There was once a preacher in Hyde Park who loudly declared ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart’
A heckler in the crowd called out ‘That’s rubbish – science has proved that the human heart is just a pump’
The preacher replied ‘Sir, are you married?’
‘Yes’, answered the heckler.
‘Then go home and tell your wife you love her with all your pump!’
When the bible speaks of ‘the heart’, it is not referring to the organ that pumps the blood around your body, but what it represented to the people who scribed the bible.
In scripture, and in other Greek and Roman literature, organs of the body had a symbolic meaning. Let me give you some examples. The liver represents courage, hence phrases like ‘lily livered or ‘yellow belly’ (in reference to jaundice and failed liver function). Blood represents the source of joyfulness. The spleen represented the source of melancholy or anger. Even phlegm represented an easy-going nature, hence the word ‘phlegmatic’ meaning ‘not excitable or overly emotional’.
But what about the heart?
This vital organ represents the human will, the choices we make, our thinking, feeling, willing ego. What motivates us to think what we think, say what we say, and do what we do.
When we consider what the heart represents, we can see that it is not perfect. Our choices are often selfish, our words and thoughts often critical, our will is often flawed, our thinking is often shallow, and our sense of self is often inflated.
Because of this, the bible says that a type of surgery is necessary to transform our hearts, to correct a deadly flaw that has been with us from birth, and to make our heart, our will, function in the way that it was made to. In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, chapter 1 verse 21 he says:
‘For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.’
What does it mean to have a ‘darkened heart?
A tourist was staying in a self-catering apartment in Northern Italy. On arrival he noticed that the floor of the apartment was dirty, so he attempted to scrub it clean. After three laboured attempts, the floor seemed no cleaner. It was only then that he realised that the floor was made of mud. To get it clean would require a completely new floor.
The truth is that our hearts are muddy. They are dark by nature, and can only be made clean by surgery. In the verse I mentioned in Romans Paul is describing a group of people that could quite easily be people in this nation today. He says that by nature their hearts were dark.
These people had spotted something in the created world around them that pointed to a god, but they didn’t know him in the intimate way that Paul describes Christians as knowing God. This wasn’t a relationship, but an awareness. It wasn’t a knowledge that changed their behaviour, attitudes, or destiny. These people still refused to acknowledge or worship God.
Knowing that there is a God is never going to be enough to bring anyone into relationship with him. Truly knowing God leads you to a place where you understand how perfect he is, how imperfect you are, and how gratefully you can respond to his message of love that he is constantly wooing you with.
The only thing that can bring light into the dark human heart is the amazing gospel, the good news that on the cross Jesus has done everything necessary to give our lives real purpose today, and a genuine reason for hope in the future. The heart surgery that God can perform in you is the most profound, most priceless gift.
Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright once wrote
‘Look into any man’s heart and you will always find, in every one, at least one black spot which he has to keep concealed.’
In Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 19 verse 8 Jesus mentions another problem with our hearts.
‘Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.’
Here we see Jesus confronting some religious teachers who were trying to trick him. Jesus said of them ‘your hearts were hard’. Without God’s intervention every human heart is hard, it’s our human-ness that decrees that.
Longfellow in his epic poem Hiawatha said ‘every human heart is human’.
That’s what makes it flawed. We are born with a human heart. We were created with a clean heart, but way back in deep history Adam’s rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden has meant that we have a genetic disposition to do wrong, to ignore God, and to go our own way.
All of us have that from the young to the old, from the saint to the shop-lifter. Charles Dickens in Barnaby Rudge wrote ‘There are strings in the human heart which had better not be vibrated’
I wonder which strings would you want to keep quiet and dampened?
Perhaps it’s the way you spoke to your spouse last night.
Perhaps it’s the debt you’ve been running up that you haven’t dealt with.
Perhaps it’s the secret habit that gets you through the challenges of life.
Or maybe it’s that feeling that someone else always seems to be more successful or popular than you and they really don’t deserve it.
These off key strings will change the whole sound of your life, both to yourself, to your family & friends, and to God. If we are honest enough to admit it, we know that there are things, as Ibsen said, that we would rather hide.
Jesus commented that it wasn’t always that way, and thankfully a way has been found for our hard human heart to be tenderised. Through accepting the forgiveness Jesus offers, those black spots and wrong notes, no longer count against us in the eyes of a pure God. Just imagine for a moment that your dark heart, your hard heart, could be transformed. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
In 2 Kings 22:19 we get an inkling of how that transformation begins.
‘Because your heart was responsive…… I have heard you, declares the Lord’
This news is a complete scandal!
Do you realise that God offers us love and acceptance no matter how bad or how good we’ve been? It seems unfair on those who try and do good all the time that they don’t clock up any more credit with God than those of us who constantly fail – but that’s the way it is!
According to this verse, all you need to do is have a responsive heart, that is ready and willing to listen to what God might say to you. You might hear about God through a friend, through a church or through reading the bible and talking with God yourself. You might even dare to let God tenderise your heart as you are reading this right now. Hear God’s voice as he speaks to you and says:
‘Come here, let me carry you for a while, you rest. Don’t worry about tomorrow, let’s make a go of today together first. And don’t worry about your past, the people who have let you down, let me worry about them, you let them go. And the mistakes that you have made are so easily forgiven as soon as you ask me. I have heard you, I know you, and I have been looking forward to this day since before the beginning of time.’
It is important that you know that you come to God not by how much you deserve it, but by how much he loves you, by grace. You will often hear people saying:
‘You know you have to try really hard to be a Christian.’ or
‘You know you have to give up smoking to be a Christian.’ or
‘You know you need to start giving to the poor to be a Christian’
I have only one thing to say to those claims. Rubbish.
Christ is the only one who can give you abundant and eternal life, not your fame or your achievements. You will be granted entrance because you accepted the free gift of eternal life – nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.
God’s promise is simple. Ask me to come in, and I will, NO MATTER WHAT.
Let that tenderise your heart.