I felt unwell recently and took myself to the doctor. They are doing tests to check my heart is ok. I’m glad about that – would rather they check and find out than not. No one wants an untreated heart issue.
And that’s what I want to talk about today.
I’m not overly concerned about the tests. But I’m concerned we attend to the heart. This is a totally unashamed way in to talk about the real stuff of life – not our physical hearts, as important as they are, but what is going on in the essence of our own lives – at the heart of things.
You see, I think it is perfectly possible to perform all the squeeky clean duties of a religious/spiritual person but to remain cut of from the heart of our own lives and the challenges that our own hearts are either decieving us with or presenting to us if we’d listen.
A few months ago I sat for a long time and listened to a young man in a cafe. I didn’t know him, but he shared with me the innards of his life (I have that effect on people at times!). His opening gambit was ‘I am lonely.’ He talked about his behaviours towards his friends, how manipulative he was being, how much he wanted to control them, get back at them for hurting him, and how his behaviour was becoming addictive because he enjoyed the power over people that he could exercise. He says he was a Christian and went to such and such a church, involved in various ministries and stuff. He was performing perfectly…but there was rot at the very heart of his being that he wasn’t letting Christ the Liberator near. He was a deciever…of others, and of himself, but not God.
And, God went to the trouble of engineering a chat with him and me. For him, the good news of Jesus wasn’t ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’ however true that is. The good news for him was attached to the bad news…you’re a liar, a deciever, and there is no truth in you …but, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit who will come and lead you into all truth (Jn 16: 13) if you forsake your sinful patterns of behaviour. Freedom is possible.
The key to opening this up was to ask ‘and is this behaviour really serving you well?’ – to which he confessed that he knew that he was hurting himself and others, that he needed help and that he needed to reevaluate the kind of religious system of thinking that meant he could happily continue to behave in this fashion. He didn’t need me to ‘convict him’ at all…the Holy Spirit was already doing that, I just happened to agree with the Holy Spirit!
And so to my point: the gospel is not good advice. The gospel is the arrow to the heart of the soul in order for transformation to be made possible. But, if we treat the gospel as a plaster and hope for some mystical healing whilst we cover everything up to look respectable, we’ve missed the point entirely. And, if we don’t deal with the heart issues in our conversations, preaching, ‘evangelism’, pastoral work or anything else, we’re not doing the Holy Spirit any favours.
If the Holy Spirit is bringing a person to the point of some sort of conviction for real and needed change, but all we can do is offer them a verbal plaster and our own shallow avoidance, we’re in real danger of undoing the Spirit’s work. Not a great place to be!
If we are to be agents of transformation we kinda need to create the environments where our own openness, honesty and vulnerability make it possible for others to access their own stuff. We need to speak about the real ways in which God is tending to our own hearts and the ways in which he’s done so in the past in order to circumvent the ‘head’ – which just wants to argue, defend and deflect.
I think we need to turn our attention to the heart. If your heart is diseased, it isn’t going to turn out well. But, God is in the heart business!
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36: 26
Let’s give those arteries some attention!