With my whole heart
Over the last number of weeks we have been exploring the topic of praying. Every one of our explorations has encouraged us to express our needs and wants, our emotions, our cries for help, our frustrations and our thanks and praise. But through all of these expressions of our thoughts and emotions, we have been encouraged to use meditation as a means of calming ourselves and enabling us to approach our time of prayer with the sense that we are entering into a space where we will have a conversation – a dialogue – with God. We have been encouraged to feel comfortable and safe in the presence of God and never forget that God has promised to be with us on this journey of life no matter where that journey may take us and no matter what we may encounter.
Last week we were reminded that while we each need to develop our own relationship with God, we need to also remember that what each of us gains through our own time of prayer can provide strength and insight and support to others in community. So as we worship together we can encourage one another in our faith and in our life.
Today we are going to conclude this series with a focus on the heart. Of course we all know that when the Bible speaks about our heart, they are expressing that image of the heart that is associated with our thoughts and emotions. Often we believe that they were unaware of the fact that the heart really is an organ that pumps the blood that keeps our bodies going. But the reality is that they chose the image of the heart because they believed that just as the physical heart enabled the body to function at its best, so the metaphorical heart was the centre from which all our thoughts and emotions emanated and touched every part of our being. The unity that is so often expressed in the Hebrew Scripture to depict our creation by God finds its ultimate expression when we come to see our physical, mental and spiritual life summed up in that one central place – the heart.
And so, biblical religion is essentially heart religion. To have a good and honest heart is to have a God-centered motivation in our life; this ties in with Jesus’ declaration that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul, mind and strength. While expressing it with more than just the word heart, the Hebrew person would understand that all was centered in the heart.
Secondly biblical religion is about the renewal of our hearts. We talk often about the renewal of our hearts through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What we are really talking about is letting God’s Spirit teach us and direct us into the ways that will bring us to a place where we will think and act in ways that will reflect the will of the One who has created us. We seek for God to help us to see the things that can cause our hearts to be pulled from God and so seek to bring peace and wholeness to our inner heart – our inner soul and being. Such inner peace and wholeness will then be radiated out into our whole body just as the physical heart pumps a supply of life-giving blood to every part of our physical being.
But for that renewal of our hearts to occur requires us to seek for three qualities. First our heart needs to be consistently repentant – not just regretful or remorseful but understanding that repentance means turning back from dark paths of self-service to face, love, thank and serve God. We are to repeatedly renew our commitment to holiness and constantly re-examine ourselves in God’s presence. Second we are to consciously return to God day by day traveling home to our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend. Third, the desire of the renewed heart for God moves us to become runners, not that every one of us will physically run a race, but runners in the sense that we will press on in life toward the goal of a full life with God as expressed to us through the life of God in our Lord Jesus Christ and continually brought to our minds through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
But even when we seek for these qualities of a renewed heart with God, we recognize that coming to that unity of heart is not an easy thing. Christian living will always involve an element of conflict and struggle with temptations both from the outside and the inside. We want to be perfect in serving God but practically we know that we will fall short. When we read in Scripture that we are to pray with our whole heart, we need to understand that this is to be our intention even if the reality is that we will ever need for our heart to become whole. There will be moments when we feel at perfect peace and feel that we have reached a wholeness of heart and there will be time when we feel our heart torn and struggling and there will be all the times in between. But it is for us to never give up hope, to never surrender our faith in God and to ever seek for that wholeness of heart that will draw us closer to that full communion with God.
And so our goal in life as Christians is to receive from God the gift of an undivided heart. There are four tests that we can use to help tell us how far our own hearts are united Godward. The first is, how far are our heads right? Are we seeking to embrace God’s truth as revealed in the Bible, assessing our life by it, and sensing God’s presence and gift throughout life? The second is, how far are our hands right? Are our hands engaged in activities that are pleasing to God or just pleasing to ourselves? Third, how far are our habits right? Are our routines, our cherished ways of thinking, our hobbies and interests aligned with the heart of God? Fourth, how far are our hopes right? What do we save for, plan for, scheme for, and pray for?
Clearly we need to watch what it is that we take into our hearts – for what we take in will always seek to take over. We are what we are at heart – no more, no less. The heart is the inside story of everyone’s life; and we do not understand ourselves, or anyone else, until we are in touch with what goes on in us and in them at heart level. And so the Bible constantly encourages us to guard our hearts for from it flows our life.
Finally we are enjoined to pray in the Spirit with our whole heart – not praying tongues or from some ecstatic experience but conversing responsively with God through an awareness of our life with God as imparted to us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God. First we are to remain aware of the new covenant revealed by God through Jesus and know that we live our lives as the people of that new covenant. Second we are to remain aware that the Spirit will lead us on a progressive, intensifying realization of who God is, leading us to dwell even more on the wisdom, power and love of God. Third we are to remain aware of the beauty of life and the presence of God throughout creation.
And so for us as Christians, we are to open ourselves continually to the Spirit of God and the ministry of that Spirit leading us to contemplate and rejoice in the relationship we have with God in Jesus Christ as the frame and foundation for the rest of our lifelong praying. We are to pray clearheadedly and wholeheartedly. Jeremiah knew this truth about God: “When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you.” (Jer. 29:13-14)