There is a divine partnership in beholding and becoming men and women after God's heart. God has a role and we have a role. God will not do our part for us. We can't do God's part for Him. Our responsibility is to fill our minds with the truth of God's personality - to gaze upon Him as David did. God's promise in return is to supernaturally change our emotions. This is the Kingdom of God's division of labor. We change our minds and God changes our hearts (meaning our emotions). Beholding God's emotions is something only you can do in your own secret life in God. The truths of His heart must get into the particular language of your heart. No other person can do it for you and God Himself won't do it for you. You cannot go through a prayer line to get it. You cannot obtain it by reading a book. This is your responsibility of the partnership, wholly and completely yours. It can't be hired out to any other man or woman of God.
So we must get it into our brains. We saturate our thoughts with God's emotions and His passion for us. We take the transcript of God's soul, the Word of God, and we fill our minds with it line by line, truth by truth, day after day, year after year. And we speak the Word. It comes alive much faster as it travels through our lips, especially in prayer. We begin to use the language of God's emotions in our deepest, most private dialogues with God. We begin to speak the truths of God's heart back to Him and He transforms our emotional chemistry.
You may have discovered in this life that you don't have the power to change your emotions directly. You can't say, "Joy!" and elicit joy from your soul. You can't demand, "Gladness, rise up within me now!" It'll never happen. You might get a jolt of adrenaline, but long-lasting emotions are not awakened by determination. That's God's part of the division of labor, and it's a supernatural work of the Spirit in us. But here's the good news: all our emotions are linked to thoughts or ideas. Correct thoughts about God bring wonderful emotions. This is why the truth sets us free (Jn. 8:32). You can indirectly change your emotions by flooding your thoughts with the truth about God.
In the early days of my Christian life, my friends and I read the verse about being "transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2) in the negative sense. We thought it meant, "You will be transformed mostly by staying away from sinful movies," and we had a whole list of bad things to stay away from so that we would end up transformed. But there is much more to this principle than clamping down on ourselves and staying away from bad things. Your mind is not renewed primarily by staying away from bad things, but by filling your mind with the truth about God. You don't need better sin-avoidance techniques but a new vision of what God's heart looks like. Flowing from that vision will be a new vision of what you look like to God. When I fill my mind with what God's emotions look like, I experience new dimensions of grace to stay away from the "bad things."
The only part that troubles me about this beholding and becoming principle is how few people are truly willing to give their time and energy to it. I know many believers who are serious about having their hearts and spirits renewed. Yet their main strategy is to pursue more information about God without putting it into practice. They come by the thousands to conferences, prayer lines and Bible schools saying, "I want passion for Jesus!" Yet it seems they will do everything except take time to behold and study God's passion for them. Though well meaning, they try to reverse the divine process of growing in love. They focus on becoming instead of beholding. They jump to step two, trying to bypass step one. They might focus on having their hearts healed or flowing with joy or peace. They glom onto every teaching that promises results, every speaker with a new approach. But you can't become until you behold. Becoming is good, but God's sequence says we must behold the reality within His heart. Then He does His part and awakens joy and peace and all the rest within us.
Transformation will not happen simply by hearing a teaching or reading a book. It has to be more than a sermon, more than a class you attend, and more than a video series you watch. You will not find the fire of love for Him by only hearing teachings that exhort you to be a fiery lover. Exhortation to action does not equip your heart to carry out that action. Have you noticed that? Exhortations to "love harder" never awaken love in our hearts. A good teaching or book will arouse spiritual desire and give you the vision to go find the food for yourself. It makes you say, "I want it!" But hunger and vision is all books and sermons can offer. In and of themselves they will never equip your heart to actually love. That change requires a lifestyle of being in the Word. If you want passion or love for God then fill your time and your mind with the revelation of God's passion and love for you. It is uncomplicated, but few people actually live out this revelation.
Some years ago I began to try this very thing. I studied God's emotions. I gazed upon them in His Word. I filled my mind with them. Then I began to speak them back to the Lord in prayer. I began to use biblical language about God's heart and emotions in my private prayer life. I started to say, "God, You are filled with pleasure. You have overflowing joy, and You are exceedingly glad. You enjoy me and delight in me." I realized the Lord wants us to talk to Him about these truths even when no one is around. He invites us to open our Bibles, find out what He is like, fill our minds with specific passages that say this and get them into our prayer dialogue. We must teach them, talk about them, sing them and let God awaken our hearts with them. When you read the Bible, turn it into dialogue, "Jesus, You said in Your Word here that You'll be with us to the end of the age. You said God loves us with tender compassion." When you talk in a direct way, setting your mind on Him, or beholding Him, your spirit opens up. When I began to speak these things in my own deep dialogues with God, my emotions slowly transformed. I began to feel pleasure and joy and gladness in loving Him. When I felt His delight in me, I soon began to delight in Him and His Word as I never had before on a consistent basis.
That's the effect of gazing upon His heart. It stabilizes us in Him. You don't live like a bungee jumper, swinging up and down, side to side on a wild emotional ride. You don't live like a spelunker, hanging down in a dark cavern of negative feelings. God has given us the key to transformed emotions. Our view of God's emotions changes everything within our own emotions. Gazing upon God's soul gives us spiritual information, not neutral information. It's powerful, full of life-changing energy. When that information hits a sincere spirit like yours or mine, a slow-motion explosion occurs inside us. It's orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. It doesn't happen in one day but incrementally. We may take three steps forward and two steps back in the process of being renewed, yet over time, our emotions are transformed and our heart is awakened.
This is nothing less than recapturing our inheritance. Jesus promised we would have hearts that flow like a river by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.
37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit...(Jn. 7:37-38)
When I talk about gazing upon and beholding the emotions of God, one common response is that we Christians have to "be practical" and not just sit around searching out His heart. Beholding is viewed as peripheral or extreme - something for people who have no "real" jobs or families. Beloved, I tell you, studying the heart of God is absolutely crucial if we are to have healthy families and careers. The most practical thing you can do to take care of your family or business is to cultivate an overflowing heart. As you regularly behold the happy God in the Word, you will be progressively filled with happiness. You will take care of your family far better than if you were grouchy. Have you noticed that the blessing is much smaller for the people around you when you go about your God-ordained responsibilities with a spirit of depression, heaviness, anger and bitterness? Grumpy, duty-bound service is better than nothing, but it is not God's best way.
But if you invest time in understanding the happiness of God's heart for you, your heart is gloriously awakened. You become powerful and effective in your duties in the kingdom of God and in all aspects of life. You serve with a happy heart, and that happiness is multiplied. Don't be one of those people who says, "I'm too busy to sit around beholding the glory of God's heart." That's like choosing to live with a locked heart. Don't buy the argument that spending time on this is not realistic or practical. In truth, there is nothing more practical we can do.
To gaze upon the heart of God creates a heart flowing with His attributes. But we must come to Jesus in the way the Scriptures say, not the way our denomination or our favorite church speaker says. There are four basic requirements that I'll mention here:
First, a spirit of obedience. If there is even one area of rebellion against God in our lives, then our hearts won't flow in the way God promises. Declare war on any area of compromise in your life. You may stumble in that area, but if you are sincerely warring against it, you will still gain ground. After all, the flowing heart is what empowers us to get free from besetting sin. God doesn't require that we be free from all struggle before He releases His power in our hearts. Just the opposite; the power of God helps us get free. I am not suggesting that we are free to disobey God until our emotions change. It is the wisdom of God and the will of God that we obey Him when we don't feel like it. I believe in obedience when I don't feel like obeying. When I'm depressed and feeling horrible, I still need to obey God. However, you will obey a lot more and with greater strength when your emotions are touched by the revelation of God's emotions. There is a place and a time to exert effort and to be disciplined in the Word, yet discipline, work and effort follow much easier after we have touched at least the beginnings of enjoyment. Lovers have always made better workers. When desire and enjoyment, even in their beginning stages, are in place, obedience seems like the only reasonable option.
The second area is faith in God's love. We must cultivate confidence in God's affection towards us even when we stumble. If we lack this confidence then we close our spirit toward Jesus. We cultivate condemnation and self-accusation, and that makes it impossible to grow.
The revelation that God enjoys you in your weakness transforms you. In my experience, this is the hardest revelation for people to enter into and the place on the spiritual journey where most people stall and stop. The reason? We will never enjoy God more than our revelation of God enjoying us in our weakness. Let me say it again: we will never enjoy God more than we experience His enjoyment of us in our weakness. But when we do see that He enjoys us in weakness, then we bear fruit: we begin to enjoy God all the time. Our hearts respond in affection. We hear the Godhead, the Three in One, say, "We like you." Our heart answers, "I like You, then." Who doesn't enjoy being with people who like him? So when we understand that God likes us all the time, we respond by liking Him. We start smiling just thinking about God. It happens automatically.
Then another miraculous thing happens: we begin to enjoy ourselves. You begin to like you. You prefer to be yourself over any other person on Earth. This is a revolutionary change for most people. A woman prayed earnestly, "Lord I want to love my neighbor like I love myself." The Lord surprised her with His answer: "That's the problem - you do. You despise yourself; therefore, you despise your neighbor."
It is God's will that we would come to the transforming summit of self-acceptance on our journey. He wants us all to inhabit this place of personal enjoyment and satisfaction. It's a position where, in the secrecy of our own heart, we would rather be who we are than anybody else. That gives us incredible confidence and desire to enjoy and love others. Fireworks go off inside you; streams of life touch your being. There's nothing like waking up in your own skin and thinking, "I'm glad I am who I am. Thank you, Lord!"
Third, we must have a spirit of servanthood. Isaiah said we must extend our souls for others, and then our hearts would be like a well-watered garden (Isa. 58:10-11). Some of God's people carefully guard their lives from all inconvenience and only contribute as long as their comfort zone isn't disturbed. But we must give ourselves away to God's people as servants of God's purpose. Jesus said the greatest among you would be the servant of all. You can't gaze into the heart of God and retain a "me first" attitude.
Fourth, a spirit of devotion. This means Bible study and Christian service, cultivating a dialogue with Jesus as we devote ourselves to His Word and the practice of His Word. We release the "I love You, Jesus" in our spirit toward God as we study the Scripture or serve in the home, marketplace or church. We become devoted to the things and people He is devoted to.
Information and revelation about the inner life of the Godhead should be a major pursuit in our training and ministry. It should be the focus of our relationships and all types of outreaches. We need knowledge of God's heart much more than we have today. So do the people around us who have no idea Jesus loves them. We must know what He is feeling and be able to express that to others if we are to be the people He wants, doing the exploits He has in mind for us to do. We must gaze on His heart and let it transform us.
Our view of God's emotional life sets the course for how we relate to Him, what we think of ourselves, what we think of others - the whole basis for how we live and serve Christ. The secrets of our Father's character are in the Word of God, and they are revealed to us through communion with Him by the Holy Spirit, who brings them alive in our hearts. There is much more to this study of the glad heart of God that will free us from the bondage of false beliefs. We'll see that, next.