By Joe Barnard
To listen to the preaching of pastors like John Piper, Tim Keller, or Matt Chandler, is to quickly learn about the unique power of a captivated heart.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard one of Piper’s sermons. His exposition of Romans felt like wind gracing the wings of a young bird.
I had lift; I was soaring. I could see the landscape of discipleship from a new and higher perspective.
As I continued to listen, two truths sunk like anchors into my heart.
One was the unique power of love to unseat the idols of the heart. To see a greater good was to enter the orbit of a new star. The secret, therefore, of overcoming sin was not a herculean feat of willpower, but the willingness of a poet to pause and behold beauty.
The second truth piggybacked on the first: love was a renewable energy source for spiritual growth. Where effort tired and duty failed, love endured.
It didn’t take long to sell me on the importance of captivation. For spiritual growth, every Christian needs to taste and see the goodness—indeed, the beauty—of God.
And yet, as I reached this conviction, a new question troubled me, is my heart captivated? After years of personal discipleship and pastoral ministry, the need to test my heart has only increased with time.
Here are four ways to test the eyes of your heart to make sure you’ve seen—and still see—the splendor of God.
1. The Test of Sacrifice
This test asks: “What am I willing to give up for Christ?”
For several years I pastored a church in the North of Scotland. While there, I heard many stories of people converted through revivals who ended up throwing fiddles and bagpipes into the sea.
My first reaction was (and still is) to feel a pang of sadness at the news. There’s an aftertaste of legalism in these acts and an underdeveloped sense of the goodness of creation.
At the same time, the older I get, the more I catch the echo of something pure and noble in such stories. For all I know, those Scottish people who jettisoned their pipes had a conviction that, for them, music and its wider cultural associations frustrated their ability to draw close to Jesus.
Who am I to stand and judge them (1 Corinthians 4:5)? The words of the old hymn must be lived out personally by each believer:
Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world’s golden store,
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, “Christian, love me more.”
2. The Test of Submission
“Not my will, but yours be done” is the test of submission. When we have this mindset, our captivated heart has begun to savor the words of Jesus: “My food is to do the will of him who sent Me, and to finish his work’ (John 4:34).
Regardless of the difficulty of the assignment, or the fleshly impulse to relax, a heart attuned to God knows the path to joy is paved by divine sovereignty. Thus, when God summons there’s but one reply, “May it be done to me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38).
Few stories demonstrate a captivated heart more powerfully than when Abraham placed Isaac on the altar (Genesis 22:1-19). For Abraham, the unimaginable was incontestable for one reason: God spoke. How can a thirsty soul say no to the source of all blessing? Abraham couldn’t.
Neither should we. The more we know of God’s goodness, wisdom, and faithfulness, the more readily we’ll say yes to God, no matter how He leads.
3. The Test of Sorrow
The depth of grief is a measure of love. To sin against a stranger leads to little more than embarrassment. We politely apologize and happily move on.
Yet, to wound a parent, a spouse, a child, or a best friend is a different matter. We can’t knowingly love them and hurt them at the same time. As soon as the anger subsides, or the lust dissolves, we feel the horrifying sorrow of the pain we’ve caused.
The old spiritual sage, Thomas Brooks, makes the astute observation that King David isn’t so much an emblem of great sin as he is of great repentance.
The startling fact of David’s life isn’t that he fell into grave sin. That storyline is as commonplace as the script of a Western. Far more remarkable is the pitch of godly sorrow David reached after waking up from his spiritual hibernation.
To read Psalm 51 is to enter the broken heart of a Prodigal Son who’s realized the degree of his treachery toward a loving father. Beneath the folly of sin, the Psalm reveals a subterranean river of devotion.
David’s heart breaks because he knows he’s ruptured his fellowship with God. This breach of love is a deep pang that wounds the captivated heart and drives it repeatedly back to the feet of grace.
4. The Test of Satisfaction
Finally, the heart is captivated when it thirsts for one ultimate thing: to know and enjoy God. This isn’t to suggest we can or will always act from our highest motives. The human heart, even among mature Christians, is as inconstant as the wind.
And yet, the more deeply we have drunk of living water, the less we can be pleased by anything else. John Newton, the great pastor and hymn writer, describes this truth, saying:
As by the light of opening day
The stars are all concealed;
So earthly pleasures fade away,
When Jesus is revealed.”
Thus, a heart is captivated when it knows where to find the fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). Like a child who tastes chocolate for the first time, a new horizon of desire is unveiled.
We begin to identify with the sweet passions of David when he sings, “I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord and seeking him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
Joyful sacrifice, relentless submission, godly sorrow, and soul-ravishing satisfaction—these are the marks of a heart captivated by the glory and beauty of God.
JOE BARNARD is the author of The Way Forward: a Road-map of Spiritual Growth for Men in the 21st Century (Christian Focus Publications). For eight years, he pastored a church in the Highlands of Scotland. He’s now the director of a men’s discipleship program, Cross Training Ministries (xtrainingministries.com).