The present tense of your heart

For some, the pandemic has been a time of spiritual growth, and perhaps for others a season of struggle. I was challenged recently by the testimony of a young person in our church. He spoke candidly of it being a period of spiritual drift for him.

Whether we’re growing or drifting, such circumstances can disciple us into asking good questions of ourselves: What is the overall orientation of my heart? Towards the Lord, or away from him? Seeking him, or as my friend testified, drifting? What has the “testing” time of this season revealed about my spiritual state?

Of course, such questions are less easy to answer than ask! We can be blinkered as to the state of our hearts. We need a measure, a standard to gauge ourselves by. In Galatians 4:6, Paul gives us one helpful “heart-ometer”:

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

How does this passage help? Paul is explaining that in the gospel, Christ has drawn us into one family of faith, and in this verse he describes our experience of sonship. A healthy heart is one that is crying Abba Father! The image is a baby crying for the parent – screaming for milk, wailing for comfort. It speaks of an intimate parental relationship that allows us to call God “Abba” – Daddy. The ideas of need and nearness are central.

Yet the discovery in this verse which struck home with me was a grammatical one! “Crying” is present tense and active. It’s a continual activity of the heart to be crying Abba Father. It’s a calling out from the heart, about what’s really in your heart, and what’s going on in your life. Yes, it is child-like in its honesty and spontaneity. Yes, it expresses that God is near and an attentive, caring, hearing, protective Father to us. But it’s not just about the big moments, the times when our need spikes. It’s about the ongoing, the everyday. The mundane as well as the exceptional. It’s to be the present tense of your heart.

Drifting is a slow, quiet, growing distance, helped along by going silent on God. But my Father in heaven wants to hear the words, the feelings, the cheers and the tears of everyday life. He wants me to turn to him as a natural reflex of the soul. What Paul is inviting us into is the experience of being part of God’s family – we get to call continually upon our Father. It’s in the moment, it’s communion, it’s a relationship, it’s affectionate, it’s near.

To make it even more inviting, Paul unveils more of this relationship: we are led by “the Spirit of his Son.” We are given the very communication line that Jesus himself has with his Father. The same Spirit who is one with the Father and Son connects us to the Father. It’s why the Aramaic “Abba” is used: the language Jesus spoke in to the Father, while on earth. The Spirit gives us the very words of Jesus in the very relationship of Jesus with his Father, to speak our need continually to his Father and ours.

Why not take a moment to pray? Are you increasingly turning to him as a dependent child, crying out in your daily need? Or seeking independence, silence, keeping him at arm’s length?

Every heart, at any point, has direction: either to the Lord or away from him. Less prayer, less praise, less turning, and talking to our Father reveals disorientation and drift. Yet your Father hears, receives, and is himself ever-present. Even if you find yourself feeling at a distance, he is near. Turn towards him. Cry Abba Father. And make the present tense the continuous active voice of your heart toward his welcome, love, assurance, and security.

Andrew Collins is an elder at Killicomaine Evangelical Church, Portadown, Northern Ireland. He works part-time as a consultant psychiatrist and part-time in biblical counselling. This post first appeared on the Biblical Counseling UK website