When God Pours Out Blessings, Part 10
Sixth, Pray To Confess Our Need For Upright Hearts
I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you. (1 Chr. 29:17)
The place of good works in the Christian life has been a subject of theological controversy since the days of the early church. Paul had to write the Galatians and explain that salvation is a gift of free grace alone received only by faith in Jesus, as a correction to Judaizers who wanted to make them follow the Law of Moses and so earn God’s favor. Since then various similar heresies have persisted throughout church history, most notably the Roman Catholic heresy that adds works like penance as ways in which grace can be earned.
There are many reasons for the endurance of this idea that we can somehow put God in our debt, all of which reduce to our own pride and desire to “be like God” (Gen. 3:5). The temptation is always there to forget that even our willingness and ability, not to mention our possessions, are gifts from God and that therefore even our good works are ultimately God working through us (Phil. 2:13). Hence God’s purpose in designing the way human beings come to salvation by faith alone; good works are specifically and deliberately excluded from how we are made right before God: “this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
Where do good works fit in, then? Paul goes on: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (again: our being Christians is God’s work!) “for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we might walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). See, it is this very truth—that God means to get all the glory in saving us—that helps us grasp the place and purpose of good works in the Christian life. Since good works do not justify us or keep us justified, they must instead be the result and goal of God’s saving us.
I think that’s what David is getting at here in talking about “uprightness of heart.” David knew that only God could create a clean heart (Ps. 51:10). He saw—and rejoiced!—in his own devotion and in the people’s response that God had done what only he could do. The monies and materials offered could never put God in Israel’s debt, and perhaps David in his wisdom perceived a potential danger for the people should they become prideful about “their” accomplishment. Thus David by his prayer gently reminded his people that their willingness and ability actually was God’s own gracious work. And lest the people be tempted to think that their offering was what God desired most from Israel, David also reminded them that God’s priority was for Israel to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deut. 10:16). God wanted pure and upright hearts in his people, which would only then display their true nature in producing good works. David rejoiced to see just that happen in his people’s devotion to the Temple, and—as we’ll see next—prayed that this consecrated and passionate heart for God would, indeed, endure in Israel.
Suggestions for prayer:
1. An old hymn expresses the waywardness of even the Christian heart: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” Has your heart been wandering of late? Have you lost your “first love” (Rev. 2:4)? Pray that God would restore an upright heart.
2. Do you find yourself tempted to view your efforts and work on God’s behalf as putting him somehow in debt? For instance, are you suffering even as you work hard in doing the right thing, and despite your better judgment think that God owes you better? Pray that God would search out and expose any such pride.
3. What is your heart’s attitude toward good works? Do you view them as a chore? Or do you see them as opportunities not to be missed, chances to make God’s glory known? Do you see both attitudes mixed together? Ask that God would give you a longing to “walk in” the good works he has planned for you, and to make obedience a delight that you cannot wait to fulfill.