How to Orient the Inwardly Curved Heart to God and Others

How to Orient the Inwardly Curved Heart to God and Others

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Christ’s Royal Law (Matthew 22:36-40, James 2:8-9) requires us to love God and love others; in these two things, rightly understood, we fulfill all that the Lord asks of us. As we grow in love, the image of God that was effaced in the Fall is gradually restored in us. Our focus is to be outward and upward—seeking the Lord’s glory and our neighbors’ greatest good—which paradoxically is the way to our joy, peace, freedom, and fulfillment (Galatians 5:22-23).

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The Curved Heart

In opposition to this, the Adamic human heart is incurvatus in se, or curved inward on itself.

Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, being so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God toward itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God Himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake. – Martin Luther

The why behind a behavior is just as important as the behavior itself. Fallen hearts want and perform even good things in a disordered way. A person can check off the entire “good Christian” list—going to church, reading the Bible, serving people, being basically moral—driven by self-serving reasons like receiving praise from others or earning gifts from God, and thus be utterly wicked in doing so. Think about just this one example: God ordained work from the beginning, before the Fall, as a good thing man could do to reflect Himself.

Adam worked joyfully and willingly for his Lord before he was corrupted. At that time, God also made food abundant so that no matter how much or how little people worked, they would always have plenty to eat. As a result of man’s post-Fall inward bent, he no longer works for God and others, and the food he needs would be a curse to him if it were just freely given. One reason for this is that we would forsake the good gift of work left to ourselves.

  • Why is the fact that our provision depends on our willingness to work a kindness from God?
  • Can you think of any possible negative effects circumventing this working/eating pattern might have on people? I’m thinking of public assistance and retirement in particular. How can these things sometimes harm the people they’re trying to help? What other examples can you think of, and what are their implications?
  • Why should a Christian work? If a believer chooses to retire, what should retirement years look like? What spiritual dangers should he avoid?
  • Is there a command from God that you struggle with? In light of what you have read here, what do you think God’s purpose for that command is?

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Acts of Worship

I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (Psalm 16:2).

As you mature and grow in Christ, you should increasingly perform the toil of labor (and everything else) as an act of worship to God and as a means to bless and serve others. If you fail to do this, your soul will be a withered version of what it could be. You will reach for something good—at the expense of the Good—and if you manage to get it, it will be as a curse to you. This is the fruit of the inwardly curved life. If the inwardly bent human heart doesn’t often respond rightly to the overtly good gifts God gives, it responds equally poorly to the hard or difficult providences from heaven. A dreaded thing granted or a longed-for thing withheld elicits no good result from the wrongly oriented soul. The man that is mature in his love for God, however, recognizes that the Lord always brings him what he needs at any given moment. He knows that the Lord meticulously crafts every instant of His child’s life to include the precise measure of blessing and the precise measure of trial he needs; He never gets this recipe wrong. The moment you don’t need your trials anymore, they will be gone.

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance (Psalm 16:5–6).

But that won’t happen until the eternal state, the new heavens and new earth, where righteousness dwells. It was tempting for me to write, “But unfortunately, that won’t happen until the eternal state.” To say that, however, would be to throw shade on the Lord’s good plans. He does all things well, and if a better universe and a better plan were possible, He would have ordered the universe in that way, not this. The only people for whom unmitigated blessing is not actually a curse are sinless people—pre-Fall or post-glorification people—and so we suffer in this life. This is an unequivocally good thing, my friends.

A Royal Priesthood

The wise man or woman knows this full well and chooses joy and gratitude in response to whatever the Father brings. Nobody starts off this way, though. We’re all curved inward: selfish and pleasure-seeking, oblivious or even outright rebellious to the Lord’s chosen means to bless us. When you are curved inward, your happiness will depend on people and circumstances. Cynicism, hopelessness, grumbling, complaining, self-pity, apathy, cowardice, jealousy, and the like show that your allegiance is too much toward yourself and the stuff of earth you want more than you should. These things cannot exist in a heart consumed with the love of God and the love of others; one attitude will necessarily displace the other. You are part of a chosen race, a royal priesthood (the chosen within the chosen race!).

This new priesthood offers not the blood of bulls, but they offer themselves as living sacrifices to God. The Lord has no need of anything, much less of anything a creature can do, but He is glorified when you look like Him—when you give of yourself to others for His sake, trusting He will care for you perfectly. Nothing you lose will leave you at a deficit; you can’t outgive God. Like the Old Testament Levitical priests, you have no portion in the land; you have a privileged inheritance, greater by far than anything your eyes can see. If you worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, your eyes will see Him and all things in light of Him. If your worship is oriented in a creaturely direction, you will have eyes that don’t see, ears that don’t hear, and a heart that lacks understanding.

  • Does your heart delight in the Lord as your portion, or are you inordinately grieving what He has withheld from you? What do you want most of all?
  • Do you understand that the Lord only takes things away from you to give you Himself? What do you think about this truth? What needs to change in your perspective?
  • Can you enjoy the good things God gave you in this life as gracious gifts from His hand, or do you see them as worth living for in themselves? I imagine you know the “right” answer to this question, but the attitude of your heart when you lose something will reveal what you really believe. These attitudes reveal the worship structure you might be blind to. If your greatest good, your highest joy and freedom, comes from worshipping God and loving Him, can you see why the removal of lesser gods—no matter how good they are—is a kindness from the Lord?

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God Loves You

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled (Titus 1:15).

For the heart that makes much of God and others, relationships with others are pure. The person who is incurvatus in se, though, loves in a polluted, defiled way. His disposition toward people is easily irritated, possessive and jealous, seeking to control them either overtly or through passive-aggressive means. He gives but pities himself when he doesn’t get what he expected in response to his giving. When the mind and conscience are defiled, a person uses God and people for his ends—which is what Martin Luther was saying in his quote above—and frequently is utterly blind to the motives that drive him. To the pure, going to church is pure; to the defiled and unbelieving, it is not. To the impure, serving others is impure. This is why putting off and putting on behaviors is insufficient. What you want and why you want it must change.

But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:20–24, emphasis added).

When a person loves the Giver more than the gift, it quite often happens that they receive the gifts they ask for as well. When the thing you want won’t be the spiritual death of you, your kind Father won’t withhold it. If He withholds it, why in the world would you want it, Friend? In the eternal state, you will have what you want when you want it, forever and ever, because you won’t be curved inward anymore. In the meantime, trust the Lord to give and remove as He sees fit because He alone is perfectly pure; all that He does for you is pure and undefiled. It cannot be otherwise. I realize that some people reading this have had horrific lives. For so many of us, the events the Lord has granted to us have understandably caused us to question His love.

You and I would never subject the people we love to some of the things our Father has brought to us. In fact, in many cases, it would be sinful for us to do what He has done. In saying what I have, I don’t at all mean to make light of what you have suffered. If what I have said isn’t true for you, though, then it isn’t true for those who have had relatively easy lives, either. Your joy and freedom still come from loving the Lord with everything you are and esteeming others as being more significant than yourself. Your suffering is not a punishment from God. If you are His, He loves you and is for you, and though He may never reveal His purposes to you this side of the vale, He is fully committed to your good and your joy. He is your portion.

Consider God’s Promise

Suppose you collapse inward on yourself in response to what you have gone through. In that case, your sorrow will be exponentially worse (Psalm 16:4) because you will have forsaken the fruit of the Spirit. This peace passes understanding, which belongs to those who love God and others in the midst of even the direst of circumstances. Your inner turmoil is a check engine light that makes you aware you have heart work to do; it lets you know that you’re looking inward rather than upward and outward. Once you see this truth clearly, freedom is there for the asking. Consider this verse; it’s not mere words but God’s very promise to you.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

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