Monday, 22 August 2011

Largeness of Heart

Look at 1Kings 4.20,29
Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing.
And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore.

This is a summary of the establishment of Solomon as the new King of Israel. The people were happy. They were eating, drinking and rejoicing. It was a time of celebration. They were a numerous people, a multitude like, ‘the sand by the sea’.

Then later in the same chapter we read of God’s endowment to Solomon of wisdom and exceedingly great understanding and largeness of heart is also like ‘the sand on the seashore’.

A multitude of people needs a leader with a heart big enough to care for them and lead them. Solomon knew he was called to be King. It was his inheritance, his calling, and his destiny. But he was also acutely aware that he lacked experience and maturity, things that bring wisdom, 1Chron 22.5. In His prayer to God he cried out for the ability to judge and lead Israel well.

God answered his prayer by giving him largeness of heart. I am convinced that we need to learn to develop a multitude mentality. Jesus had compassion on the multitudes. He was never overwhelmed by the size of a crowd. Rather He demonstrated unflinching confidence in the Father’s ability to provide for them whatever they needed.

Sometimes His compassion moved Him to pray as in Matt 9.36. He saw that the people were like sheep without a shepherd. Here He was as the good shepherd but he knew that he needed others to care for the flock too. This was His commission to Peter in John 21 – feed my sheep.

And so in this text He told the disciples to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out labourers into the harvest. He wanted more shepherds who could care and feed the flock. The people were scattered and the heart of God is always to gather and include others.

Jesus said ‘How I longed to gather as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings but you were not willing'. A scattered flock is not God’s heart. Further Jesus had a heart that could receive all. It was large enough for all. John 3.16 says; 'For God so loved the world’. He had room in His heart for everyone.

Sometime Jesus was moved with compassion and He healed the multitudes as in Matt 14.14 In Mark 8.34 His compassion moved Him to teach the multitudes and then later in the same chapter He fed them. The Compassion of Jesus motivated each of these acts. It moved Him to action. His heart was stirred and He did something. He did not remain passive. He prayed, He healed, He taught, and He miraculously fed them.

This challenges me. I am persuaded that most churches are small because the heart of the leader is not big and in turn the heart of the congregation is small too. Imagine being part of the early church. You are part of the 120 disciples in the upper room. People who for the most part you have been with for three years. Others, like the siblings, James and John and Peter and Andrew you have known all your life.

Suddenly there is a mighty rushing wind and God comes. 3000 people are saved. Now your nice little group of people is ruined. Each person becomes responsible for caring for 25 new believers. But their heart was large enough to embrace this. They didn’t turn them away. Like Jesus they received them and cared for them – even if it meant selling houses or lands. Wow. Largeness of heart. It’s what helps us reach the world.

There is a lot written about revival these days. Great. I’m for that. But my observation of many believers is that they are clueless as to what revival will mean for them if it comes. It will mean you have to open your home to more people. People who may not be like you. People you may not normally choose to associate with. People outside your social network. People whose needs may mean you need to make significant sacrifices for. Do you really want that?

Too often we focus on programs. These are good. They have their place. But people run programs. And Jesus focused His prayers on labourers for the Harvest. In the context of Matt 9 he is looking for those who have a heart to care for the sheep. Those with a desire to lead the way He does, fearlessly, confidently with the good of the people in mind. Leadership that gathers. The very word church means gathered assembly.

In 2Cor 6 Paul speaks to the Corinthians about their attitude of heart Listen to his words:

O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open.

Paul had a big heart. It was wide open to these people. But they were not reciprocating. Their hearts were closed. JB Phillips puts it like this: “We are hiding nothing from you and our hearts are absolutely open to you”.

Think of John 3.16. 'For God so loved the world…' What a heart. Big enough to take in all the peoples of the world. And the heart of Jesus is like that. He never turned people away. He received all who came to Him. His heart is big. And if we are to be like Jesus then our hearts need to be enlarged too. But it is a choice!

John talks of those who see a brother in need and shut up their heart to him. He asks a question. “How does the love of God dwell in him?” 1John 3.17. Largeness of heart creates generosity of spirit. Without it we become miserly, self-serving, isolated and fearful of others.

Largeness of heart enables us to do the uncomfortable and the inconvenient without complaining. Largeness of heart increases our capacity for wisdom and understanding. We become more discerning. People are afraid that they will be ripped off if they are generous. But Solomon had great wisdom. Nobody got the better of him. He ruled with wisdom and Israel flourished under his leadership. They became a multitude.They grew.

This is God’s heart for the church. He wants it to grow. He wants to add to the church daily. But we need hearts that are big enough to work together with God for the good of His purposes; to embrace what He wants to do.

Largeness of heart is never threatened by the success of others. Think of John who saw someone delivering people from demons but he wasn’t part of Jesus company of followers. John forbade him. He wanted to protect Jesus’ franchise. Listen to the generosity of spirit coming from Jesus:

“Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side”, Luke 9.50.

Imagine that. Someone else doing what Jesus and the apostles did but not part of their company and Jesus affirmed his ministry. That’s largeness of heart. What would happen if pastors in a local area began to cheer one another on when a new church was planted or someone else was having success?

Instead of being jealous or insecure about loosing people pastors rejoiced and blessed what God was doing. But my experience tells me this is the exception not the rule. Why? Smallness of heart. Something needs to change!

People with largeness of heart are discerning without being judgemental. In Luke 9 a Samaritan village refused to accept the ministry of Jesus because He had set His face to go on to Jerusalem. Perhaps they wanted Jesus just for themselves. Perhaps the animosity between the Samaritans and Jews made them resentful that He would go on to minister to them too. Whatever the reason they said no.

James and John got mad. The sons of thunder went into judgement mode. Not only that, they used scripture to justify their judgmental attitude towards these Samaritans. Listen to them. We are talking genocide here, all in the name of Jesus.

“And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village, Luke 9.54-56.

Jesus is straight. 'You have the wrong spirit guys' - my paraphrase. Largeness of heart keeps you from being offended by others. Jesus wasn’t. He respected their decision and moved on. How do you handle it when people don’t respond the way you would like them to? Do you get offended and then find a Bible verse to justify your ‘righteous indignation’?

Jesus is on the business of saving people not condemning them. That is another spirit, one the Pharisees were well practiced in. Self-righteousness does not produce largeness of heart. Only responding to God’s compassion can do that. I have read some very disingenuous statements abut Mother Teresa from evangelicals because she was a catholic. But I have been to Calcutta. I have read her journal. I was impressed by her love and devotion to Jesus. It manifested itself through her love for homeless children. She took in thousands because she had largeness of heart. I admire her.

Why not pray a dangerous prayer this week. Ask God to give you largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore. Ask Him to take you on a journey where your capacity is increased. Dare to do something this week that takes you out of your comfort zone. Something that shows your heart is getting bigger.

I have a retired couple in my church. They are amazing. Their son is a pastor and has planted churches in Africa. They have a nice home. I asked them to take in an intern from our church. This is a young man who has recently graduated from Bible College but was looking for ministry experience. I asked them to give him board and keep. They did it for a whole year, willingly, unselfishly, and joyfully. I call that largeness of heart.

And we as a church have been richly blessed, by them, by him, by God. They weren’t sure at first but they took a step of faith. They have largeness of heart. Give me a hundred more people like that and I could build a church of a thousand.

Smallness is good – as long as we don’t stay small. In life we begin as single cell, but we don’t stay that way. When we are born we are tiny, but we don’t stay that way. When we plant an acorn it is small but it doesn’t stay that way. Life brings growth – with all its associated problems.

The Kingdom of God begins as a mustard seed. Small and apparently insignificant. But it grows. It becomes a mighty tree that even the birds of the air can nest in Matt 13.31-32. We should celebrate this and welcome it and prepare our hearts to embrace it. How big is your heart? Who is God challenging you to embrace? What will you do to become a big-hearted person? Dare to ask the Lord to give largeness of heart.