Tuesdays with Sarah… Palm Sunday and an Undivided Heart


I love Palm Sunday.  There is something so special about singing Hosanna and watching children walk into the sanctuary, waving palm branches.  Such a celebratory service that gives me all the good Jesus feels.

Palm Sunday 2019 – Ready to wave our palm branches for the Common Ground service!

Palm Processional for Traditional service!

But a few years ago, as I was reading about Holy Week in Matthew, I did not have all the good Jesus feels about the Triumphant Entry.  You can find the story below:

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”” – Matthew 21:1-11 NIV

But then, 6 chapters later, you find this:

“Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”” – Matthew 27:15-25 NIV

SEE WHAT I MEAN??  HOW CAN THIS BE?  Less than one week later, the crowd that shouted “Hosanna!” with hands raised in worship, now shouted “Crucify Him!” with fists raised in hatred!  How can their hearts be so divided?

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how the Jews could love and then hate Jesus so quickly.  After doing a little more digging, and watching this very scene in the Passion of the Christ movie, I learned that the hatred that the religious leaders is one of the main factors that influenced the crowd to turn against Jesus.  The religious hated Jesus because He had flipped their entire way of thinking and acting towards God upside down.  Jesus was not acting like the Messiah they had hoped for, so they hated Him.  How many times do we turn on Jesus because He doesn’t do things the way we want Him too?

At the time I read this originally, we were still in youth ministry.  I thought of the blatant hypocrisy I often saw in church, especially with teenagers who would party hard on Saturday night, but then be in church on Sunday morning.  (FYI – I’ve learned a lot about grace since those days… not that grace is a license to sin, but I understand much more about the struggle of trying to do what God wants versus what the flesh wants.)  When Scott became a “grown-up preacher”, I realized that there are a lot of grown-ups that struggle with hypocrisy as well, including myself.  Mine may not be as bold as the original Holy Week Palm Wavers, but it’s there.  My heart is often divided, even when I have the very best of intentions.

For the longest time, when I thought about having a divided heart, I thought it was just simple division between the 2 main characters – God and Big Red.  Good and Evil.  Love and Hate.  Sometimes we choose God’s way, and other times we choose Satan’s way.  Simple.  It’s bold and blatant, just like what we read in Matthew.  But a few weeks ago, something Scott said in a sermon changed all that.  Division of heart most often is subtle, and much more common than we realize or want to realize.

Ironically, it was Palm Sunday.  Our precious kiddos walked into both our modern and traditional worship services.   Scott was wrapping up a sermon series called, “The Spirit-Filled Life”.  The focus was about how the Holy Spirit brings POWER.   He brings power to the church, to our lives, and to the world.  But the part about how the Holy Spirit brings power to our lives is what really got me.

He talked about how we have the power of the Holy Spirit in us, but it’s up to us to choose to live in that power.  But there a whole lot of Christians walking around in their weakness.  And it hit me – sometimes the divided heart is not just as simple as God vs. Satan.  Or even God vs. Myself.  Sometimes it’s way more understated, like living in Holy Spirit power vs. living in human weakness.  For example, we may say, “Yes, God, I command this mountain to move in the name of Jesus!”  And the next day, it’s “I lost my job and I have no idea what to do.  Woe is me!”

Scott continued to talk as my mind was churning about how this whole thing might be very different than I had always thought.  And how I have probably had a divided heart way more often than I realized.  He described these new cards the church had made to hand out to invite people to our contemporary service.  On the back it has a place to write your name so that the person can find you and sit with you.  Then he said something that probably stepped on everybody’s sweet little toes.  He said that some people won’t like that part of the card.  They won’t want to leave their comfy seats and their comfy family and friends to sit with a stranger.  But what does God want us to do?  SIT WITH THE STRANGER!  Because it’s not ABOUT US!  And he wrapped up his point with this:  “The room cannot contain the number of people who would come when we all make it ALL ABOUT HIM!”

So there’s another type of division!  “All about me” vs. “all about God”, which truly has affected most all churches in America where consumerism runs rampant.  Again, it’s very subtle, like “I love Jesus, and I’ll be at church, but I really don’t want to sit by that guy though”.

Time for confession.  And I didn’t even realize it until recently.  I have struggled with the “all about me” vs. “all about God” division of heart.  I have been the worship leader in several of our past churches.  We have also been appointed to churches that already had established praise teams.  But even then, I was actively involved, being one if not the main lead female vocal.

My sister (Bekah Arora) and I leading worship at a women’s conference

The church I’m appointed to now has a worship team already established with a fantastic leader.  Also, there are some uber-talented female vocalists here.  And I don’t mean like 1 or 2 – I mean like 5 or 6 or a million!  It is absolutely amazing the God-given talent that is at our church.  But with all that talent means old Sarah Smyth is not needed as often to sing, which at times as been SO VERY HARD on me.

When I was in the midst of one of those negative thought cycles recently, I heard a voice, and I’m sure it’s the Holy Spirit sweetly chastising me.  “What are your motives, Sarah?  Why are you wanting to sing?”  That’s what I heard.  Then later that same day, Scott said in a very nice “husbandy”, yet “pastory” way, “Sarah, it’s not about you.  It’s about Him.  You know that.  You have said that very thing for years.  You may want to put that in your blog” (since we had just talked about this undivided heart blog).

Don’t you hate it when your spouse is right?!  Haha.  But it was truth and I was in a place where I needed to hear truth.  I had a divided heart.  Not divided like I love God/I hate God, but more like pleasing God/pleasing Sarah.

Me and Scott acting a fool on a youth mission trip 🙂

There are other divisions of the heart that came to mind as I was writing this post. One is that we believe and accept Jesus as Savior of our life, but not as Lord of our life.   “Jesus, thank you for saving me from my sin and letting me spend eternity with you, but I’m really not interested in obeying your commandments.”  Yikes.  Another is that God can have Sundays and maybe Wednesdays, but the rest of the week is mine.  “I will definitely be at church on Sunday, but I can’t be involved in that ministry because it meets during the week when I have things to do.”  Ouch.

I went to a Christian school growing up.  In middle school, we had a new English teacher  come to the school.  Her name was Miss Hogg, (long ‘O’ sound).  In our immature, middle school minds, we thought that was quite the most unfortunate name and quite hysterical.  We never let an opportunity pass where a Miss ‘Hog’ could be said from the class.

Fact is, she was actually a very young, beautiful teacher.  And I’m pretty sure she had been a Cathedral Christian School student in her past.  But one of her assignments she gave us was to keep up with a daily journal.  I HATED that assignment.  Most all of my classmates did.  I ended up treating that journal often as a prayer journal, writing about prayer requests, scripture, and church things.

Miss Hogg said she would never read the entries, but she would just make sure they had been done.  Well, that was not true.  The reason I know that is because in one of my posts, I had put some thing about how mean Miss “Hog” was and of course making fun of her name.  When she returned our journals one week, she had a comment in mine.  She wrote, “If you are what a Christian is, then I wouldn’t want to be one.” FOR REAL OUCH.  Talk about a divided heart!!  In the one post, I would write about how good God is, and then bash my teacher?  That is not acceptable.  My 42 year old self wants to go back to my 14 year old self and whoop her tail!

But why?  Why do we struggle with a divided heart?   Well, between the “Hosanna” and the “Crucify Him” described earlier, there is Matthew 26.  In that chapter there are 2 stories that might help illuminate they why.

Matthew 26:69-75 tells the story of when Peter denied Jesus 3 times.  Peter, one of the 3 disciples that was closest to Jesus, said he didn’t even know who Jesus was… 3 times!  Who just the night before at the Last Supper had said, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matt. 26:33)  But why?  Why would Peter be so devoted to Christ one night, and the very next night act as though he had never even met Him?  One word.  FEAR.  The very thing I wrote about in my last blog post.  Fear is often the thing that divides our heart.

Back to my example of being divided between Jesus being our Savior, but not our Lord.  We love Jesus.  We truly do and know that we can NOT make it without Him.  But we are scared to give Him complete Lordship because just what if He asks me to do something crazy??  Like become a missionary, change churches, start a ministry, feed the homeless, sit by a stranger??  So, fear keeps our hearts divided and we miss out on the blessings of not letting Him have complete control of our lives.

The other story in Matthew 26 is about the woman who anointed Jesus before the Lord’s Supper.  But what she had was an undivided heart.  See the story below:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you,[a] but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

This woman, who is believed to be Mary, the sister of Lazurus according to John 12:2-3, , gave a very costly, extravagant gift – an expensive perfume she held in an alabaster bottle – out of her gratitude for Jesus bringing her brother back to life.   Her act of worship was costly and risky.  Costly because it cost about a years’ worth of wages.  Risky because she risked everything by even coming to the table where Jesus was reclined.

She poured this extravagant gift, anointing his head, not even knowing that she was preparing him for burial.  According to Mark’s account of this story (Mark 14:3), she  broke the jar and poured the perfume on His head.  There was nothing half-hearted about this act.  She was all in – all her wealth, all her pride, all her heart, undivided.

Although Mary was somewhat ridiculed by some of the disciples from what they considered a wasteful act, Jesus had her back!  When we worship God with our whole heart and seek His approval above all others, God will defend you!  And not only that, He will use you as an example for others.  Matthew 26:13 says, “I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  That’s who I want to be!  The one who Jesus wants to brag on!

And know this:  there is good news for all of us that suffer with a divided heart!  Remember old Peter who let fear divide his heart before the rooster crowed?  That same guy, in John 21, was lovingly reinstated by Jesus who reminded Him to feed His lambs.  And about 40 days later, when the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost, this fearful man became fearless as he preached the first sermon where 3000 people gave their hearts to Jesus.

The truth is, we all suffer with the divided heart condition.  What I have learned is that there are 2 “medications” you can take to keep your heart healthily undivided.

1 – Focus on what He’s done, not what might can happen.  Peter focused on the fact he might have lost his life right then if he admitted he was one of Christ’s followers.  Mary, on the other hand, focused on what Christ had done by resurrecting her brother, therefore it was easy for her to pour out her undivided love at the feet of Jesus.  She had eyes only for Him and Him alone.

2 – Pray God’s Word.  Psalm 86:11-13 says, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth;  give me an UNDIVIDED HEART, that I may fear your name.  I will praise you, O Lord my God, with ALL MY HEART;  I will glorify your name forever.  For great is your love toward me;  You have delivered me from the depths of the grave.”  Pray this scripture over your life.  Pray that God will help  you stay focused only on Him and His purpose for your life.

This past weekend, we had some friends go to an Emmaus Walk (spiritual retreat).  On Saturday evening, we had communion, and when we did, we read together the Great Thanksgiving, which is a part of the Methodist liturgy spoken before communion.  The prayer of confession says, “Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.  We have failed to be an obedient church.  We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy.  Forgive us, we pray.  Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

I’ve read this prayer many times over the last 16 years that we have been in the Methodist church, but that first line has never stood out to me before.  The first thing we confess is that we have had a divided heart and not given Him all our love.  So friends, let’s live our lives in a way that we don’t even have to say that confession.  Focus on what God has done, and not what “might” happen.  Pray Psalm 86:11 over your life.  Be like Mary.  Let’s be the ones that Jesus brags on.

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