The heart is a tricky thing. In one sense, it’s that rhythmical muscle in our chest, pulsing with life. In another sense, it’s the deepest of emotions, both positive and negative. There is yet another sense that Jesus uses when he talks about “heart.” Check it out:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:34)
“How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34)
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)
For Jesus, the heart is the core conviction of a person. He wants it to be pure, so that the things that we do outwardly are consistent with the love he has given us. Jesus has strong words for those whose hearts are different than their actions. Let’s make sure that’s not us.
We have all experienced times in our lives when someone was just going through the motions, or their motives seemed shady. Their heart was somewhere else. The ancient Israelites experienced this. “…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…” (Isaiah 29:13) We run the same risk in the church. We busy ourselves with a lot of good “practices:” worship services, bible studies, service events, and the like. However, when our heart is somewhere else, so is our treasure.
So, how do we handle a heart problem in the church? Well, there are two common approaches, both of which have significant pitfalls.
Keep the practice, change the heart. Most things we do in church were started with good intentions. The only problem is that our heart is in the wrong place! This very well may be. Rediscovering the heart of Jesus may breathe new life into why we do the things we do. The danger here is that we can become too attached to our practices, and may not see whether they are still effective expressions of the heart of Jesus in our day and age.
Keep the heart, change the practice. The world is constantly changing, so, when we have heart problems, it’s because we’re not keeping up and doing the right things! So instead of fixing our hearts we can adjust what we do to meet the needs around us. Then a more relevant ministry will cause our hearts to be in it. This may be true, but only if our hearts are already in the right place. If our hearts have shifted away from what Jesus teaches and the practices follow suit, it doesn’t take long before the church loses Jesus entirely.
The approach Jesus recommends is the first verse quoted above.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Right heart leads to right practice. If we see a lack of conviction in the things we do in the church, the first thing we need to do is to take an honest look at our hearts to see if our motivations are aligned with Jesus’ teachings. Jesus lays out the Christian life pretty plainly, so this can be a painful process, but Jesus is always ready with forgiveness for those who repent. Then, with new eyes to “see God” in our lives and the lives of others, we can make the necessary changes to our practices as expressions of the heart of Jesus. Yes, the heart may be a tricky thing, but when our hearts are aligned with Jesus, it’s a thing of beauty… something to treasure.