An Open Heart
Eight Qualities That I Cherish
Sabbath Day Sermon, 2 February 2013
If you asked a person what qualities he most admires in a person he would probably give you an exhaustive list of the character traits of the true Christian as recorded in the Bible. Without wishing to diminish the other important characteristics of sanctified humanity I would like, if I may, to draw upon those characteristics which personally attract me to people and make it easy for me to commune with them. The list is not exhaustive -- this is not an intellectual exercise -- and is, admittedly, based on personal experience rather than the hopes we entertain for personal perfection.
In a world where friendships and commitment chop and change according to ones personal feelings or perceived "needs" loyalty ranks amongst the highest personal characteristics for me. "An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness", said Elbert Hubbard. What is important in our friendship-building is not who stood beside you at this or that time but who is standing beside you at the end of the day. Loyalty, to be tested, requires time -- good times and bad times.
There is, of course, misguided loyalty to wrong opinions and wrong ideas. In Christian discipleship, the loyalty that counts is that towards the Master Yah'shua (Jesus) and loyalty towards ones brothers and sisters. And I would venture to suggest that loyalty and faith are inseparable as Carlyle maintains:
A decade ago I might have recoiled in pious horror at such a thought but the more I think about it, is this not true? Is not Yah'shua (Jesus) our great Hero? And are we not commanded in scripture to emulate the heroes of the faith -- the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs? True, hero-worship is more often than not idolatrous in the world because it places fallible man ahead of Elohim (God) in the admiration stakes. But is hero-worship really as awful as it sounds, when placed in the proper context?
"Faith is loyalty to some inspired Teacher, some spiritual hero. And what therefore is loyalty proper, the life-breath of all society, but an efficence of Hero-worship, submissive admiration for the truly great? Society is founded on Hero-worship."
What wife, who truly loves her husband, does not regard him as her hero? What husband does not feel the same for his wife? What son or daughter for his mother or father? Men and women of greatness inspire us to loyalty and commitment, and more so if your supreme loyalty is to Almighty Yahweh, and our heros are Yahweh-worshippers in the truest sense.
In our attempt to be over-pious I think we sometimes crush that spirit of loyalty. We assume that only Elohim (God) is worthy of worship. And of course He is. The trouble is -- and this happens so often -- that in placing Yahweh so far above ourselves and our brother and sister so low, we end up loving Yahweh with everything and our brother with nothing. And that, surely, is a crime against love. For everywhere in Scripture the love of our fellow man is identified intimately with the love of Elohim (God). They are inseparable. And where they are distinguished is to whom, when forced to make a choice, we give the final loyalty.
The second virtue that I admire greatly is very much connected with the first and it is constancy. I remember well, when many years ago I served as an executive secretary to a pastor, his words to me in a brief note of appreciation when he was released from his calling. It read: "Thank you for your constancy." His words greatly perplexed me at first for I had not expected such a sentiment to be expressed, but over the years as a pastor and a leader I have come to understand what he meant. Whether you are the head of the home, a pastor in a congregation, a leader in some secular organisation, or whatever, one of the qualities most cherished by anyone in a leadership position is the faithfulness or constancy of those one comes to rely upon for back-up.
Washington Irving, American author, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century, and best known for his short stories like Rip Van Winkle, in his last address said:
Of all the vices of man treachery is perhaps one I despise the most because it is the very antithesis of constancy. Those who become your enemy because they lack the courage and decency to work through differences are to be greatly pitied and abhorred because their attitude stands in sharp contradistinction to Yah'shua's (Jesus') model of unity and commitment so beautifully illustrated in the picture given by Paul of the Body of Messiah:
"I return to Him who sent me and my last command to you is that ye remain united; that ye love, honour and uphold each other; that ye exhort each other to faith and constancy in belief and to the performance of pious deeds; by these alone men prosper -- all else leads to destruction...Death awaits us all; let no one seek to turn it aside from me. My life has been for your good; so will be my death."
Constancy is vital in leadership and as a leader seeking out other leaders I have sought it out eagerly. It is hard to find. To be constant in the Christian sense means sometimes to disobey society's norms and traditions. A leader must maintain the interests of those he leads, often against their opinions, and with constancy. To be constant to the Spirit of Messiah means not pandering to the whims and whinings of those he leads, a task which is highly unpleasant and unrewarding in the short-term, but for which the more spiritually enlightened will thank him in the long. To possess the spirit of constancy, then, is to a very large extent to possess a prophetic view of the future and a will power not to be distracted by present or local protests.
"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Messiah we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his emunah (faith). If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully" (Rom.12:4-8, NIV).
All great leaders know the virtue of constancy. Benjamin Disraeli, one time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, said:
It is to remain unflinchingly faithful to a pure vision. It is not to be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and opinion. Constancy requires that the ship of our souls be strong enough to weather all storms, to stay faithfully by the side of emet (truth) no matter the cost. And, moreover, to know the difference between the truth and a misguided opinion masquerading as the truth.
Since I was a very young boy I have been deeply impressed by fairness in the conduct of human affairs. Fairness is a difficult quality to maintain, more so to find in others, because it cannot thrive in an unbalanced personality. The secret of fairness is in balance -- not between fairness and unfairness, but between mind and heart, law and mercy, and a good many other couplets.
To be a righteous judge in life requires a liberal endowment of fairness. Fairness is not, moreover, an end in itself but must be coupled with other virtues from which it is often inseparable. Fairness requires a cool and collected spirit, one that will have a calming influence rather than to stir up heated debate. Those who are too much centred in their emotions often find fairness an elusive quality to obtain, sincere though they may be in believing they possess it.
Life rarely seems fair, and because of this apparent inequality in Yahweh's dealings with men, it is all too easy to define our fairness towards others on the basis on how life seems to treat us. In short, we measure relatively instead of absolutely. The first lesson in fairness must be that Yahweh is fair and working out our good. Because the needs of every soul are different from the needs of all others, fairness must be measured relative to our actual needs and not what we suppose we need. As in so many other virtues, a proper sense of fairness therefore needs a good measure of prophetic vision.
How rare a quality this is, and therefore all the more worthy! And how one must suffer before one truly finds it! It is one of the great needs of the human soul to find someone in whom one can share deep confidences in the knowledge that those confidences will be respected. We have a need to open up our heart to at least one mortal, if not several. Every human being has a need to be known and understood to give it a sense of worth.
But each time we open up to one we think we can trust, and each time that confidence is abused, we recoil in horror deep within ourselves and become a closed book to those around us. The greatest love, Yah'shua (Jesus)said, is to lay down your life for someone. But do we realise that this has a spiritual component too? Is it not true that to lay bare our inmost thoughts and feelings is to lay ourselves open to either a deep and satisfying communion with another living soul or the opposite -- complete betrayal?
I have been betrayed several times by persons whom I thought were my true bosom-friends. The feeling is not unlike that which men and women experience when they are raped, because it is spiritual rape. The hurt is great, the sense of being abused is powerful, and always the question is asked: How could they do such a thing?
Yah'shua (Jesus) knew such abuse. His heart-friend Judas betrayed Him, and this man has been held up to this day as the archetype of villainy.
Make no mistake, to break spiritual trust is spiritual villainy. In our modern world, keeping ones word seems to be unimportant. I was brought up to believe that ones word is sacred, and I know I have scriptural precedent for such a belief. We must do what we say we are going to do and not let down those whom we have made promises to. Is this not, indeed, the heart of our spiritual community -- a spiritual community of covenants? Of promises? Of keeping our word?
Betrayal leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and once you have experienced it one is doubly cautious about whom one opens up to. Your innermost feelings and thoughts are like precious jewels which, if shown to dishonest men, will be robbed and plundered. It is good to open up to those who are trustworthy, but folly to do so to the spiritual thief.
I have had several bosom friends and nearly all have stuck the knife in. It has hurt, and it has hurt alot. And worse it is when the one who plunges in the knife is your spouse -- flesh-of-your-flesh -- to whom you have bared your whole soul as is required by the covenants of marriage. Judas, a type of the faithless wife, plunged the knife into his Master's heart. I wonder if we know how painful that was to Him. I wonder if we understand what we do to Him when as a spiritual community we are not trustworthy and betray His confidence in us?
The human being is a deeply sensitive organism and thrives on tenderness -- the gentle caress, a sincere handshake. The American publisher, George Williams Childs, once wrote:
Tenderness is a quality of ahavah (love), a form of gentleness which is so absolutely a quality of the Christian life. It is the opposite of roughness and coarseness. It is a quality which either makes our heart burn with joy or else causes us to recoil in fear because we maybe are a little ashamed to demonstrate such feelings in what has become an aggressive and unfeeling world. And especially men, who are taught by the lies of the dominant culture around us, to be tough and brash.
"Do not keep the alabaster boxes of your love and tenderness sealed up until your friends are dead. Fill their lives with sweetness, speak cheering words while their ears can hear, and while their hearts can be thrilled and made happier by them."
There is no Gospel without tenderness, no true ahavah (love) without tenderness, no harmony in the soul without tenderness of feelings. And above all, tenderness must be manifested in words and in touch -- not bottled away in the alabaster boxes of our hearts. And it must be seen in public, because it is a testimony of the tenderness of Yahweh towards His children.
American President Theodore Rossevelt said:
How true! And someone else has said:
Tenderness is a vital leavening force in the development of our souls. Where there is no tenderness, the soul is stunted, unbeautiful, pitiful. If there are souls who do not know what tenderness is, or how to express it, then we have a duty to let them see it in action. And as is true of all divine impulses, it will eventually melt their hearts after the last protests of bravado have died away.
"I want to see you game, boys, I want to see you brave and manly, and I also want to see you gentle and tender."
Kindness is one of those magical words in the Gospel because it is often concealed in such words as "grace". Grace, as one commentator defined is, is the "undeserved kindness of God towards man" or His "unmerited favour". It is a hard entity to define, and quite impossible to measure. As the ancient Greek story-teller Aesop said:
For me, kindness is small deeds of ahavah (love). I have always been irritated when celebrities have advertised their wonderfulness by, for example, holding mass pop concerts to raise money for the starving souls of the Third World. A praiseworthy effort indeed but one soon overshadowed by their promiscuous and selfish lifestyle, which is their true selves. Forgotten, almost despised, it would seem, are the millions of small daily acts of kindness done by ordinary people which for me means everything.
"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."
The world measures goodness in terms of bigness -- the world lauds those who make contributions of millions for vain glory. But Yahweh -- He sees the small deeds, and it is these small deeds that add up to make godly men and women.
It is our duty as believers to notice and compliment every small deed of kindness for these are the building blocks of the New Jerusalem. Being conscious of them is the first step because so often we simply don't notice the goodness of the myriads of Martha's around us. We see only the Mary's.
Little kindnesses means everything to me. A daisy in a small glass of water given by the loving heart of a small child is more important than a big financial donation to a charity made grudgingly or to win public acclaim. The heart of Zion is in the numerous small acts of kindness one towards another. Kind words especially are precious, and generously so -- sincerely, though, and not for their own sake.
Empathy, or an understanding of others and their problems as well as their joys, is a most precious gift. We may not always understand at first because we have not directly experienced what they have experienced or are experiencing.
Benedict Spinoza, the Jewish-Dutch philosopher, said;
I am not sure entirely what he had in mind though I have an inkling. Tears and laughter are often used as camouflage for deeper concerns. People want to be understood because people want to communicate, especially those things which deeply affect them. "It is better to understand than to be understood," the saying goes. That, I believe, is true empathy, and because it is true, it is sacrificial.
"Do not laugh, do not weep, try to understand."
As I have already said we are all different, and that perplexes us sometimes because we expect others to think and feel as we do. One day we will, and we are already learning to do so by sharing in the common ahavah (love) of Yah'shua (Jesus), but to finally achieve that blessed union we must first try to understand others from their own perspectives. And that's not always easy. It is only as we understand them, and they us, that we finally come to a common understanding. Without that we are simply living out different lives with different purposes, like comets briefly entering our vision in a spectacular display before disappearing altogether again.
Of all institutions, marriage probably requires the greatest understanding because two people must live in such close proximity to one another. Richard L. Evans has some sound advice:
The same writer has said:
"Remember to build each other up, to strengthen and sustain, to keep companionship lovely and alive. Remember dignity and respect; understanding; not expecting perfection; a sense of honour and a sense of what is sacred and serious; common purposes, common convictions, and the character to stay with a bargain, to keep covenant -- in these are the making of a good and solid marriage."
Empathy costs. It costs us our pride and our self-centredness, because to have it we must leave our own universe and enter into others'. One of my greatest frustrations in the ministry has been to see how so totally absorbed people are with themselves and their families that they simply can't see what is going on around them and, more often than not, aren't interested either. The Body of Messiah is supposed to be one family. If it isn't, then you can be quite sure that understanding and sensitivity towards others is lacking somewhere.
"Each day we need to win, or keep -- and certainly to deserve -- the love of loved ones; each day to be more patient, more pleasant, more understanding. If there have been loved neglected, unspoken gratitude, unacknowledged debts, we ought to redirect ourselves."
As with the other virtues, understanding is intimately tied up with emunah faith. Augustine said:
What is true of our relationship to Elohim (God) is also true of our relationship to each other. To empathise with someone we must first have faith in them! If we don't, we'll never understand them. When you do not have faith in someone, or even a doctrine for that matter, you can be sure you are going to misunderstand that person or that doctrine.
"Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand."
I am going to end with one of the most important virtues of man which by itself is nothing but a hollow sound devoid of meaning but together with the other virtues is really the icing on top of the cake. It is a quality that translates into any language.
Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts cartoon series, said:
Laughter is the last quality that I would like to talk about today.
"If I were given the opportunity to present a gift to the next generation, it would be the ability for each individual to learn to laugh at himself."
Those who have not laughed have not lived. Unfortunately there are many Christians and Messianics who are of the opinion that laughter is not at all spiritual. True, it can fall into that category especially when it is directed against others, or if it is used to deflect the soul from more pressing spiritual matters, but nowhere has Yahweh ever declared laughter to be evil. Indeed, my testimony is the opposite.
Laughter is one of the greatest healers and has the ability to join people together. Josh Billings, the 19th century American humorist, said:
The reformer Martin Luther rightly said:
"Laughter is the sensation of feeling good all over and showing it principally in one place,"
I agree with him wholeheartedly.
"If you're not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there."
"A good laugh is sunshine in a house." Laughter has saved my day more than once. When we take ourselves too seriously and can't laugh at our stupidity, then something is wrong with us. I like a good laugh and I like people who like a good laugh.
There are boundaries, of course. Christian humour is pure humour, not vulgar or coarse. It does not make fun of others unless given permission to do so. Lord Chesterfield understood that godly laughter must possess other ingredients, and he identified one of them:
And then there are those who neither smile nor laugh. I feel deep pity for such. They have no idea how dead they are inside.
"The vulgar often laugh, but seldom smile; whereas wellbred people often smile, but seldom laugh."
Laughter, as Mark Twain once wrote, is "the human race's only really effective weapon." Think how many murderous intents have been disarmed by laughter. I will never forget a film of a couple who were about to launch into a big quarrel. The wife came storming down the stairs fully intent to do battle with her husband. Sensing that trouble was afoot, he went to the piano and began playing the stormy roll that they used to play in accompaniment to those 1920s silent movies when trouble was about to start. Before his wife reached the bottom of the stairs she was in stitches of laughter and the argument was defused. They were able to discuss their problem in a sensible and emotionally calm way.
I have used laughter to disarm pride, self-pity, anger, and many other vices. It's not a cure-all, of course, but it is, as Twain said, a powerful weapon. The fact of the matter is that sin is not only serious and hurtful to both Elohim (God) and man but it's also darned stupid! And sometimes comically so.
I know that there are some of us who look sceptically upon laughter, who regard it as an escapism. I was once one of that opinion. If laughter can be used as a vehicle to escape a dark tunnel of despair and emptiness and into the light where problems can really be solved, then I am all for it. I would rather solve problems in the sunlight rather than in the gloomy wastelands of hell. There is, of course, as the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, a time to laugh and a time not to laugh (Eccl.3:4), and here we must be sensitive. Laughter is not a cure-it-all but is a powerful and upbuilding weapon in the armory of the wise. But it can also destroy in the hands of the foolish.
E.H.Chapin sums it up nicely for me:
"Do not judge from mere appearances; for the lift of laughter that bubbles on the lip often mantles the depths of sadness, and the serious look may be the sober veil that covers a divine peace and joy. The bosom can ache beneath diamond brooches; and many a blithe heart dances under coarse wool."
These are eight qualities that I cherish. I cherish many more, of course, such as forgiveness, generosity, honesty, industriousness, orderliness, cleanliness, etc., but I choose to pick out those which mean the most to me because I have often had to learn or re-learn them. And they are what I principally search for in others.
Our business in the Gospel of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) is happiness, but happiness is not an easy goal to attain if one isn't willing to follow the recipe book given by the Master. Happiness costs too -- it doesn't come on a plate.
Praise Yah that we have Yah'shua's (Jesus') Recipe Book, the Bible. Of it, Sir Williams Jones has said:
Putting the same thoughts into rather simpler language are the timeless words of Margaret of Navarre who, in her Recipe for a Happy Life suggested the following:
"The Bible is the light of my understanding, the joy of my heart, the fullness of my hope, the clarifier of my affections, the mirror of my thoughts, the consoler of my sorrows, the guide of my soul through this gloomy labyrinth of time, the telescope sent from heaven to reveal to the eye of man the amazing glories of the far distant world."
"4 cups of love, 2 cups of loyalty, 3 cups of forgiveness, 1 cup of friendship, 5 spoons of hope, 2 spoons of tenderness, 4 quarts of faith, 1 barrel of laughter. Take love and loyalty, mix thoroughly with faith. Blend it with tenderness, kindness and understanding. Add friendship and hope, sprinkle abundantly with laughter. Bake it with sunshine. Serve daily with generous helpings."
May the Elohim (God) of ahavah (love), loyalty, forgiveness, friendship, hope, tenderness, emunah (faith) and laughter bless you all abundantly as you consider the qualities that are most precious to you and share them with those you love, is my prayer in Yah'shua's (Jesus') Name. Amen.
Second Revised Edition: 2 February 2013
Comments from Readers
 "Wonderful!" (JT, UK, 25 November 2013)
This page was created on 13 April 1998
Last updated on 25 November 2013
Copyright © 1987-2013 NCCG - All Rights Reserved