willing are we to give to the work of the Lord through our tithes and offerings? How willing are we to share our resources with those in need?
2 Chronicles 29:31 says, Then Hezekiah said, “You have now dedicated yourselves to the Lord. Come and bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the temple of the Lord.” So the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all whose hearts were willing brought burnt offerings.
Burnt offerings were the most common in Israel. They were offered daily. God instituted a daily worship service in the Tabernacle which included a continual burnt offering. Every day, two male lambs were offered up as burnt offerings. The lamb would burn on the fire all day. Each subsequent sacrifice was simply placed upon the animal that had previously been offered. It was a continual offering of a lamb.
In a burnt offering, the whole sacrifice was consumed by fire. Every part was offered. Every part consumed. What a gift, a burnt offering was, as it represented a total commitment.
Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the One who gave His all for all of us as His life was spilled out on an altar of wood, is the consummate burnt offering. He showed us what total sacrifice looks like. What a gift God gave us when He sacrificed Christ on our behalf. His sacrifice remains ongoing and continual before the Heavenly Father, Hebrews 10. His blood is a perpetual atoning sacrifice for the sins of the entire world! No one was a greater giver than God as He gave the life of His Son, and no one has been a more committed sacrifice than Jesus. He was all in!
God calls all those with willing hearts to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1-2). As we grow in Christ we are to grow in our willingness to lay every part of our lives on the altar in an act of surrender and worship.
I’ve said a lot this morning. The challenge is huge. How willing are we to grow, to go, and to give all we have to the Lord in obedience and worship? I know our “want to” is often not as strong as our “will to.” Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Maybe today is just a day for you to admit that you are weak. What a great first step in becoming willing. Maybe today is a day for you to admit that you have been stagnant in your growth as a Christian and that you are ready to press into discipleship and spiritual training. Maybe today is a day for you to admit you have resisted God’s call. You have chosen the comfort zone of Samaria where you are well loved and known rather than venture down the dusty road into the unknown. Maybe today is a day to admit you are selfish or greedy or stingy. Maybe today is a day to confess you haven’t truly given everything over to God. Would you join me in a moment at an altar of prayer to tell the Lord you are willing to be made willing?