By Shannon Youell
“We live from our heart.”
This phrase from Dallas Willard’s epic Renovation of the Heart, gripped my heart like winter’s icy grasp as I huddled under my beach towel on a rain-drenched beach in Kauai.
If I live from my heart, if we live from our hearts, what does how we live, act, interact, think, obsess over things, say about my heart? About your heart?
Paul prays that believers would “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, (so) that they may be filled with all the fullness of God. ”
Peter writes about “how those who love and trust Jesus “rejoice with indescribable joy” (1 Peter 1:8 NRSV), with “genuine mutual love” pouring from their hearts (1:22), ridding themselves of “all malice, and all guile, insincerity, and all slander” (2:1 NRSV), silencing the scoffers at the Way of Christ by simply doing what is righ t (2:15), and casting all their anxieties upon God because he cares for us (5:7).”
“Our life and how we find (view) the world now and in the future is, almost totally, a simple result of what we have become in the depths of our being–in our spirit, will, or heart.”
“The greatest need you and I have–the greatest need of collective humanity–is renovation of our heart. That spiritual place within us from which outlook, choices and actions come has been formed by a world away from God. Now it must be transformed.”
What is in our hearts, the things that motivate us, propel us, fill up our head space, cause us our deepest consternation and confusion, matters more than anything else we can do, say or display to this world.
So much of Jesus’ teaching, His discipleship, focused around the hearts of His hearers. He was constantly challenging their thinking to move from matters of the law to matters of the heart. Why? Because when our motivations come from keeping the law, but our own hearts are corrupt and compromised, we engage the world from a position of self-righteousness and judgement, rather than from the place of loving God and others as we (should) love self.
Living from the law, even the law of grace, without the transformation of our hearts to love what God loves, leaves a trail of broken relationships with others rather than a path of reconciliation that restores relationships to God, to others and, yes, even with ourselves.
As we wrestle with engaging as missional disciples in our current cultural landscape, we must be asking ourselves where our heart is towards those to whom we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors. If our hearts are already biased towards people or particular groups of people, this will be evident in our engagement (or lack of engagement) with them. We approach them from a position of self-righteousness (I am not like you) and judgment (as though I am without my own rebellion and sin towards God, Jesus’ teaching, and others), and it is evident. We present as confrontational, even in our best intentions, because we do not first love others with God’s love through Christ.
As I have reflected on my own attitudes and actions to those around me and those I cross paths with, I have found myself thinking about Jesus’ encounter with the expert of the law in Luke 10:25-28:
He asked Jesus what was necessary to inherit eternal life (meaning life with God both now and into all eternity). Jesus asked him what is written in the Law and how he interprets it. The expert answered with the Shema and the Leviticus add-on of loving neighbour as self. “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Here we find a neatly tied bow called “matters of the heart.”
The question was asked by someone who had long gone to Saturday school as a child, knew and could recite parts or all the Torah, did all the “right” things in giving to the needy, praying and fasting. He was faithful to attend services and other community gatherings. He even answered his own question very correctly (marrying the Leviticus verse about loving neighbour with the Shema).
Jesus commends him that he knows this and then challenges him with the ouch factor: Now go and do it. That is how we find ourselves in the midst of the kingdom of God both in our present circumstances and lives and throughout eternity!
So why is it so hard for us sometimes to love others, especially those who we perceive as difficult or unreasonable, or who’s opinions grate on our nerves? What is it in my heart, in your heart that we are “living from” when we dismiss, ignore, condemn and judge others?
Dallas Willard suggests that it comes to a common mistake that Christians fall into:
(We)…. “assume that we are supposed to do all the glowing things mentioned in such passages (of godly living) without loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. In fact, (we) think we must do them while our heart, soul, mind, and strength are still strongly inclined in the opposite direction, against God.”
Willard’s premise is, of course, that if we ourselves are not continually in the process of being spiritually transformed daily, then we attempt to do great things for Jesus while disliking or even hating what God so loves.
It may seem a fine line to some, but for me, as I have pondered on this, it is exactly what the early church wrested with in the discourse around faith and works. If our works are lacking daily transformation of our own hearts conformed more and more to God’s heart and what he loves, then we are trying to do things ourselves, though, as James wrote, if our faith is lacking works, it also speaks of the degree of transformation we ourselves have allowed in our own hearts.
As I continue to work my way through Willard’s book, I am being struck time and again with how he hits the nail on the head when it comes to our own underestimated self-righteousness and God’s call on our lives, as witnesses of His great love, to live from a heart transformed continually by Christ our Lord and our Savior.
As Jesus commends, when we begin with loving God with all our heart and all our mind and all our strength and souls and love our neighbours as we have (proper) love for selves, we will find, as Peter states, that scoffers will be silenced. If we live, act, speak, behave and love from a heart transformed rather than from matters of the law, we will see the presence of kingdom among us ripe for harvest right where we live, work, play and pray.
What a way to be distinguishable to the world with Christ’s message of hope! As we walk through this Holy Week, finding ourselves living into the story as it unfolds, let us remember Jesus our Christ, who pours out His love for us while we were (are) still sinners in rebellion in our own hearts. Jesus’ life poured out for all is an indicator of Himself living from His heart, the very heart of God.
All quotes from Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (Navpress: 2012).