Psalm 86: 11
The translators are divided on how to translate this phrase. NASB - "Unite my heart to fear your name." CEV –“Make my heart focused only on honouring your name.” ERV - “Help me make worshiping your name the most important thing in my life.” MSG -colourful - “Put me together, one heart and mind; then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear.”
I like that because it sounds like the way I often feel: “Put me together, Lord, because right now my life is scattered in a thousand directions.” Most days my heart doesn’t seem “undivided,” and it certainly feels like it needs some kind of “uniting."So I like this phrase both ways: “Unite my heart to fear your name.” “Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” The first speaks of my need. The second speaks of my desire.
Because my heart is so often divided, I need the Lord to unite it somehow so that I might worship him with nothing held back. That is the situation many of us face right now. Our hearts are fragmented because we are pulled in so many directions at once. The world around us is no help. In order to get some practical help in this area, let’s start with a very basic question. What are the marks of a divided heart?
1. Perpetual Ambivalence
Narcissist - person who is unable to commit to anything outside of himself. He flits from one relationship to another, from one job to another, from one friendship to another, from one church to another, from one promise to another, never staying in one place long enough to make anything stick. Here today and gone tomorrow. He promises and then makes excuses. He says, “I’ll call you tomorrow,” and then forgets and apologises later - maybe he never remembers at all. He dates one girl after another, never able to pop the question because he’s so easily distracted and because he deeply fears making a commitment that will require him to stay married for the rest of his life.
1 Chronicles 12 - lists the soldiers who came to David’s aid when he was in Ziklag and later in Hebron. These soldiers from various tribes in Israel realized that even though David was not king over Israel yet, God’s hand was upon him and he was bound to replace Saul sooner or later. So you have the list of men from Benjamin, Gad, Manasseh, and so on. Perhaps the most famous are the men of Issachar who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” Many fine sermons have been preached in praise of these men from one of the lesser-known tribes. Then in the very next verse we find this note about the warriors from the tribe of Zebulon. They are described as - Experienced soldiers prepared for battle with every type of weapon, to help David with undivided loyalty - 50,000(1 Chronicles 12: 33).
Here you have a great host of trained soldiers who came to David ready to fight. They showed up in full battle gear, shield and spears and bows, ready to go to battle at a moment’s notice. But that is not their finest quality. There is something even better to be said about them. They were men of “undivided loyalty.” Not partly for Saul and partly for David. But having made their choice, it was one heart all the time, nothing held back.
These men said, “David, we are in. Where you lead, we will follow. Say the word and we will go into battle. We serve at your command.” 3000 years after the men of Zebulon came to David, we remember them not for their military prowess (which must have been great) but for their hearts.
2. Divided Priorities
Jesus told a parable about a man who went out to sow seed. Some fell on the path, some on the stony ground, some among the thorns, and some on the good ground. When Jesus explained the parable, he said that the 4 soils represented 4 responses to the message of the kingdom. Let’s focus on the seed sown among the thorns - “Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.”Explanation - “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13: 7, 22)
No matter how good the soil may appear from above, weeds lurk just below the surface. If you do not pull them up, they will choke out the seed you have planted. Jesus said that some people are like that. They are fence-sitters. They say “Yes but . . .” when they hear the Word. Maybe they mean business, but they never pull the weeds out of their life. In this parable Jesus mentions 2 particular kinds of weeds - the worries of this life - concern in your life that catches all your attention. It could be something that in itself is not bad – genuine concern for your job or your health or your personal financial situation. It could be a relationship that takes up all your waking moments. It could be a family issue that keeps you tossing and turning at night.
The deceitfulness of wealth - we all understand this. Money is addictive. The more you have, the more you want. The deceitfulness of riches - it’s not just a temptation to the rich man. The love of money comes to all of us, seduces us, whispers to us over and over again: “If only you had a little bit more, you would be happy.”
Jesus is not describing “unusual” or “strange” temptations. We all have things that worry us. We all face sickness, family crisis, medical issues, financial troubles, marital problems, struggles with our children, disappointments, setbacks, career issues and periods of doubt and anger and spiritual struggle. We live in a very fallen world.
How quickly the “thorns of life” arise to divide our heart and divert our attention. These problems, trials and difficulties can choke out God’s work and leave us spiritually anaemic.
3. Unclear Identity
When the heart is divided, you won’t know who you really are. You can’t decide what team you’re on. You don’t know what uniform to put on. You act single even though you are married. You have two sets of friends that you keep separate. You have two vocabularies depending on where you are. You know how to fit in wherever you happen to be. You are like the proverbial chameleon, changing your colours so you will always blend in.
Living with a divided heart messes up the mind eventually. The strange, sad case of Peter provides a prime example. On the night before the crucifixion, when Jesus met with his chosen men in the Upper Room, Peter took a look around and wasn’t very impressed with what he saw: “Lord, I don’t know about these other guys. They look a little weak to me. I wouldn’t count on them if I were you. But don’t worry. You’ve got me. I’m your man. No matter what the rest of them do, I will never betray you. You have my word on it. I’ll never let you down.” “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26: 33 NLT).
I’m sure Peter meant it. “I know I’m a little rough around the edges, and sometimes I put my foot in my mouth. It’s true I’m a fisherman and not some scholar, but I know my own heart, and I will never desert you, Lord.” That’s the problem. Peter didn’t know his own heart.
Less than 5 hours after proclaiming his loyalty, the bold apostle turned to butter. All it took was a servant girl to bring him down. When the betrayal was over, Peter wept bitterly and went away to be by himself, in shame and regret.
Then came Easter morning when the women arrived at the tomb early on Sunday morning, an angel announced the good news and instructed them to “Go, tell his disciples and Peter” (Mark 16: 7). Peter’s denial has separated him from the other disciples. No doubt he wondered to himself many times, “What am I now? Am I a traitor or am I a disciple?”
At some point you’ve got to make up your mind. Follow Jesus - or don’t!
We live in a world where biblical values are constantly under attack. We won’t change the world’s way of thinking any time soon. But will the world change our way of thinking? That’s the question that hangs in the balance. When you know who you are, you can serve Christ anywhere. The reverse is also true: When you are unclear about who you really are, you will struggle to serve Christ anywhere. A man with a divided heart cannot grasp his true identity. He will be pulled this way and that. Under pressure he almost certainly will cave in.
But the man with an undivided heart knows who he is. Because he knows who he is, he doesn’t have to constantly make decisions. Once you make up your mind, life becomes simpler (though not always easier).
Back to Psalm 86:11, “Unite my heart to fear your name” and “Put me together, Lord.” Sometimes in our conversation, we will say - “He is the man.” We mean he is a man of one purpose, the man we admire and want to follow.
David prayed this prayer because he looked within and saw his heart pulled in a hundred directions. So he prayed, “Unite my heart, O Lord.”
There is no prayer more appropriate and more needed in our day. Every honest man or woman must at times say, “My life is far from what I want it to be.” We run low on love.
We find ourselves distracted, worried and easily confused. We fall prey to little temptations that lead to bigger ones. We marinate in hate. We dawdle in our duties. We make excuses for every failure. We find ourselves both disagreeing and disagreeable. We love the world more than we love God. We live in unbelief instead of walking in faith. We refuse to submit because our pride is at stake.
And so it goes, this struggle of the soul to find rest and peace. No wonder we are frustrated.
When the heart is not united, nothing works right. Without God, we will be fragmented and torn and pulled and distracted.
A Prayer for a United Heart
We must do as David did. We must pray, “O Lord, take the scattered fragments of my heart and unite them so that I may praise you.” Only God can do this, but God can do it if we will come to him in humility and sincerity. The hardest part is coming. Until you admit you need God’s help, you will be stuck exactly where you are.
Prayer - Lord Jesus, Unite my heart to fear your name. I am so scattered, Lord. Pulled in so many directions. So easily distracted. How quickly I forget who you are. How quickly I forget your goodness to me. Unite my heart, Lord. Put it back together again. Refocus my thoughts. Clarify my purpose. I want you more than anything else. Thank you for your many gifts, freely given. Forgive me for loving your gifts more than I love you. In confessing this I ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ name. Here is my heart, Lord. Come in and rearrange things. Make me new from the inside out. Thank you for loving me even when I seem to lose my way. I love you, Lord. Do your work in me. Unite my heart to fear your name. In Jesus’ name. Amen.