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Few prayers concisely summarize a Christian’s heart for God like the father’s words in Mark 9:24: “I believe! Help my unbelief!” In these few words, we see the tension in the human condition. We are constantly bombarded with the temptation to choose the opposite of what we know is true. We know what is good, holy, and pure, yet we often consciously choose what is evil. But hypocrisy is not merely a Christian trait. An unbeliever who claims to hold to a standard of anything will soon enough betray his own convictions.
The psalmist had the same insight after he had penned 175 verses about his devotion and love for God’s Torah. He confesses, “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands” (Psalm 119:176). The psalmist could sense that his heart was not yet believing what his intellect knew to be true. His actions, even when seemingly righteous, were impure because they sprung from an impure heart. Sometimes he felt like he was going through the motions and following God begrudgingly. Doing what was right was a chore, even an annoyance, since his heart was bitter and full of sin.
A few nights ago, Liz and I attended a lecture by Jewish radio personality Dennis Prager called, “What Christians and Jews Can Learn From Each Other.” Prager attempted to convince his Christian audience members to say, “So what?!” when confronted with a bitterness of heart. Bitter, angry, lazy, or apathetic about doing something good? Do it anyways. God, he says, just cares that we choose the right action and doesn’t care about the condition of our hearts. Prager’s teaching gives insight into the gulf between the Cross and the lost sheep of Israel.