The heart of the matter

heart of the night

I didn’t bother counting, but I searched on song titles with the word “heart” in them and perhaps not surprisingly there are thousands. Heck, I’d be willing to bet if you looked at movie and book titles it would expand mind-blowingly. Why? Because the heart is understood to be the place where our most deeply-seeded feelings reside, and where the core of our life persists in both the physical and the spiritual sense.

While that might be the case, I suspect that the heart is more conundrum than comprehension. We may understand that the heart is primary and core, we don’t understand what is primary and core about it. I mean for ourselves … I doubt we fully understand the content of our own hearts. I know for a fact we don’t know the content of others’ hearts. As one of my favorite songs by the Paul Colman Trio says, “They say ‘just follow your heart,’ yeah but what if it lies?” And here the heart’s so crucial and yet we understand it so little. Perhaps not at all. We’re unable to get to the heart of the matter.

My reading the past week or so reminded me of the futility as humans of trying to propose we get it. Folks, we don’t. But …

As I read from Joshua 16-24, Judges 1-21, Ruth 1-41 Samuel 1-24, Psalms 7, 11, 27, 31, 34, 52 and 59, a key point was throughout that was particular pointed out in 1 Samuel 16:4-7.

So Samuel did as the Lord instructed. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town came trembling to meet him. “What’s wrong?” they asked. “Do you come in peace?” “Yes,” Samuel replied. “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Purify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then Samuel performed the purification rite for Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice, too. When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

In this portion of scripture, we have Samuel visiting the family of Jesse to find the one of Jesse’s sons that the Lord had selected and anointed as the next king, in replacement of Saul. Naturally, as Samuel was visiting he expected that the next king would actually look like a king. You know, tall, handsome, strong, whatever it is that a king should look like … perhaps what Hollywood would say (don’t get me started on Hollywood haha). Anyhow, the Lord provides Samuel – and us – an apt reminder of the heart of the matter.

So let me ask a bizarre question to make my chief point. What if we didn’t have eyes? Or perhaps if our eyes were different, so that when we “looked” at someone the only thing we saw was what was in their hearts. That is, we could see the heart of the matter.

What would we see?

Pain? Hurt? Woundedness? Sorrow? Deception? Darkness?

What if when we “looked” in the mirror we saw the same things in ourselves?

What we would see is the heart of the matter … how the Lord sees. As God reminded Samuel, “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” So let’s assume we could actually see other people’s hearts (or maybe even our own … but for now lets focus on the hearts of others). How would it change how we treat people?   How would it change our relationships? How would it change our discussions? How would it change our faith? How would it change our churches? How would it change our world?

My point in this is that we judge what we can actually see and we assume, interpret, and infer the rest. Wrongly. God, of course, does so with pristine accuracy. So with our interactions with one another, if we saw what was in someone’s heart would their “attitude” or “motives” as we see them – wrongly – when seen rightly change how we behave? How we treat them? How we sympathize or perhaps empathize? Chance are, yes, it would change.

So why not seek to make that change happen now? Clearly we cannot see as God sees but we can ask Him to align our hearts and mind to what He sees. We can ask Him to change our hearts and our eyes, and to show us through the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives to start to see the heart of the matter, as He sees.

As we stand here on Good Friday, when Jesus – knowing with 100% accuracy the horrible condition of the heart of the matter in each of us – willingly laid down His life and His rightful prominent position at the right hand of the Father, I think it’s reasonable and right for us to appreciate the gift of salvation brought by Jesus’s death. Especially because He saw the heart of the matter in you and me and still went to the cross. That’s why today, Good Friday, is truly good.

Let’s prayerfully ask God to begin to reveal to us how He sees, and to allow us to begin to develop vision to see the heart of the matter. To see one another’s hearts more … something tells me that might just be the key to repairing all that is wrong in this world. Yeah, we’ll never actually see how God sees … but if we keep seeking, He’ll help us find. Vision. To see the heart of the matter.

Soli Deo gloria!



The Longest Distance Between Two Points

Sometimes it seems like my heart is a mile away from my head. Leaves a weird anatomical picture in your mind, doesn’t it? Seriously, for two organs that are geographically probably 18 inches from each other, the lack of spiritual connection between the two seems cavernous.

This chord struck me this week as I read through 1 Corinthians 10 – 14. In a passage that precedes one of the most famous sections of Paul’s amazing letters to the church at Corinth (the “Love is” passages that tend to find their way to so many wedding ceremonies), an incredibly spot-on predecessor concept is laid before us. For me, it describes my faith journey since Helen and I came to faith back in 1999 incredibly poignantly. I’ll explain in a moment, but it’s first probably best to share that the passage in question is 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 …

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

As a young Christian (then at age 32), I recognized I had gained an invaluable gift. A gift not only of infinite worth and of infinite duration, and a gift that came at no personal cost to me. But instead of using the gift to attract others, I used it as a filter to categorize people into those that were in accord with my beliefs and those that weren’t. In a way, it was a sifting mechanism to criticize and bemoan those who weren’t followers of Christ. Don’t misunderstand, I wasn’t like Saul of Tarsus engaging in outright persecution of non-believers … but I wasn’t exactly serving as a light in the darkness either.

In those days, energized with a literal new lease on life, I read voraciously … the Bible, absolutely, but many other books as well, almost anything I could get my hands on (it was before the days of Kindles, haha). I attended Bible studies, listened to sermons and speakers at every opportunity. With the newfound knowledge (head) I worked hard to intellectualize people into being convinced about my faith, that I was “right” and that they needed to agree with me because I could provide a cogent factual case.

Don’t get me wrong, the Christian faith is an intellectually-valid proposition, and logic and reason undergird faith and belief. But in my cerebral squabbling with others, something was grossly amiss. I was so focused on presenting a compelling scientific and rational case that I neglected what had quickly become a long and vacuous distance between my heart and my head.

Arguing and ostracizing people don’t compel belief, loving them does. God didn’t argue or bellow us into His kingdom, He loved us into it (by sending Jesus). It’s said that people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. That’s the standard.

Let me reiterate so I don’t mislead anyone … it doesn’t mean we abandon our faith, and its embodiment through obedience to God’s standards and commandments for living. In fact, it’s crucial to be real, to be authentic with the new life we have in Christ and the transformation we gain in every-day living as a result. But it also doesn’t mean we use that new life and our Christian lifestyle as so many blunt instruments to clobber folks over the head and somehow expect them to want to follow our lead. Somehow, we have to decrease the distance between our head and our heart.

That’s Paul’s point … we can have knowledge, we can have intelligence, we can have spiritual gifts, we can even have incredibly strong faith, but if we don’t love others, sympathize and empathize with them, serve them, sacrifice for them, go to where they are to reach them, then any knowledge, intelligence, gifts, and faith are completely useless.

In my business – cancer diagnostics – we talk about the “what” and the “so what.” That is, if we can find out all sorts of information about a patient’s cancer, the cancer’s proteomic, chromosomal and genomic makeup (the “what”), but can’t do anything with that information such as pick the most effective treatments to help them (the “so what”), then who cares about the “what?”

That’s the same thing with our faith. If our faith doesn’t ultimately lead to the ultimate cure (salvation) for the ultimate disease (sin), then who cares about our faith? Seriously. No amount of argument and rightness (the head) is going to bring them to the wide-open arms of our Savior without our loving example (the heart).

Today there seems to be so much division and derision. As a society we’re so busy taking sides, and taking swipes at the other side, that we aren’t focused on our true calling. “Love each other in the same way I have loved you,” is what Jesus says in John 15:12. That’s a heart thing.

At the same time, our society seems to be falling apart at the moral seams. At meteoric speed, we’re abandoning standards of right and wrong, chipping away at the foundation of our individual character and our corporate longevity as a country … and a planet. Christianity is valuable and has transformed billions of lives throughout antiquity and today because it IS true, it IS reasonable, it IS rational, and it IS logical. God created and designed us, so He alone holds the key to how to experience our existence to the full; as the Author of life, He alone has the authority and context about how to best live it. That’s a head thing.

This week, let’s pray and ask God to teach us how to reduce the geographical and philosophical distance between our hearts and our heads. Let’s ask Him to show us how we can not use either one less, but to use both of them more. Let’s petition from him the wisdom to increase our knowledge of Him and His word, and apply them in love sacrificially to the benefit of all with whom we engage with either.

The longest distance between two points, can only be lessened by Him. Let’s ask Him to do that!

Soli Deo gloria!