Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23
He was highly educated, one of the most prestigious and powerful of his society, and he used that power ruthlessly. By today’s standards, we might call him a right-wing Nazi extremist. He hated a certain group of people so much that he made it his purpose in life to go around dragging them from their houses and throwing them in prison. It was said he uttered threats with every breath and wanted to kill.
Who was he? He was the man perhaps most recognized in conjunction with Christianity, just behind Jesus Christ himself: the Apostle Paul. Nowhere else in the Bible, or perhaps even in history, is there as powerful an example of the total transformation of a person’s life, after they had an encounter with the living God of the Bible. It was an encounter with Jesus and a searing, heavenly light that dropped him to his knees and left him totally blind and unable to eat or drink for three days. You can read the fascinating story of how God healed and commissioned him for a whole new life in the book of Acts, chapter 9. Yes, God’s “chosen instrument” to take His message to the Gentiles and kings, as well as the people of Israel was a murderer!
But this violent man, ruled by hatred, was brought to the end of himself-- to the perfect place where God could perform open-heart surgery. He was literally brought to his knees in suffering. That same procedure can happen in our hearts as well, but usually happens only when we find ourselves on our knees, suffering.
Transformation of the human heart takes place in what writer Kathi Graves calls the “rifts and chasms of our suffering.” “What if,” she writes, “the resultant rifts and chasms of our suffering actually carry the possibility of transforming light with it? And what if this searing light of suffering that literally pulls the rug out from under our happy life is the only way to our knees?” On our knees, at the end of ourselves, we are in the perfect position to receive the transformational work of God in our lives.
Heart transformation is the domain of God, the Holy Spirit. In the book of Ezekiel, when the children of Israel had left Him to run after idols, we see another case of cleansing and open-heart surgery. God said through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36: 26-27)
His Spirit, in us, changes the insensible, inflexible human heart that is, in the words of Bible commentator Matthew Henry, “unapt to receive any divine impressions and to return any devout affections.” In our suffering, we choose to allow heart transformation. Or not.
What of the man or woman who refuses to kneel, to surrender to the surgical instruments of the Holy Spirit? Have you prayed diligently for the heart of someone you love to be changed? A spouse? A child? We can’t do it for them, no matter how we long for them to come into the light. But we can stay on our own knees, asking God to continue the transformational work in our own hearts and lives, as we live with and continue to love the unredeemed person. “For what hope have the godless when they are cut off?” asked Job. (Job 27:8) They need relationship with you, believer.
Can God change the human heart? He can and He does, in astounding ways. Should you find yourself in a place today where the “rug has been pulled out” from under your happy life, you are in the perfect place to invite Him to give you a new heart.
Resource Reading: Acts 8:1-3 and Acts 9:1-31