Deep Recesses of the Heart

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8

We are called, in our relationships with one another, to have the mindset of Jesus. The main mindsets that get stressed in this scripture passage are humility, lowliness, and servanthood. And if you’ve lived any length of time as an adult, you’ve likely discovered that there are layers to this.

What I mean is that there seem to be layers to our hearts. When my wife and I do premarital counseling with young couples, we tell them that marriage isn’t about what you’re like when you are at 100% or even 90% but what you are really like when you’re at 30%. When we are single and without kids, it is easier to get a full night of rest, carve out time for rejuvenation, and do things that bring our emotional tank back up to 100%.

So in early marriage, when everyone is rested and rejuvenated, there can be a honeymoon phase where people have a lot of grace and understanding for each other. But as life comes at us with work stress, illness, and bills, our tank can get sapped. Then add kids into the mix, the lack of sleep, the constant caring for others, and usually married couples are at about 30% when they interact with each other.

The question is, “Who are you at 30%?” That is often when the real person comes out. That is often when there is less grace, less patience, more anger, and more hurt. The question is not, “Can you humble yourself?” but instead, “When you are at 30% capacity, hungry, and running on little sleep, can you humble yourself?” This is why marriage and parenting has the unique ability to shape us into the image of Christ.

These are the top two layers of our heart. There is the layer when we are at our best, and then the next layer under is who we are at 30%. But I am discovering a layer under that. This is the layer that Jesus reached down into. This is the deep recesses of the heart, and this can only be explored in the midst of betrayal and failure.

When Jesus became fully human in the incarnation and decided not to use His divinity to His advantage, He began to experience that second layer of the heart (what He was like tired and hungry). But it wasn’t until He was betrayed by His own people and by His best friends that the deepest layer was revealed. The question of this third layer of the heart is not, “Who are you at 30%?” but rather, “When people closest to you hurt you, fail you, and, ultimately, betray you, what comes spewing out of the deep recesses of your heart?”

This is what is meant by the phrase above that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!” When Jesus was betrayed at the deepest level by people closest to Him, what came pouring out of His heart was not bitterness or rage, defensiveness or victim mentality. What came pouring out of the deepest recesses of His heart was humility, obedience, compassion, grace, and love. That is who Jesus really was when pressed to His human limits.

Many of us who have been married and have been parents for a while have had that second layer of our heart transformed over time. We’ve learned to be loving, humble, and gracious–more than we ever thought we could be–even while operating at 30%. But where few Christians have been transformed is in the third layer. Where few of us have allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work is in the deep recesses of our heart in moments of betrayal, rejection, or failure.

What comes out of your heart (and mouth) when you are hurt? What comes up from the deep recesses of your heart when those closest to you have betrayed you?

If you’re anything like me, that is an area of the heart that doesn’t see much sunlight and so what comes bubbling up is ugly. It’s the sinful sediment that I’ve allowed to find a home in the deepest trench of my soul. I believe God sometimes uses betrayal and hurt as a strategic surgical tool to show us the ugliness down there so that He can begin His cleansing work.

What if hurt, betrayal, and rejection are unique tools–gifts really–with the awesome capability of shaping us into the image of Christ if we let them?

Serving from sonship

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

Sonship with the Father will always lead to serving others. But serving others does not always lead to sonship with the Father.

Jesus was teaching His disciples about greatness in the Kingdom of God. If we want to be great, we must go low. If we want to be top dog, we must be the last one in line. Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve. If we, as His disciples, are to imitate His life with our own, we too must make it our lifestyle to serve others (and not to expect to be served).

Yet, our servanthood has to come out of an identity of sonship. On the one hand, if we try to elevate ourselves and don’t serve others, we become the younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Yet, if we serve out of obligation–thinking that if we perform all of our duties then God will owe us good things–then we become the older son.

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.

Luke 15:28-31

When we serve, we must do so from an intimacy with God the Father. We must serve from an overflow of the love God has for us and the love we have for Him. Everything we do to serve others must be “rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17) and not out of obligation. True servanthood comes from sonship.

When all we have is obligation and duty, we are operating out of a performance mentality of the older brother. We are not acting as a son but a slave. We are hoping to win points with God by doing good things for Him. We ended up serving others for Him and not with Him. Eventually we’ll wonder, “What’s in it for me” just as the older son did. We’ll forget that, as a son or daughter of God the Father, everything He has is ours.

Many Christians in the Church who are always serving look like the model Christians (because they follow all the rules), yet they have hearts that are far from the Father. We have churches full of older sons, thinking that God owes us something for our good behavior and good works. Yet, intimacy with the Father–the overflow of the love of God in their lives–is gone. They are demanding, harsh, competitive, impatient, angry, and condemning behind closed doors all while looking like they have it all together. Their love tank is on empty.

God is calling us to be servants, but not out of obligation and duty. God is calling us to serve out of the overflow of our love and intimacy with Him. He’s calling us to be sons and daughter first, and then servants second. This is who Jesus is. This is who we are called to be as His disciples.

Are you serving others? Where does your service come from in your own heart? Is it duty? Is it obligation? Or is it love?