“Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11)
I’m often in two minds. Mostly about trivial things – what to cook for dinner, where to go on holiday, which book to read next, when to go to bed, who to call out in a home emergency. None of these decisions tend to be life-transforming. But being in two minds about my devotion to God is a serious business. “How long will you go limping between two different opinions?” asked the prophet Elijah of God’s people on Mount Carmel. “If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).
Bowing down to worship the false god Baal is not my temptation. And I imagine it’s not yours either. But I regularly face very specific temptations to choose a sinful path that will lead me away from God, rather than a godly path that will help me to grow in love for God. At other times I find myself being subtly – often imperceptibly – drawn away from the one true God by someone or something else competing for my affections, attention, energy and time. You probably find the same happening to you. The thing or person in question might be good, or neutral. So a friend, perhaps, or your favourite sport or hobby, your career, the latest must-see Netflix series, a holiday, your home, your spouse, your children, your savings or pension fund.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” responded Jesus when asked which is the greatest commandment in the Law (Matthew 22:37). “Blessed are the pure in heart”, he declares in the Sermon on the Mount, “for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). And that word pure carries the meaning of being uncontaminated, not corrupted by ungodly desires, not being pulled in several different directions. Later in that sermon (referring to the god of money), Jesus makes it clear that “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).
A divided heart is a heart that cannot worship God. Oh I can certainly go through the motions of singing, praying, attending church, reading my Bible and doing Christian service. To all intents and purposes I can appear like a true worshipper, others might even think of me as an ‘on fire’ Christian. But if my heart is divided, if I’m trying to worship someone or something else before (or alongside) the one true God (Exodus 20:3) then I am not actually worshipping the Lord in spirit and in truth.
When I find myself in two minds about my relationship with God, I often use Psalm 86:11 as a prayer. I ask God to “unite my heart” to fear his name. The name of God is the nature of God, it’s everything that he reveals about himself in scripture. So his steadfast love, his faithfulness, his holiness, his mercy, his grace, his goodness, the fact that he’s a consuming fire, his sovereign power and authority, his consistent anger at sin, his patience, his kindness and so on and so on. And God wants me to fear all these and other glorious realities about his nature. Not to be terrified by them, but to hold them in my heart and mind with reverent awe. To fear, as it were, losing the experience of them by walking away from pure devotion to God in order to worship idols.
At the beginning of a new week, it’s worth considering who or what might be in danger of dividing your heart and leading you away from unadulterated worship of the one true God. Or is it perhaps already divided? Don’t be in two minds about complete devotion to the Lord. He is, after all, completely devoted to you. He demonstrated this by sending his Son to die in order that you could be reconciled to him and enjoy him forever. Let’s hear the challenge of Joshua, as God renewed his covenant with his people in Shechem: “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served…and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:14-15).