A speaker shakes an open water bottle in front of his audience and then asks, “Why did water spill out of this bottle?” On hearing the obvious answer, “because you shook the bottle” he shakes his head. Then he re-asks with pointed emphasis, “Why did water spill out of this bottle?”
This visual metaphor sticks in my head these days. I can see the water slooshing over the edge of the open bottle—which still bugs me on just a basic, someone-might-have-to-clean-that level—and I am reminded that whatever situation just “shook me up” is not the reason I lost my temper (or whatever other sinful response happens to sneak out). Nope. I wish it was. That would be much easier. But the hard truth is that our moments of crisis will briefly open up the cellar door of our hearts to show us the naked truth of what lies beneath.
The apostle James is pretty blunt when he ask the rhetorical question, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” The simple truth is that the desires inside us cause our actions and our crises are just a context for displaying those embedded desires.
As a stay-at-home mom, these crisis moments are packaged as spilled food, broken objects, bickering matches between siblings, and the general chaos that toddlers bring to a home. As a hospital therapist, these crisis moments may be packaged as a missing chart, an irate nurse, broken equipment or an agitated patient.
So in that moment, when the door to my heart opens up and I let out the response that is waiting, I display the desires that really rule me. If I have filled my heart with more love for myself—my goals, opinions, preferences etc.—than love for God and others, then my responses will often be regrettable. And I’m not only speaking of those responses that can be observed socially. How often do my responses take the form of disgruntled and angry thoughts? Or despair? Or bitterness? These internal storms are just as much an evidence of the state of my heart as any of my glaringly obvious faults.
So what to do with a heart that continually “slooshses.” Well, first, I won’t try to convince myself to simply “try harder.” That is a harsh, gospel-damaging stumbling block that way too many of us have fallen over in our search for Christlikeness. True change is accomplished only through the work of God’s truth as it takes root and grows in our hearts. Thus, I will fill my heart with truth; I will plant it and water it. I need that truth to flourish there because, in moments of crisis, my heart will turn to the desires and beliefs that are the strongest. So I will plant—Lord help me plant—in so many ways: a scripture passage, an insightful blog post, a challenging conversation with a friend, a truth-filled song, a few moments of prayer, a sermon or bible-study topic, and the list goes on.
Second, I will not wait for “the big moments” to change me. Instead, I will look at my daily life as the place where God is transforming me into the image of his son. As Paul Tripp states,
“the fact of the matter is that the transforming work of grace is more of a mundane process than it is a series of a few dramatic events. Personal heart and life change is always a process. And where does that process take place? It takes place where you and I live everyday. … And because we devalue the little moments where we live, we don’t tend to notice the sin that gets exposed there. We fail to seek the grace that is offered to us. … In these small moments he is delivering every redemptive promise he has made to you. In these unremarkable moments, he is working to rescue you from you and transform you into his likeness. By sovereign grace Christ places you in daily little moments that are designed to take you beyond your character, wisdom and grace so that you will seek the help and hope that can only be found in him. In a lifelong process of change, he is undoing you and rebuilding you again—exactly what each one of us needs!”
So when I am “shaken” today (by, oh I don’t know, yogurt dumped all over the carpet), what will come out?