How is Your Heart?
By Dr. Joe Johnson
My friend, Pastor Glen Carlson, had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart. “How is your heart, Glen?” I asked when I saw him next. After he answered, he asked me, “How is your heart, Joe?”
What a thought-provoking question! The heart is a rich biblical concept. If I wanted to use heart adjectives from the Scriptures, I would have many choices to answer his question. They describe hearts that are broken, grieved, discouraged, obstinate, proud, wicked, trembling, sorrowful, heavy, bitter, troubled, pure, loving, glad, merry, rejoicing, tender, strengthened, open, and obedient.
The Father sees the condition of our hearts. David writes that God desires a broken heart (Psalm 51:17). A broken heart has been opened up by repentance. It is plowed up so we can receive the love that God wants to pour in. So when my friend asked me, “How is your heart, Joe?” I responded, “Broken.”
The heart is the spiritual organ of volition. It is the place where we make a decision for or against God. I allude to this whenever I pray for people and ask them, “When did you give your heart to Jesus?”
Heart has to do with openness. When we say, “Have a heart!” we mean be open to me or someone else-be kind, be receptive. When we take something to heart, we receive it and take it seriously. When someone is stubborn or closed we say that person is hardhearted.
Heart has to do with depth. If we do something from our heart we do it with deepest feelings. When we give someone our heart, we give ourselves completely. Discouraging experiences can take the heart right out of us, or cause our hearts to sink into our shoes leaving us heartbroken. When we are fearful, we may lose heart. But courageous people are described as bravehearted.
Heart has to do with the center. We get to the heart, the crux of the matter. The heart is the center of a person-the true self. It is used to characterize what comes out of the deepest part of our person. For example, we describe a person without compassion as heartless. Our deepest hurts we call heartaches. If we need to speak at the most intimate level, we ask for a heart-to-heart talk. Lighthearted may be how we feel on vacation, but when we lose our passion for something, our heart is not in it. A life which doesn’t engage our heart is not worth living. Faith, hope and love issue from our heart. It is in our heart that we first hear the voice of God and it is in the heart that we come to know Him and learn to live in His love. I love to hear people in our Alpha course, which is a class for new believers, share how their experience with God moved eighteen inches from their head to their heart.
We read in Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourselves in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” In 1997 I attended a conference entitled, “Restoring Personal Wholeness through Healing Prayer,” taught by Leanne Payne. She encouraged us to ask the Holy Spirit to show us the desires of our heart. I have been doing that ever since. When Jesus invited us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread,” He was inviting us to ask for the desires of our heart.
However, we may not be in touch with our heart’s desires. The following story illustrates this sad truth. A friend of mine shared the experience of her first visit to the grocery store after separating from her husband of many years. After raising five children who now had families of their own, she had moved into an apartment by herself. When she went to the grocery store to purchase groceries, she began to cry as she realized that she did not even know what she wanted. She kept thinking of what her husband Ben would like or what her kids liked. It was unfamiliar for her to know what were the desires of her own heart.
What happens to the desires of our heart? Simone Weil was right when he said that there are only two things that pierce the human heart-beauty and affliction. We have moments we wish would last forever and moments we wish had never begun. When we go through suffering or disappointment, we may kill the desires of our hearts by making vows, like, “I will never trust” or “I will never open my heart to be hurt again.” We guard our hearts. Like my friend in the story above, we may neglect our heart in order to take care of others. Instead of going with our own desires, we may live out a script that others have written for us. Our heart’s desires need to be affirmed and encouraged by others. If this doesn’t happen we may put on false selves hoping to offer something acceptable to the world. Intimacy out of a false self is impossible. We pretend; we live out roles. One of the causes of burnout is when we live a role of what we think a wife, husband, mother, pastor or Christian is supposed to be instead of going after the desires of our hearts.
So, if I were to ask you today, “How is your heart?” what would you say?
We desperately need the Father to restore our true selves, the innermost person of the heart. Ultimately, that happens when we delight in the Father (Psalm 37:4). We let go of what might have been, should have been, could have been, and we trust the Father to show us and give us the desires of our heart.
Henri Nouwen once asked Mother Teresa for spiritual direction. She said to him, “Spend one hour each day in adoration of your Lord and never do anything you know is wrong. Follow this and you’ll be fine.” Adoring the Father fulfills the chief desire of our heart.
Dr. Joe Johnson is the senior pastor at Grace Lutheran in Show Low, AZ. He is on the Board of Lutheran Renewal, and he will be leading a workshop at our Conference in August.