BY ANNA NORTHUP
Abram swallowed heavily as tears burned in his eyes. Sarai laid her hand on his arm, and Abram lifted his chin to look full into her beautiful face, tightened with shame but softened with love. Their gazes locked for a moment that seemed an eternity to both, and Sarai nodded briefly before slipping silently out of the tent. Abram turned away as though anyone aside from God could see his tears. He’d been so afraid – he had forgotten the Lord’s steadfast strength, the Lord who walked with him through the death of his brother, his journeys to foreign lands, and Sarai’s barrenness. He’d forgotten the Lord’s incredible, mighty promises that stirred in his soul a devotion and faith deeper than any he’d known.
I let my fear take the place of love, he thought, but he still came back for me. I was faithless, but he was faithful. Tears flowing freely now, Abram lifted his eyes to heaven and praised God there in the Egyptian desert. Though I lied, and allowed Sarai to be taken from me – he still showed himself mighty on my behalf. I was consumed by fear for myself, and he showed me what selflessness is. My heart was divided, but he still wanted me. And Abram’s heart swelled with humility and gratitude to the God who, in time, would prove over and over his faithfulness to Abram’s descendants.
David walked slowly from the camp, his heart in turmoil and his mind racing. The sounds of rejoicing and shouting died away as he lifted his eyes to the evening stars. His throat was choked, but he managed to whisper, “You have maintained my right and my cause; you sat in the throne judging right.” His soul swelled in wonder at the Lord who granted him, a poor shepherd boy, victory over Israel’s greatest enemy. With a stab of pain, he recalled his neglect and lonely years in the hills, when his only consolation was the word of the Lord, when none wanted to love him save his Maker.
When by God’s hand David was brought from wandering to war, to King Saul’s very court, he was overwhelmed by the riches. He could not stop himself from blurting, “What will a man receive if he kills this Philistine?” Even in the cool night air, David’s cheeks burned with shame at his own greed. He saw what my heart’s desire was at that moment, but he gave me victory. He knew my hunger for glory, but he poured faith and confidence into my soul. He was well aware of my hunger for worldly things – and still he slayed Goliath and gave me a name. David paused, enchanted by the stars above, savoring the Lord’s glory twinkling from them. My heart was divided, but he still used me.
Your Divided Heart
I was speaking to a friend recently who’s been struggling with prayer and Bible study, during a time of spiritual dryness in her life: “I feel torn – half of me really wants to read, and pray, and grow close with the Lord, but the other half just…doesn’t.” If I could have a penny for every time, every day, I felt that way, I could kick back and just free write day in and day out! There are always purposes and plans God has for our lives (and maybe one day that’ll be mine!). But we don’t always embrace them like we should, we don’t pursue God’s promises like we should, and we don’t love the things of God like we should. Is that normal? Yes. Does God want us to stay there? Should we be ok with that? No. Here are two truths to show you that yes, as my pastor put it, God wants the divided heart that wholly seeks him.
- We are pilgrims in a fallen, tempting world.
Peter, a close friend of Jesus, exhorted us: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)
Did you catch those last words? These temptations are at war against us. This leads us to a twofold truth: the Christian life is a fight! We will be attacked by desires and temptations not of God. And as long as we’re pilgrims in this world, we are defined by a battle with sin, not a complacency with it, in our souls. Peter is well qualified to tell us: he denied ever knowing his Lord when his own life was threatened. Certainly he loved Christ, but his divided heart let self-preservation overtake him.
As college students – especially at Duke – there is the temptation to put our identity in what we do rather than who we are: in our schoolwork, our many commitments, our leadership resume, our service count – instead of believing we’re accepted, holy, and beloved children of God. When we fail that chem test – what then? When we don’t snag club VP? Remember when the disciples were arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (9:46)? And while we’re in this world, we will always be confronted with temptations – even Jesus, the perfect man and our Advocate, was tempted as we are (Heb. 4:15). What was Peter’s defining mark? He was convicted deeply by the Spirit. And he came back. Which leads to our next truth –
- We have both grace and power to help in times of need.
Paul tenderly reminds us: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
God knows you’re not perfect (Phil. 3:12). He knows that you will be attracted to wicked things (or place too much emphasis on good things, like grades and social life), and he knew your life would be messy. He works through those mistakes – look at David and Abram! But through Christ, we have overwhelming grace and love unalterable by the failures in our battle. And it’s this gratitude and love for him that motivates us to keep fighting. He will give us a way out – the power to resist. But when we’re not faithful – like David and Abraham – he is. He won’t leave us high and dry. There is a war, but there in peace in his precious promises to us.