"Dedicated to strengthening and encouraging the Body of Christ."

The Searching Of The Heart

By J. Edwin Orr

    The Holy Spirit is the author of revival, both individual and general. It is His ministry that brings a believer to a sense of need, that brings a congregation to repentance, that brings a whole community to transformation. He convinces the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment; but many believers mistakenly rely upon their consciences alone rather than on a conscience that has been enlightened by the Word of God and quickened by the Spirit of the Lord.

    His work, therefore, is to show the sinner just how far he has fallen short, to show him also the perfect pattern of righteousness in Christ and to warn him of inevitable judgment. The Spirit of God carries out a corresponding work in Christians’ hearts, convincing them of carnality, also a falling short, spurring them on to total commitment, which means appropriating the righteousness of Christ for every day of living, and also warning them of the judgment seat of Christ, where they may gain a prize or suffer loss.

    It is to the Holy Spirit that the Christian must look if he ever is to find a measure of revival for his seeking soul. Certain blessing for believers is dependent on a cleansing, which in turn depends upon confession, that is dependent on conviction; and conviction comes with the searching of the heart by God’s own Spirit.

    The most effective prayer for a spiritually hungry believer is an eloquent petition found among the Psalms of David: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be a way of grief in me, and lead me in the everlasting way" (Psa. 139:23-24).

    I never fully understood how profound is this petition until I heard the verse translated into the Scandinavian tongues. There the word "search" is rendered "ransack." It takes not much imagination to picture the thoroughness of a job of ransacking, compared with a mere searching. Ransacking turns things upside down, and brings to light the things that are hidden or forgotten. In the usual times of backsliding, the Spirit of God is quenched and conscience smothered; and as life goes on, the natural tendency for a convicted person is to forget the unpleasant episodes. But in renewed conviction of sin, the debris of ordinary living is swept aside and the offending thing is brought again to one’s attention. To avoid a superficiality in confession, a thorough ransacking of the heart by God is needed.

    The petition is definitely personal: "Search me!" Far too often, the more spiritual members of a church or group are more aware of the glaring faults of their less spiritual fellow-members than they are of their own shortcomings. The proper emphasis is found in the song:

Not my brother, nor my sister,
But it’s me, O Lord,
Standing in the need of prayer.
Not the pastor, nor the preacher,
But it’s me, O Lord,
Standing in the need of prayer.
Not the elder, nor the deacon,
But it’s me, O Lord,
Standing in the need of prayer.

    The disciples did not say: "Is it Peter…is it James…or is it Judas?" but: "Lord, is it I?" There is a time for every purpose under heaven, and there is a time for healthy introspection. Our prayers go unheard until we cease to regard iniquity in our hearts, and only by probing the heart is the sin dragged out to the healing light.

    It is significant that the petition is addressed to Deity. Neither pastor nor psychiatrist, physician nor psychologist, friend nor enemy, stranger nor familiar self, can adequately search the heart for sin. Sin offends Almighty God, and only God can bring to light its real offensiveness.

    To their consultant, most inquirers will reveal only what suits themselves and spares their feelings. Be he ever so clever, a well-trained pastor or psychiatrist is limited by his prejudices, circumstances or training. All information brought forth for analysis is limited by the seeker’s feelings, and the human judgment brought to the case is limited by the adviser’s ideas. Man makes an inadequate analysis and a risky diagnosis. God makes no mistakes.

    How often have I noticed with men in combat their proneness to tell me just enough to get me to agree with them, excuse the fault, and salve their consciences. Never did a soldier say, "It’s much worse than I am telling you," though usually that was the case.

    Self is an even poorer judge of sin than some consultant. Man is utterly incapable of searching his own heart. Man will always rationalize his sin. I call to mind an old acquaintance who appeared to be a pathological liar. He told his lies so often and so repeatedly that he soon came to believe them all himself. No one can be trusted to examine his own heart. The heart is deceitful.

    Not only the heart but the thoughts need searching. God searches both the heart and mind; He tries the thoughts, for as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Murder begins in hatred, stealing in covetousness, and adultery in impurity of thought. Imagination is often stronger than the will, and indulging it in the mind inevitably leads from thought to action.

    The Spirit’s searching of the heart and mind shows every believer how he has wandered from the way. Confession of the sin will lead him back to the path of fellowship. This in itself is spiritual revival, for the individual.

    And is the Spirit’s searching of the heart and mind wholly independent of close cooperation by the seeking Christian? By no means. A believer may fully cooperate with the Holy Spirit in such heart-searching. First, he must recognize his needy state and humbly acknowledge that his condition is not the will of God. Then he must pray and specifically ask the Spirit to search out his heart. Not only must he thus continue in prayer, in which the Spirit may convict him, but he must also give diligent attention to the reading of the Word, especially those injunctions suited to his need or his condition, for thereby also the Spirit will convict. And as well, he must insert the key to open up the vaults of memory and try to recall the acts or tendencies that have derailed his spiritual life. He may also seek the counsel of a friend, for sometimes the Holy Spirit puts His rebuke in the mouth of a faithful friend. He may even re-examine the unkind and unpleasant things said about him by his enemies and critics, who may be telling the truth, though saying it maliciously.

    Lest anyone excuse himself because he is not conscious of the grosser sins, let him note that added to the prayer is a petition: "See if there is a way of grief in me!" Anything that grieves the Holy Spirit of God is a hindrance to His blessing, and stands in the way of revival.

    And what is the way everlasting? Essentially, it is the Way – Christ Himself. "If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth" (1 John 1:6). Walking in the way everlasting means walking in the light. It means walking in the truth. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Walking in the Way and obeying all the Truth is the secret of abundant life.

    Of one thing a believer may be certain, that the Holy Spirit never leaves a seeking heart untouched. Skillful is all His surgery, tender all His healing. God’s chastening is love.

    – From My All, His All by J. Edwin Orr. Edited by Richard Owen Roberts. Copyright 1989. Used by permission.