The shape of your life will be in direct correlation to the shape of your heart.
This is the redundant and life giving message that echoes throughout all of Christian scripture, helpful and healthy theology, gospel communities, and Divine contemplation.
Oh, but much easier said than done, right? For me, it seems, I have spiritual amnesia when it comes to learning this fundamental truth.
And, yet, the more I learn about the growth and spiritual formation of my soul, it makes absolute sense.
1 Samuel 16:7 “…; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
And because “man” looks at the outward appearance – we founded our definition of what a “Christian” should be. I can’t speak for the eastern tradition, or the catholic tradition, but only for my limited protestant tradition…but if you have even the slightest experience in this tradition, you know that our preoccupation with what defines a “Christian” comes down to two things. What a person believes. And, how they behave.
Belief. And, Behavior.
So, if you believe all the right things, and behave all the right ways (or try your best) then you are a Christian.
Not…so…fast. What about the words of Jesus, “You will recognize a tree by its fruits.” And, while you could argue that both categories could be an example of fruit…isn’t it common sense that you can have your list of “right” beliefs…and “right” behavior…and still have a heart that doesn’t love. Doesn’t love their neighbor. Their sister. Their brother. Their family. Maybe even themselves…let alone God…who they can’t see.
How I wish the word “Christian” was no longer allowed to be a noun, but only a verb.
This isn’t a post about salvation, eternal destiny, or what religious team you are on, or making sure you aren’t on…
The point of this post is to ask a simple question. Those of you who…have all the “right” beliefs…and all the “right” behaviors….HOW’S IT GOING?
How’s what going? Your life. Or better, yet, your heart. How’s your heart doing? If you’re not sure, look at your fruit.
I was reading some statistic that says, 2 of the 7 billion of the world’s population claim to be Christian. Of those, almost 500 million of them are protestants.
When I read that, I said out loud, “Then why isn’t it working?” Why, even in the United States, are the states known as to be the most known for being a part of the “Bible Belt” and have the most prominent church attendance…also known for being the most racist. Take no offense, I’m sure you’re the exception. But step back …and listen to the conversations outside of your one hour of Sunday church going…and you’ll known this isn’t too far off from the truth, if not a direct bullseye.
But let’s move deeper beyond the culture of Christianity to the culture of your own heart. Is it working? You. The one that has all the “right” answers…and all the “right” behaviors. Matter of fact, your Christian resume might even rate among the highest on linkedin.
Then why are you miserable? Why does life suck for you? Why does it feel like the world is against you? Why do things never go your way? Why can’t you “make it” – whatever that is?
This “life”…so to speak …for simplicity sake…let’s say it breaks down into two categories. One, there is the life…that just happens to you. The unexpected. You get fired. A natural disaster destroys you’re home. You get cancer. A loved one dies. Unfair Suffering, if you will.
The second category, is the reaction to your action. The domino effect to whatever you have put into motion by simply being alive. The very ripple effects of a life lived from your heart. In other words, you’ve not oblivious to the fact, that your life is a mess – – and you helped make it.
Before you start to hyperventilate, let me reassure you I’m not about to skip down the path of the prosperity gospel or encourage you to buy a self-help book on the power of positive thinking.
But I will say this, your life will be seen and experienced through your heart.
Ask any marketing expert and they will tell you that people don’t make decisions based on what they think, they make decisions based on what they feel.
It’s no wonder that in the epistle to the Romans from the Apostle Paul he says…If you “believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord.” Isn’t it profound that he didn’t say “believe in your mind.”
Let’s get to the point. With a healthy heart you will see the world (ie – your life) differently than one with an unhealthy heart. With a loving heart you will see the world differently than a hateful heart.
Pour a glass of water and you will be able to see the bottom of the glass. Now put mud in there. Can you still see the bottom? A plethora of metaphors come to mind. Eye glasses, contact lenses, windshield wipers…you get the point.
How is it possible that James says, “Consider it pure joy when you face trials…”, Paul could sings songs in prison, and Peter the coward turned into Peter the brave asking to be crucified upside-down when it was his time to die? How?
Simple. Their eyes saw the world differently than you and I do. Or maybe a better way to put it is…their heart saw the world differently than you and I do. The truth of God’s love went far deeper that a set of creeds or lists of do’s and don’ts…..the truth of God’s love went much deeper…into their heart. Or better yet…changed their heart…gave them a new heart…however you want to put it.
I can’t speak for you…but getting lost in speculating sanctification isn’t always especially helpful. Much the same way, analyzing a love affair isn’t especially romantic.
What I do know is …if my heart doesn’t want God…it doesn’t matter what my doctrinal statement states. If my heart doesn’t genuinely love….then neither do I.
And when this happens…and my heart grows cold to God and His love…the hole in my heart is uncovered and I start looking for things to fill the whole. Pain. People. Food. Entertainment. Hurting people. Isolation. Distraction. Work. Achievement. Success. Making it. Competition. Climbing the corporate ladder. Alcohol. Sex. The list goes on and on and on…and works…for about a minute and half. If you’re lucky. So the more we do…the more we go…sinking in the quicksand desert of our own heart…we destroy ourselves and others all in the name of …wanting to have a pain free life…seeking to not hurt anymore…hurting people who hurt us…drowning in contempt, condemnation, and judgment of ourselves and others.
And no matter how much I believe and behave…nothing fills that hole. Nothing. At best, I have moments the false ecstasy of hope, much like putting a piece of duct tape on a hole on the side of the Titanic.
For anyone who knows some of my past writings, or my book Sinners, Saints, and The Furious Love of God…I discussed my pain and problem of forgiving my parents. I could forgive them in my head, but I didn’t know how to forgive them in my heart.
Well, by God’s grace, I’m happy to report…one day I was driving along…and seemingly out of nowhere…my heart changed. I just forgave them. I called them right then and there (separately) and told them I loved them both and forgave them. My Dad is coming to visit this summer and spend time with his Grandkids (one he’s never met)…and then he and I are going to Yosemite on a father and son trip…one we haven’t done in 25 years.
What did I do to make it happen? Absolutely nothing. My heart changed. Well, I had been doing something. I had been spending an abnormal (for me) amount of time in the presence of God through contemplative prayer. It’s a story for another blog post…or podcast…but suffice to say…I stumbled into the practice of contemplative prayer…without knowing I was. It was unintentional practice that has since become an intentional practice.
What I had accidentally stumbled onto was soaking my heart in the love of God. And he changed it. And what I’ve learned along time ago…regardless of theories of being “born again” …or a “new heart”…practically speaking…I know that my heart and desires…are very much fluid like water or pliable like miry clay. And can be hardened to God, loving people, and myself one minute and the next I’ll be doing cartwheels because I’m so excited about living in the abundant and accessible Kingdom of God. And about five minutes later I’ll go back to a hardened heart.
But therein lies the good news. I’m not the Source. I’m not the Good News. The Triune God is….Holy Daddy, Humble and Holy Spirit, and the Christ incarnated into the life and body of Jesus…is the good news.
When I get sick. I take baths. My wife never misses a chance to heckle me about this. But it’s because I have a bad back from years of pratfalls, heavy lifting, and car accidents. I’m a mess. But when I take a bath. I feel better. Much better.
I take way too many baths a day. I would take a bath every five minutes if I could. Hell, I wish I was Aquaman and I would live in the water.
And when I am truly tune into the wisdom of Psalm 46:10. It’s like I’m taking a bath. I’m not the bathtub (Prayer)…or the Hot Water (God)…but when I just take a bath in his presence…He changes my heart…and maybe…just maybe…in five minutes He will change it again…and again…and more …and more…and then tomorrow…again..and more…again…and more…
And little by little….five steps forward…six steps back…seven steps forward…three steps back…the math is different for all of us for a variety of reasons…but whatever the process is like…this truth remains: I will only make decisions based on the disposition of my heart. I will only believe and behave and love and live my life in a way that springs for fruit that one would even dare to say is “Christlike”…if God himself…the way, truth, life, and water shaper of my heart…changes me…molds me…and makes me into a reflection of his Divine Compassion…
And when (or better to say AS…because “when” implies it’s a one time even…a notion that is nothing more than a magical myth…that you make a one time decision to be a Christian…and that’s it…I’ll suddenly be able to be perfect in Christ)…he shapes me (with my participation of prayer)…I will have new eyes to see because I have a new heart…and I will see my life and world, when the worst of the worst happens…and know that there is a world beyond this world…and love beyond our love…and this will give us a greater sense that whatever chapter we are in…this is NOT the end of the story…and with this ever-changing heart…I will love in ways that I’ve never loved before…forgive those who have never forgiven me…bless those who curse…love those who hate…and maybe just maybe…one day…someone for just a moment…will confuse me for Jesus…because my love, life, heart, perspective, joy, peace, patience, kindness looks like his…and if that ever happens I’ll say…no I’m not Jesus…I’m just following in his footsteps.
Written by: The Ragamuffin Preacher