A devotional is an in-depth Bible study. A typical devotional should take you anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to complete. Download and print a PDF version of this devotional for yourself, or use it with a friend to create an engaging discussion.
What lies do you believe about God, yourself, and others that stop you from growing spiritually?
Fair warning: I have never seen the show, nor read the book, Big Little Lies. All I know is it is critically acclaimed, winning numerous Emmy and Golden Globe Awards. I have no idea what it’s about and if I’m being honest probably won’t get around to watching it because of all the other shows on my to-do list. But this quote from the book did catch my attention:
This quote made me reflect on my own heart, and what happens when I pretend things don’t affect me. Too often, I stifle truth about myself, my sin, my thoughts, and my feelings. But the more I stifle the truth about these things, the more it crowds everything else out and becomes everything, filling up every part of my heart and mind. Holding these things in my heart leaves no room for God, much less anyone else.
In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.Psalm 10:4 NIV84
Have you ever felt like you don’t understand God, or have a view of him that’s different than what the Bible says? This may be because you have no room for him in your heart. This study will look at what crowds God out of our hearts, the substitutes we make for him as a result, and how to clear out our hearts so we can discover God for who he truly is.
What’s crowding God out?
18 But the things that come out of your mouth—your curses, your fears, your denunciations—these come from your heart, and it is the stirrings of your heart that can make you unclean.Matthew 15:18 VOICE
The Bible says that if we want to know what’s crowding God out of our minds, we need to address our insides. Though it is easy to place blame on a circumstance or a person, we are ultimately responsible for what fills up our hearts. We need to be willing to clear out and be honest about everything that fills up our hearts -like anger, fear, sensuality, deceit, and pride – so that we can have room for God and friends.
- What are some of the things that are filling up your heart right now?
- What guilt or sin do you need to clear out of your heart? What emotions haven’t you been honest about?
“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!Matthew 6:22-23 MSG
In this scripture, Jesus is saying that what’s inside us determines how we view the outside world. If we’re full of light, we’ll view God and others with belief and excitement. But when we decide to live in darkness, refusing to deal with what is filling up our hearts, our view of God and others will be tainted. We will become distrustful, bitter, and paranoid. We think everyone, but especially God, is out to get us and trying to tell us what to do. This view allows us to avoid dealing with our hearts because our focus is on the external, but we never get to see God for who he really is.
- How do you view God? Do you have a distrustful, bitter, or paranoid view of him?
- How do you think being more open about your thoughts, feelings, and sins would help change the way you see God?
The God substitutes
No one can deny it—God is really good to Israel and to all those with pure hearts. But I nearly missed seeing it for myself.3 I was stumbling over what I saw with the wicked. For when I saw the boasters with such wealth and prosperity, I became jealous over their smug security. 4–5 Indulging in whatever they wanted, going where they wanted, doing what they wanted, and with no care in the world. No pain, no problems, they seemed to have it made. They lived as though life would never end.Psalm 73:1, 3-5 TPT
Psalm 73 is a perfect example of what happens to our faith when we substitute something else for God. We become bitter, jealous, and unbelieving. We start thinking God isn’t good to his people.
Almost anything can become a God-substitute in our lives, but three common ones are rules, people, and even the church itself.
For example, when we worship rules, we think, “If I do all the right things, I’ll be a good Christian and people will be happy with me.” But because following rules can never make us right with God (Galatians 3:11-12), we’ll eventually feel burned out and resentful that we have to say no to ourselves all the time. We’ll also tend to feel jealous of and angry toward people who don’t seem feel the same burden we do.
When we worship the church instead of God, we think that praise and status in the church will make us secure and happy. This God-substitute can go undetected for a long time, because our outward actions look spiritual. But, we will eventually get bitter and unbelieving when we feel like the church isn’t meeting our needs or if other people in the church seem more popular or liked. This was the heart of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 – they did spiritual-seeming actions but in their hearts they craved attention and praise from the people around them more than they wanted a close relationship with God.
When we substitute people for God, we strive for people around us to like us and accept us. Eventually, we will end up feeling jealous of those who have what we want and bitter we don’t have it. The Bible gives us a clear example of this in the story of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8, whose bitter jealousy of the Apostles’ abilities and attention left no room for God in his heart.
We learn from Psalm 73 that if we take our eyes off of God, we’ll get unbelieving, bitter, and incredibly jealous, thinking if we only had what someone else had we would be happy. We’ll stop thinking God is really good to his people.
- What do you substitute for God?
Who God really is
21 When I saw all of this, what turmoil filled my heart, piercing my opinions with your truth. 22 I was so stupid. I was senseless and ignorant, acting like a brute beast before you, Lord. 23 Yet, in spite of all this, you comfort me by your counsel; you draw me closer to you. 24 You lead me with your secret wisdom. And following you brings me into your brightness and glory!Psalm 73:21-24 TPT
In Psalm 73, the psalmist finally clears out his heart to make room for God, and this gives him perspective. He realizes how much his bitterness and jealousy have tainted his view of God, and decides to be honest about and deal with his heart. As a result, he sees God for who he really is.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? You’re all I want! No one on earth means as much to me as you. 26 Lord, so many times I fail; I fall into disgrace. But when I trust in you, I have a strong and glorious presence protecting and anointing me. Forever you’re all I need! 27 Those who abandon the worship of God will perish. The false and unfaithful will be silenced, never heard from again. 28 But I’ll keep coming closer and closer to you, Lord Yahweh, for your name is good to me. I’ll keep telling the world of your awesome works, my faithful and glorious God!Psalm 73:25-28 TPT
When we clear out our hearts we not only see God for who he truly is – loving, forgiving, always sticking with us – but we also see how much we need him. As the Big Little Lies quote says, the things we keep inside our hearts end up becoming our everything. When we keep fear, insecurity, anger, jealousy, or bitterness inside our hearts, we begin to believe the lies these things tell us about who God is. But when we decide to make room for God in our hearts, he becomes our everything, helping us become secure and confident no matter the circumstance.
- What is your “everything” right now – what is filling up your heart?
31 Jesus told the people who had faith in him, “If you keep on obeying what I have said, you truly are my disciples. 32 You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”John 8:31-32 CEV
To get to know the truth about God, we need to go beyond clearing out what was in our hearts before. We need to turn to the Bible and do what it says to truly be free.
- If you’ve never read the Bible before, decide today to start reading chapters daily. It’s hard to do what the Bible says if you don’t even know what it says!
- If you already read your Bible regularly, how much do you make decisions and changes based on what you read? Take one or two scriptures you read and decide to obey them! It may seem simple, but you will be surprised by how free you will feel as a result.