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Traction – Part 1: Start Your Engine!

Welcome to our new series titled Traction: Getting Going With God. Someone in the congregation here who used to race cars as a hobby: the real deal, on a track, with a helmet, going crazy fast. He explained that the last thing drivers want in a race is to lose traction, to slip. At the most fundamental level, he explained, you want constant traction. Without it, you’re just spinning your wheels. You’re going to end up off-track.

And what’s true of traction in driving, is true of making headway with God. God wants you to get traction in your journey with him. That’s what we’re going to explore the next five Sundays, with the Old Testament books of 1 & 2 Kings as our guide. 

We get to ride along on five God-encounters where God’s people needed to get traction in their walk with God. A couple of weeks back we surveyed the Old Testament storyline in 3 minutes: let me tell you where 1 & 2 Kings fit in to that. 1 & 2 Kings were written during the time when Judah, the southern kingdom, was in exile and were written to answer, “How do we get from where to are, to experiencing God’s blessings?”

1 & 2 Kings answers the question, “How do we get from where we are to experiencing God’s blessings?”

The answer is found in five things that if we devote ourselves to them, we will experience God’s blessing. We’ll get traction, to get going with the Lord’s leading. 

Just like the Indy 500 famously begins with the charge, “Drivers, start your engines!”, we begin this series with the action that has to come first—and that is having a heart for God. Your heart is the engine of your life. Your heart is the engine that drives you, that gets you where you’re going to go, whether for good or evil.

And so God has plenty to say about our hearts. 725 times, the Bible speaks about the heart, literally all the way from Genesis to Revelation. There are 39 books in the Old Testament, and God addresses our hearts in 35 of the 39. There are 27 books in the New Testament, and God speaks of our hearts in 23 of them. The heart is a major, recurring theme. God is greatly concerned with our hearts.

The Proverbs, which are the sayings of the wise, give us 75 proverbs about the heart. Here’s one:

“Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.”

Proverbs 4:23

“Death and Destruction lie open before the Lord— how much more do human hearts!”

Proverbs 15:11

A paraphrase of that proverb says, even hell holds no secrets from God—do you think he can’t read human hearts? God knows our hearts. 

“A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

Proverbs 21:2

Our hearts aren’t dependable. Don’t trust your own heart to serve as ultimate arbiter of right from wrong. We are easily deceived, as well as self-deceived.

And here’s a powerful one:

“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”

Proverbs 27:19

Just like a still lake reflects your image back to you, so your life reflects the condition of your heart, what’s really going on inside.

Again, the point? God is deeply concerned with the state of our hearts. 

This is reflected in yChurch’s mission statement where we affirm that we want to be all about “engaging heart and mind.” Our hearts matter deeply to God.

It’s all about your heart 

1 & 2 Kings give us several encounters where God zeroes in on people’s hearts as the engine that drives, motivates, and steers you. And when the Bible speaks of the heart, obviously it’s talking about something other than the muscle in your chest. That heart is amazing enough—continuously pumping oxygenated blood to all the organs and tissues throughout your body to keep you alive and healthy. 

Your physical heart is only about the size of a fist, but it beats about 100,000 times each day. In the course of an average lifetime, your heart will beat billions of times. Amazing!

But as impressive as your physical heart is, it pales in comparison to the other way we speak of the heart. When the Bible speaks of the heart, that is shorthand for the ruling center of the whole person. A more contemporary way to say that is that your heart is your OS, your Operating System. 

The heart is the ruling center of the whole person; 

The heart is my Operating System.

One of our members works in IT and was telling how from time to time he would get a call from his Dad saying one of his Dad’s laptops had become corrupted. His Dad would ship the infected laptop cross-country to his son. His son would remove the infection and restore the laptop, then send it back to his Dad. 

Just like a corrupted operating system damages your laptop’s ability to do what it is designed to do, similarly when the heart is corrupted, it affects everything. This is why our hearts matter so much to God. They affect everything we think, say, and do.

All of that is the backdrop to why we need a heart…for God. To have a heart for God means at the most basic level that God has your heart. 

To have a heart for God means that God has my heart.

So as we pull up to the starting line of this series, we meet a man named Josiah. We meet him in 2 Kings chapter 22. When Josiah becomes king, king after king before him had drifted from God. They had lost traction. They ended up all over the place morally and spiritually. Instead of having hearts for God, their hearts wandered after anything and everything, after the pagan ways of the nations surrounding them—the very things God had warned them to steer clear of. So the kings preceding Josiah lost their way. But in Josiah, we meet a man who has a heart for God.

Josiah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…”

2 Kings 22:2

Josiah, we are told, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 22:2). One of the critical things Josiah did was initiate a temple restoration project, to see God’s house put back in order. Prior to him, the temple had fallen into disrepair—symptomatic of how the people’s hearts had fallen away from God. 

But then something unexpected happened. In the course of cleaning up the debris to repair and restore the temple, they find a scroll. It turns out to be what is called “the Book of the Law,” likely meaning the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is Moses’ written record re-telling the people of Israel the covenant the Lord had made with them. It recounts things like the ten commandments. The purpose for Deuteronomy was to lead Israel to obey the Lord, and to warn them against disobeying him, as they had done in the past. So the spirit and aim of Deuteronomy is to explain the commandments both as encouragement and as warning. This is what is uncovered and rediscovered while they’re working on the temple—God’s Word to them.

So check this out: God’s Word had been so ignored, so overlooked, so neglected while they pursued other forms of religion and spirituality, that everyone forgot where it even was! But then somewhere in the dust and debris it was rediscovered, and brought to Josiah.

There, it was read aloud to Josiah, all the way through, 34 chapters long. Josiah listened to it all, took it all in. And by the time the secretary reached the close of the final chapter in the Book of the Law, Josiah was crushed. He was heartbroken. And for the first time, he understood how they got to the low point where they were. 2 Kings chapter 22:11 describes the scene:

“When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: ‘Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.’”

2 Kings 22:11-13

A king tearing his ornate robes was the most intense reaction possible in those times. It shows us that Josiah was wrecked by what he heard. Watch what he did next, this from 2 Kings chapter 23, and listen for his heart:

“Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant…Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” 

2 Kings 23:1-3, 25

Josiah got traction in his walk with God, because he had a heart for God. 

And even better, the people he could influence got a chance to get traction in their walk with God, because he showed what it looks like to have a heart for God. 

Let’s bridge from then to today, how you can get—or get back—a heart for God. 

How to get (or get back) a heart for God

  • Rediscover God’s Word.

First, rediscover God’s Word for yourself. For Josiah, it was that someone literally found the missing Scriptures. They were there all along, but they had been neglected. 

Bible translators like Marilyn Laszlo describe the outrageous celebration when the Bible comes to people in their heart language for the very first time. Marilyn was sent to the Sepik Iwam people in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. She and her translation partner devoted decades to learning the language, setting it to written form, and then came the decades-long work of translating the Bible into that language.

The Sepik Iwam people were thrilled that God’s talk could be carved with a thorn on a banana leaf—that’s how they explained God’s Word being written on paper—in their heart language.

And so on the day they anticipated the very first Sepik Iwam Bibles would arrive by canoe, everyone in the whole village decorated their house. They were waiting with excitement for the canoe. Then they heard it, they heard the engine. They began exclaiming in their language that “Papa God’s book is coming! Papa God’s book is coming!”

They all lined up to get their own Bible, in their own language. When they got it, they held it up, shouting, “The word! The word of God has arrived! Here it is! Here it is!” They were so excited!

Have you ever gotten that excited about your Bible? 

Do you even know where it is?

If you don’t, you need to start where Josiah started: rediscover the Bible. 

If you don’t own one, take one of the Bibles we put on the back table. Better still, I’ll take you to Lifeway Christian Store in Castleton so you can choose the best Bible for you at this point in your walk with God. There are lots of great options to help you rediscover the Bible.

Where is the Bible in your life right now? If you listen to me for 30 minutes once a week but never open your Bible the rest of the week, you will be weak. 

“Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 8:3 

That’s straight out of the book that was rediscovered in Josiah’s day—the book of Deuteronomy. If you want to have a heart for God, the place to start is by rediscovering the Word of God. 

  • Read God’s Word.

The second step in getting a heart for God is getting God’s Word into your heart. Read it. Or listen to it via the Bible app. But have a plan. Follow a plan like the one in your bulletin. Doesn’t have to be that plan. But have a plan, to read God’s Word.

Find out what it says, and what God wants to say to you! I didn’t read the Bible when I was supposed to for the years I went to a Catholic high school. But after a few years drifting away from God, someone took me to a Christian bookstore and I bought my own Bible, a modern-language Bible. I started to read it. And I was surprised by what’s in here!

God’s Word started answering questions I didn’t know how to find the answer to. 

God’s Word confronted me on wrong ways of thinking and acting.

God’s Word corrected false doctrine that I had grown up believing.

The pure, unfiltered Word of God is powerful.

But to get traction with God from his Word, you have to read it. 

The Bible is the primary way God makes himself known, and the primary way he reveals how we’re meant to go through life. It really is God’s life instruction manual. It reveals who God is (and who he is not). It reveals who we are, created powerfully in God’s image and likeness and with stunning creative abilities. And it reveals how sin continues to damage how we are, and how that plays out in every relationship from the nuclear family all the way up to nations. The makes sense of reality, and holds out wisdom for navigating life well. 

So read it.  If you haven’t done that yet, start with the reading plan that’s in the bulletin. Or even do part of the reading plan that’s in the bulletin, say just the Psalms for now. But read. Rediscover God’s Word, and then read God’s Word. Those are the first two essential steps in having—or regaining—a heart for God, like we see in Josiah. And then third, and this is where the rubber meets the road…

  • Respond to God’s Word. 

You have to respond to what you read. And there’s only one response that’s going to give you traction spiritually. Because it’s the only response that reflects a heart for God. The response God is looking for is men and women and children who do what his Word says. Let God’s Word influence and change how you think.

When is the last time you were confronted with the need to personally change in some way?

Maybe it was a wrong belief, something you believed sincerely, but then based on the clear teaching of God’s Word, your eyes were opened to being in error, and you change what you believe?

Maybe it was a bad attitude—but then something from God’s Word spoke to you and exposed that you needed to change your attitude?

If you can’t point to specific instances where you changed because of God’s Word teaching, rebuking, correcting or training you in what it means to walk uprightly before God, this is the step you need to work on: respond to God’s Word. This is ultimately what proves that Josiah had a heart for God. He let God’s Word convict him. He let God’s Word break his heart. And he let God’s Word move him to go public with his commitment, “with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength.” That’s responding to God’s Word.

Respond to God’s Word. Do what it says. Live like it says. Value what God says we ought to value. Learn to love what God loves and hate what God hates.

Don’t just read the Bible. Let the Bible read you.

Don’t just read the Bible. Let the Bible read you. That’s what Josiah did. He not only read God’s Word, he let God’s Word read him and his people. He welcomed God’s Word showing him that they were spinning their wheels, they were off-track and headed for disaster.

Neil Wright, a New Testament scholar from England, speaks to the heart for God that God is searching for. Wright says when you have a heart for God and you come to Scripture, there will be times when you say, “I don’t like the sound of this, but…if this is what it really means, I’m going to have to pray for grace and strength to get that into my heart and be shaped by it.” 

We don’t change the Bible to make it conform to our beliefs. We let the Bible change us, that we might conform more and more to the likeness of Christ. That’s why God gave us the book—to constantly stay open to change and personal growth.

We’ve seen great big examples of this including just a few generations back when a heart for God enabled our predecessors to get their fingers out of their ears and finally hear what God thinks about slavery. And having finally heard God, they responded to God. They rejected the status quo, out of obedience to God’s Word. They let God’s Word change their hearts.

That’s a great big example. Just as important is the next time you read something in God’s Word, or hear God’s Word clearly taught, and it challenges you. When that moment hits, you face a choice: you will either harden your heart, or you will turn your heart toward God and accept what he says. If you want to have a heart for God, it takes responding humbly when God’s Word confronts or contradicts something you have believed or valued or engaged in. 

A heart for God means when God’s Word contradicts me, I reject my old belief, not the Bible. I change, because God’s Word doesn’t change. God means what he says, and he says what he means. So like Josiah, respond with a heart for God, humble yourself, and change. Keep pursuing becoming more like Christ. That’s the finish line we’re aiming for.

Lee Strobel describes this in one of his books when he suggests you pretend that your daughter and her boyfriend are going out for a Coke on a school night. You say to her, “You must be home before eleven.” 

Now suppose it gets to be 10:45 and the two of them are still having a great time. They don’t want the evening to end, so suddenly they begin to have difficulty interpreting your instructions. 

They say, “What did he really mean when he said, ‘You must be home before eleven? Did he literally mean us, or was he talking about you in a general sense, like people in general? Was he saying, in effect, ‘As a general rule, people must be home before eleven?’ Or was he just making the observation that ‘Generally, people are in their homes before eleven?’ I mean, he wasn’t very clear, was he?” 

“And what did he mean by, ‘You must be home before eleven?’ Would a loving father be so adamant and inflexible? He probably means it as a suggestion. I know he loves me, so isn’t it implicit that he wants me to have a good time? And if I am having fun, then he wouldn’t want me to end the evening so soon.” 

“And what did he mean by, ‘You must be home before eleven?’ He didn’t specify whose home. It could be anybody’s home. Maybe he meant it figuratively. Remember the old saying, ‘Home is where the heart is?’ My heart is right here, so doesn’t that mean I’m already home?” 

“And what did he really mean when he said, ‘You must be home before eleven?’ Did he mean that in an exact, literal sense? Besides, he never specified 11 p.m. or 11 a.m.

And he wasn’t really clear on whether he was talking about Central Standard Time or Eastern Standard Time. I mean, in Hawaii, it’s still only quarter to seven. And as a matter of fact, when you think about it, it’s always before eleven. Whatever time it is, it’s always before the next eleven. 

So with all of these ambiguities, we can’t really be sure what he meant at all. So if he can’t make himself more clear, we certainly can’t be held responsible.”

Take the same couple. Tell them you’ll give them a thousand dollars apiece if they get home before eleven. You know what? They’ll understand you completely. Because it’s all about the heart. 

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