Publication: Pastoral Letter, February 2005
Dear Friend in Christ:
Recently, I did a Bible Study on the word “heart.” I was impressed by the many hundreds of references and the biblical significance of the word. In this letter I want to express some of the vital truth regarding that topic and use some personal history to illustrate the biblical teaching.
Jesus comes from, and represents, the very heart of God to us. The book of Colossians tells us that Jesus is “the fullness of God.” The Apostle John tells us that Jesus is the “Eternal Word of God,” and “Word made flesh.” Numerous texts reveal Him as the expression of God’s heart…. “full of grace and truth.”
We use the word heart in two primary ways: The physical organ that pumps blood throughout our bodies, and also as the center or core of something. Spiritually speaking, it is the source of one’s motivation and action. Everything proceeds from the heart.
When Jesus was only a few days old, Mary and Joseph brought Him to the temple to observe the laws of purification and to dedicate Him to the Lord. At the temple, there was an old priest named Simeon, who had received a promise from God: “You will not die until you see Messiah.”
Simeon had looked with great intensity for the promised day when he would see that unique baby. He had for many years held newborns, looking into their faces and listening for the Holy Spirit’s response. Each time, the Lord said, “No, this is not the one.”
However, on this special day, as the young couple from Nazareth handed him their child, he experienced the power and confirmation of the Holy Spirit and began to exclaim in prayer, “Now, you are letting your servant depart in peace!”
Simeon continued his prophetic prayer. In this child, he saw God’s salvation, light to the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel. Then, he prophesied to the young parents that this baby was destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, a sign to be spoken against, and that a sword would pierce their soul in order that the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed.
Mary and Joseph stood there amazed. They had also heard from the Holy Spirit and angels regarding this child. Shepherds had confirmed what they had heard. Now, there in the temple, this old priest was confirming those words and more.
Today, 2000 years later, I also am amazed, as I review his profound accuracy. Each phrase deserves examination. But in this brief space I want us to look at the last phrase: Jesus would be a “Revealer of hearts.” The expression of God’s heart would reveal human hearts.
You could say that Jesus came to earth because humanity had “heart trouble,” both physical and spiritual. I have had both kinds. I inherited a cholesterol problem, and enhanced it by the way that I lived. At one point, my cholesterol number was over 300, but I paid little attention to it. Finally, my heart was so “clogged” that I only had a 10% blood supply. Then I had three excruciating episodes. The pain was unbearable.
I had another problem: denial. I wanted to believe that my pain was due to indigestion, reflux, gall bladder, or anything but heart trouble. But I could say with David in Psalm 55:4, “My heart severely pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.” Several doctors told me after a variety of tests, “I think it is your heart.” Often we seek affirmation when it is only the truth that can save us.
The world has heart trouble. We are born with death in our genes. Jeremiah said, “The heart is desperately wicked, and deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Our origins and motivations are flawed from the very outset of conception. This assessment disturbs our secular and liberal friends. They want to believe that it is anything but spiritual. They claim it is education, economics, psychological, or maybe environmental. They are in denial.
Many years ago I had a serious discussion with a friend who came to believe (temporarily) that man was born morally neutral and only later made wrong choices. We talked until 2:00 AM about this vital issue. “Do you believe that all have sinned? I asked. Being a Bible believer, he replied, “yes.” (He knew Romans 3:23.)
Then, I continued: “If all have…then something is wrong with all. If every product from a particular factory was flawed, then I would conclude that there was a problem at the factory…at conception.” He finally agreed. But secularists have not agreed nor have many Christians. But diagnosis is essential to a cure.
Thank God my particular heart problem was diagnosed. Diagnosis is not criticism and condemnation, it is salvation. I failed a stress test, endured a heart cath, and went straight to open heart surgery_“The Grand Opening.” I received a quadruple by-pass. Thank God, I have enjoyed good health since then. I did not have a heart attack then (which would have killed me) and have passed a recent stress test_in fine fashion.
David said, “You desire truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6). He also said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23). The entire Psalm 51 describes “spiritual open-heart surgery.” Heart surgery can be painful; so can repentance and confession. But, such an experience is life-saving.
The cardiologist and surgeons were not trying to harm my self-esteem or criticize me. If we applied our psychological attitudes to medicine, we would die. Looking for doctors, ministers, or friends who only affirm us is a recipe for flattery, deception, and eventual collision with reality. The blockage to life flow must be seen and dealt with. That blockage…unforgiveness, guilt, rejection, moral problems, or whatever…will kill you physically and spiritually.
After we are addressed by the Lord…or by doctors…we still have to go back and face the very same issues that got us in trouble in the first place-old habits. Change is difficult. However, the trauma of surgery or repentance can be a powerful motivator. Here are some natural and spiritual changes that can prolong life and assist heart health.
Heart focus. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” The heart cannot be taken for granted; it must be tended daily. Keep it like a gardensome things are kept out, others are kept in. Philippians 4 is a great chapter to describe what should be kept out and what should be kept in. (See also Psalm 119:11).
Peace. The angels said “peace;” Jesus greeted with “peace.” The Jewish greeting is “peace”: The apostles’ greeting was “peace.” God is the God of peace; His Kingdom produces peace; the fruit of the spirit is peace; and on it goes. Peace is essential to to the heart. Peace is not circumstantial. It is from God’s house to ours
Joy. Proverbs 17:22 declares that a merry heart is like a medicine. Notice, the joy is in the heart. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Psalm 126:5-6 speaks of reaping in joy and our mouths being filled with laughter and joyful shouting. Again, the kingdom of God is joy in the Holy Spirit. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit…like peace, it is not circumstantial or external; and it is in the heart and it is healthy. Avoid depressing thoughts. Fellowship with joyful people.
Exercise. The only exercise some people get is jumping to conclusions. Stretch your faith and endurance. With God’s help, you can do more than you think you can. But it takes effort and consistent action. Spiritual muscles, like physical ones, will atrophy if not used. The heart is a muscle.
Regular check-ups. My cardiologist likes to see me twice a year. One of those is a treadmill stress test. That may be enough for my physical check-ups, but not for my spiritual heart. Spiritually, I need to be open to God moment by moment, day by day. David said, “Early will I seek thee” (Psalm 63:1). But I don’t want to make it sound as if fellowship with God is like a trip to the doctor; talking and listening to God is actually a visit with my friend, who also happens to be my physician. Fellowship with the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit-and fellowship
with one another in His presence-is cleansing to the heart. And, the blood of Jesus Christ
cleanses us in fellowship.
REVEALING THE HEART
I am amazed at Jesus and the prophecy of Simeon. Jesus, more than any other person in history, has caused humanity to reveal its heart. It has not been pretty. The depravity possibilities are sad and often gruesome.
However, He not only reveals the heart; He can give us new hearts and renew a right spirit within us. If we can acknowledge our need and let Him open our hearts, He will remove the blockage_even conditions that we had not seen in ourselves. And He will heal us and renew the promise of life. Great outpourings of the Holy Spirit have happened when people have opened their hearts to Him. May it be so again.
Scripture Reference: Colossians, John, Psalms, Jeremiah, Romans, Proverbs