I have been reading Richard Foster’s new book entitled, “The Sancturay of the Soul.” I assume that most of the readers of this blog are familiar with the writings of Richard Foster. I stumbled unto his first book back in the late 70’s entitled “The Celebration of Discipline.” In those days I was fully immersed in the Charismatic Movement. His book was an early wake up call, forcing me to examine the shallowness of my experience of God. I consider Foster one of the early pioneers in the evangelical movement that has gone ahead as a scout informing us that there is much more to the Christian life. What was needed was a new awareness of the great contemplative tradition that had existed from centuries. Many of us, including myself, had never been introduced to this tradition. Most was to be found in the Catholic tradition. Then in the early 80’s I jumped into this vast spiritual stream of historic spirituality. I have never turned back since jumping into the stream.
Anyway, Foster’s new book talks about “heart work.” He quotes a 17th century Puritan writer by the name of John Flavel as observing that the “greatest difficulty in conversion, is to win the heart to God, and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God….Heart-work is hard work indeed.” In Rev 3:20 we hear Jesus tells us, ” Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.” He is really speaking to followers, wanting to be welcomed at the center. He longs to have intimate communion with each of us. We, however, are easily distracted and preoccupied with outward affairs. We content ourselves with good thoughts about God. But God does not simply dwell in our thoughts. Think of how limiting that would be. We cannot contain God in our thoughts. Intimacy of relationship is a matter of the heart. We need to practice keeping our heart open to his Spirit.
So there will need to be a renovation of our hearts in order to make the heart a dwelling place for his Spirit. There is much cleaning up that needs to take place. As Terea of Avila reflected on the evil in her own heart, she observed, “O my Lord, since it seems You have determined to save me, I beseech Your Majesty…don’t You think it would be good….if the inn where You have to dwell continually would not get so dirty?” When the Spirit of God comes into your life, he goes to the center. It from the center that the Spirit radiates out into the rest of our inner life, cleaning the house. This occurs as we allow him into the dark corners and the hidden cellar of our sin.
But there is something in us the flees from the light. “Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is” (John 3:20-21 – The Message). These words of Jesus help us to see that heart work is God’s work. We can’t do the renovation work. Our task is to be willing to expose the darkness and let the light do the rest. Trust me men, it works. I know from my life and many who I have prayed with over the years.
Listen again to Foster on the inner change. “We are utterly, utterly dependent upon God to do this transforming work in us: the work of heart purity, of soul conversion, of inward formation, of life transformation. This solitery and interior work within the heart is the most important, the most real, the most lasting reality in human life.” God gives us a new heart and spirit. “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations” (Ezk 36:26-27 NLT).