The heart is central. It is the core of our existence as sons and daughters of God, and it is the only thing that God is concerned about. We’ve agreed that, “the heart is deceitful above all things,” and we’ve failed to recognize that God has given us, “a new heart, and a new spirit [he] has put in [us]. And [he] will remove your heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Modernity, however, has tried to kill the heart. We’ve tried to reason our way to God. We’ve tried to earn our place in the Kingdom by doing, by following the rules, by suppressing desire for the sake of outward appearance. After all, what would the world (or the church, for that matter) think if they saw us going after the desires of our heart?
Several years ago I found myself with a rare opportunity to be away from my family and away from the pressures and responsibilities of work in the mountains of Colorado. The friend I was visiting had gathered about fifteen of us for a few days of adventure and rest. He posed this question to set the framework for our time together: What makes your heart come alive? And he followed the question with this statement: Do that.
I was surprised to discover that I didn’t know what actually made my heart come alive. There were no kids to put to bed, no house to clean, no lawn to mow. There was no boss to answer to, no staff to oversee, no reports due. It was just me, a few friends, and an open schedule, and, I didn’t know what to do. Probably more concerning, I didn’t know who I was. Apart from my role as a husband, father, boss, and employee, who was I? Really, all the roles we play and titles we wear are external, except for one: sons and daughters of God. This is the only title that makes sense on a heart level.
So the invitation to do what made my heart come alive looked like this: sleeping until I woke up (for me it was still early), running on mountain trails, eating delicious food, drinking strong coffee in the morning, and a craft brew in the evening, hiking up a snow-covered mountain to descend into an 24-inch culvert that led into a cave (with nothing more than the light of our iPhones (we were seriously ill-equipped for spelunking). Stepping away from this time of retreat, I learned not just what made my heart come alive, but I learned that it is good to care for our own hearts. The writer of Proverbs says it like this: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” This is a far cry from the heart being deceitful.
The labels we wear, the titles we hold, and the things we do are largely on the surface. It’s the matters of the heart that are below the surface and largely unseen, but, these are the deepest, truest part of us. All of life flows from our heart, and since God has given us this beautiful gift of a new heart, one of flesh that replaces our heart of stone, we would do well to care for it. After all, how can we, “love the Lord our God with our whole heart,” if we don’t tend to it? Or, how can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t even love ourselves, our own hearts?
It’s no surprise that the Lord told Samuel to pass over the obvious choices to be anointed to carry the bloodline of the Messiah. Sure, they might have been stronger, older, and smarter, but these were all external. God knew their hearts. So the One who came to restore and renew, who entered the world in the most unlikely of ways, came from the most unlikely of the sons of Jesse. Just like Samuel who listened to the voice of the Lord to pass over the obvious choices, the One who came to restore and renew hearts, “does not judge by what his eyes see or decide disputes by what his ears hear.” He chooses the least likely, and throughout the ages we see this Kingdom is most often advanced with the most unlikely of characters. A farmer forced to sail the open waters for a time who promptly planted a vineyard when he finally saw land again and got drunk. A prostitute. A man with a stuttering problem. A shepherd boy who wasn’t even in the lineup. A wild-eyed guy who eats locust and honey. A group of ragtag fishermen. A tax collector. A zealot. At one point he even used an ass (which is good news for a lot of us).
What I’m getting at here is that as we approach the celebration of the Messiah coming into this dark world to bring his Kingdom, his shalom, it’s time we lean into the matters of the heart rather than simply suppressing them for the sake of following the rules and looking good. Yes, your old heart was deceitful above all things, but God has given you a new heart, one of flesh, not of stone. Not only has he given you this new heart, but he tells you to take care of it. Guard it, keep it with all vigilance. Life flows from it, for your family, for your marriage, for your friends, for your neighbors, for your work. Jesus tells us to “Take heart!” In this Kingdom, the heart is central.