Maybe there have been times in your Christian walk when you have known the nearness of the Lord and glimpsed something of his glory and beauty in the Word. It may have been in your personal devotions or when you were gathered with the Lord’s people. But sadly, it is likely we have also known times when we have been cold, times when we have longed for true communion with him. So what do we do when our hearts are cold?
When I was training to be a teacher, I was based in Ormskirk, Lancashire, and my first teaching placement was in Fulwood, Preston. At that time I discovered that those were the stomping grounds of the Puritan Isaac Ambrose. In the early 1600s, he preached Reformation truth as an itinerant in Catholic Lancashire. He later served a number of churches around Preston and Garstang, becoming one of over 2000 men ejected from their living in 1662 for non-conformity.
Reading Ambrose, I encountered a man who was utterly Christ-centred, who longed for ever closer communion with Jesus and the joy to be found in him. His most well-known work is Looking Unto Jesus. However, it was another work, called Media (The Middle Things), which impacted me greatly. In it, Ambrose addresses the spiritual duties that the believer should pursue in order to grow in grace and deeper union with Christ. The spiritual disciplines are the biblical, God-ordained means which help to awaken, strengthen, and deepen a person’s relationship with the triune God.
Ambrose states that these are never to be an end in themselves. Rather, ‘the saints look upon [spiritual] duties as bridges to give them a passage to God, as boats carry them into the bosom of Christ, as means to bring them into more intimate communion with their heavenly Father.’ They should be a source of delight and joy because in ‘duties … [believers] come to see the face of God in Christ… [Those] who meet with God in duty, usually find their hearts sweetly refreshed.’
The foundation of these must always be Scripture engaging the mind and gripping the heart. Ambrose was interested in the transformation of the heart as the Spirit of God worked upon the truth of God. As he explains, ‘the proceedings of our meditation are in this method. 1. To begin in the understanding, 2. To end in the affections.’ When our hearts are cold, intentional pursuit of these spiritual practices will cause us to dwell on the beauty of Christ. They remind us that he is the inexhaustible fountain of all good things, the best of which is himself.
There can be a danger in our lives as believers, particularly when we are seeking to serve wholeheartedly, that time for meditating and contemplating the glory of Christ is squeezed out. Cold hearts are often wandering hearts. We need to remind ourselves that true fruitfulness comes when we are in close communion with the Saviour. Jesus said in John 15:5, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.’
It is vital to stay close to Christ and ever keep him in view. One small practical way of pursuing this is to look for Christ in the regular flow of our lives. As Ambrose explains, ‘Cast your eyes which way you will and you shall hardly look for anything but Christ… Do you behold the sun? He is called the “Sun of Righteousness”… Come nearer: if you look upon earth … Do you see a tree … or a flower? He is the “tree of life”, and the “Lily of the Valley”, and the “Rose of Sharon”. Are you [dressing] yourself? “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Are you eating food and seeing what you have on the table? He is “the true Bread from heaven”; “the Bread of Life”.’
Is your heart cold? Regular, intentional, dwelling on Christ will always bring back the warmth to our hearts and a realisation of the presence of God with us.
Jonathan Stobbs is Pastor at Penzance Baptist Church, Cornwall, and director of Evangelical Times.