A Perfect Heart
“Let your hearts therefore be perfect before the Lord your God.”
These words of King Solomon to the people of God have challenged my thinking for years. Recently a few of us have been studying what the Bible teaches about living in obedience to that command. It has been very challenging!
What is our heart?
“The human heart, will, or spirit is the executive center of a human life. The heart is where decisions and choices are made for the whole person. Our life and how we find the world now and in the future is almost totally, a simple result of what we have become in the depths of our being—in our spirit, will, or heart. From there we see our world and interpret reality. From there we make our choices.” Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard
“Heart is a way of talking about that dimension of our self where memory, feeling, imagination and thinking come together. The heart is like a home for all the concerns of our lives, where our identity is sorted out year after year. The Shape of Living by David F. Ford
I begin with the words of Jeremiah in which he tells us “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” The King James gives the familiar rendition that it is desperately wicked. However this is the heart in its natural state, not what we are meant to be in Christ. Ezekiel helps us think about a transformed heart when he speaks to the people of God telling them that God will bring them back to himself. When they they return to be obedient he will give them a new heart – and they will experience intimacy as his people again. The new heart that is a gift of God does not become immediately evident. The process of living out of our new hearts – the journey from being centered in our self to becoming centered in Christ does not take place quickly or easily. Dallas Willard states well the situation: “The greatest need you and I have—the greatest need of collective humanity—is renovation of our heart. That spiritual place within us from which outlook, choices, and actions come has been formed by a world away from God. Now it must be transformed.”
To relate all the things we have been learning about the transformation of our hearts would require more words than most want to read, but here are three ideas that I have been pondering and applying to my life:
The Pure heart
Jesus promises a special blessing to all who have pure hearts. Kierkegaard wrote, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” To have the “one thing” be the goal of pleasing Jesus is clearly what I desire. The Greek word helps me understand the process. The word for pure is katharos and it means, “as being cleansed.” It is connected to our word Catharsis that is the identification and purging of a complex. So this purity of heart is not a place to which I have arrived. It is a process in which the Lord is helping me to identify the impurities in my life and in my confession of sin I am cleansed of the complexes that keep me from willing “one thing.”
An Undivided Heart
Most of us, and especially men, live our lives in various compartments. We can have a wonderful spiritual experience in church or our Wednesday group in the “Jesus compartment,” close it and move into the “business compartment” with only little carry over from one to the other. A couple years ago I was with Bob Hunter when he was being interviewed. As he spoke of the various aspects of his life: family, business, pro bono advocacy, help in Africa, spiritual disciplines, etc. he said his desire is to live a seamless life. He wants Jesus to knock down the partitions and to have full reign in all of the compartments of his life. Evelyn Underhill writes: “Most of our difficulties come from trying to deal with the spiritual and practical aspects of our life separately instead of realizing them as parts of one whole. A spiritual life is a life in which all we do comes from the center, where we are anchored in God.”
Dallas Willard has thoughts on the process of developing an undivided heart.
“Spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself. In the degree to which spiritual formation in Christ is successful, the outer life of the individual becomes a natural expression or outflow of the character and teaching of Jesus. Well-informed human effort certainly is indispensable, for spiritual formation is no passive process. But Christlikeness of the inner being is not a human attainment. It is, finally, a gift of grace.”
It is pretty exciting to think about the freedom of having an undivided heart – then I am not trying to please God and my flesh at the same time.
A Heart Shaped in Community
The writer of Hebrews indicates that we are to help each other—we are to encourage each other daily so that no one of us will be deceived into having a sinful, unbelieving heart. David Ford agrees when he writes, “Two essential dynamics that shape our heart are its home life of deepest relationships and its pattern of hospitality.” The people we choose to let into our lives at a level where they can speak to our deepest needs and desires help shape our minds and our hearts. They move us away from the Lord or they move us closer to Jesus.
Perhaps some of these thoughts will be an encouragement to each of us as we choose to experience the transformation of our hearts as we walk together following Jesus.
Kent Hotaling — May 2004