John Eldridge tells a story in one of his books about a businessman who called his daughter and asked her to join him for dinner. She was surprised but delighted. For years she had longed for a closer relationship with her father, for his interest in her.
She met him at the appointed restaurant, and almost immediately after they were seated, he pulled out his Day-Timer and began to review the goals that he had set for her that year. “I wanted to burst into tears and run out of the restaurant,” she later related.
“We don’t want to be someone’s project,” Eldridge observed, “we want to be the desire of their heart…The heart is the connecting point, the meeting place between any two people.”
I wonder if we have done the same thing at times with our relationship with God. How easy it is to spend our whole lives mastering principles, learning precepts, doing our duty, pursuing programs in the church, yet failing to develop an intimate relationship with God.
Sometimes Christians are accused of lacking heart-felt religion, due to lack of emotionalism in the worship services. While it may be true that sometimes we may fail at worshiping God “in spirit” as Jesus commanded (John 4:23-24), the issue of the heart is bigger than a charismatic display during an assembly.
In Matthew 15 Jesus responded to the Pharisee’s criticism of his disciples’ failure to engage in the ceremonial washing of hands with a scathing denunciation of their religion. They had replaced heart-felt religion with their rules, regulations and rituals. Tradition had become more important to them than truth. Oral law had superseded the law of Moses. Outward appearance was more compelling than inner devotion.
Jesus said they “transgressed the law of God because of (their) tradition.” Then he quoted the prophet Isaiah
These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”
While this passage is often quoted to condemn man-made denominational practices that ignore plain Bible teaching, it is well to remember this was directed toward God’s people then. The Jewish religious leaders. The scribes. The Pharisees. The religious conservatives.
It is possible for us to place so much emphasis on a specific order of worship, times of meeting, and the form of our outward practices that we miss the heart of the matter. Worshiping God. Serving Christ. Daily walking with the Lord.
Jesus further reminds them that the heart drives what we do, who we are, and how we live.
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matt 15:18-20)
Immorality is a problem of the heart. So is greed. Ingratitude. Lying. And lukewarm worship. That’s why the wise man counseled “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov 4:23).
Heartfelt religion is more than emotion. It involves our intellect, will, and conscience. It is thinking and feeling. It is conviction and choice. It is the whole of who we are. As Solomon said, “As he thinks in his heart so is he” (Prov 23:7).
We are all well advised to heed the words of A. W. Tozer from his book The Root of the Righteous.
“The widest thing in the universe is not space; it is the potential capacity of the human heart. Being made in the image of God, it is capable of almost unlimited extension in all directions. And one of the world’s worst tragedies is that we allow our hearts to shrink until there is room in them for little beside ourselves.”
Indeed the root of the religion of Christ ought to be rooted in our hearts.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman