...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:37 AM [+]
Change my heart O God
Both a recurrent theme in Scripture – particularly in the Psalms – and also the beginning to what was a very popular chorus amongst evangelicals while I was amongst them; these words have been on my mind a lot lately.
My time as an evangelical was often spent on my knees and in tears begging God to change my heart and this was the sum total of my ascetic labors – prayer. I will not belittle this because it was a worthy endeavor and it was genuine and frankly I do not pray enough anymore and I certainly don’t spend enough time today weeping for my sins. We Orthodox will sometimes talk about a gift of tears from God, so let me tell you that many evangelicals and particularly Pentecostals have that gift. I dare any of us to judge their hearts. I know in my experience I was truly broken hearted for my sins.
However, as I noted, this was the sum total of my ascetic labors and so I was fighting a battle with half my arsenal, though I didn’t know it at the time. What was missing from my mindset back then, during that perpetual cycle of sin and tears of regret? Training and application of the will. Sounds simple, but it’s not. We have in the Orthodox tradition, volumes written about it...a nearly inexhaustible source of in depth analysis on how to fight in this Unseen Warfare.
So in the old days I’d get up off my knees, wipe away my tears and blow my nose and then essentially do nothing. And during some very dark nights I would occasionally wonder why God seemed to refuse to answer my prayers when I BEGGED and PLEADED that He Change my heart. The notion that I might actually make an effort was not much of a consideration for me…at least in the sense that I would practices self-denial - such as in fasting – in order to more effectively deny myself when the real temptation to sin arose. I’ve no doubt that our evangelical revulsion toward any hint of “works righteousness” prevented me from seeing this common sense.
I had desire, but no discipline. I wanted to be a spiritual athlete and yet for some reason refused to notice St. Paul’s analogy of the same and his referencing the work athletes must go through in order to compete. In other words I had the desire to hop the pommel horse, but no notion that might actually need to engage in the labor of discipline and practice in order to make it happen. So, I rather expected, I suppose, that “saved by grace” implied that God would miraculously give me the ability to compete in gymnastics. Well, you get my point.
Now, if I’m going to bash my evangelical past I am also going to bash my Orthodox present. It is so easy for us to poke fun at evangelicals and particularly the Pentecostals, but be careful doing that. They have something that far too many Orthodox (me included) lack: zeal. I would love to have those tears back. I’ll say it again: I would love to have those tears back. If I could take that desire that I sometimes think I’ve lost and couple it to the wonderful discipline I’ve inherited from Orthodoxy, then I think I would see a very real change of heart. The lack of desire is my own fault…but I would just suggest before we decide to criticize the arguably unhinged desire of Pentecostals that we make sure we have some semblance of a hinged desire that is wholly coupled with discipline such that we are truly progressing toward holiness. Neither discipline nor desire are worth much alone.
Desire and discipline changes us because the human heart is malleable. What you do, and where you are are key to who you are. What do I mean? Well...this is too long already...more later...