1) People in ancient Israel thought of the heart, not as the organ that pumps blood around the body, but as the governing centre of a person’s life. It was the seat of passion and desire; the place where the conscience resides; it was the hub of emotion and the driver of moral activity.
2) While this hidden inner heart was not visible to others, it was visible and known to God. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:7)
3) The human heart is unreliable. The prophet Jeremiah lamented, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) At times we all wrestle with our heart’s desires, sometimes resisting, but at other times happy to let it deceive us and lead us where we should not go. People can convince themselves that this or that sin is okay for them, it is okay to cut this corner, it is okay to indulge in this passion, I’ll do it only once – but the heart is deceiving us, pulling the wool over our eyes, misleading us into thinking the wrong course of action is the right course of action.
The key thing to know when considering how to become wholehearted is that God cares for us and loves us. Because of God’s commitment to us we can “take heart”. Knowing his disciples would soon be tested Jesus said, In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’” (John 16:33) All that Jesus achieved on the cross, dying for us and for our salvation is a firm foundation which allows us to take heart. Elsewhere we are instructed, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) What practical steps enable us to take heart? The Psalmist tells us, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14) There are seasons in life for action and there are seasons to be still, to wait, to rest in the green pastures and quiet waters, to allow time to find rest for the soul and restoration for the heart. Restful trust is restorative. Believing in Jesus is balm for the troubled heart. He said, “‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1)
We take heart, by taking our heart to God. We invite God to take a look at our heart. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23–24) Because the heart is deceitful and at times we are fooled by it or lulled into complacency we need God to examine it for us. God gave David a reality check when he sent the prophet Nathan to exposed David’s sinful adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah. In response David prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:10–12) David was not defiant, not defensive, nor denying his wrongdoing. Rather he was contrite, repentant and seeking mercy and forgiveness. In a very real sense the Psalm gets to the heart of the matter. A heart that is weakened, undermined by unrepentent sin, cannot be wholehearted. Such a heart needs to be made pure by the forgiveness that comes from God. Search me, test me, lead me. Create, renew, restore, sustain me. Amazingly, wonderfully, God is willing to give us this radical heart surgery as we wait upon him with belief in Jesus.
We are living through troubled times, when more than ever we need to consider our hearts before the Lord. I am confident God will lead us through all this. The scriptures remind us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) All things includes COVID-19, lockdowns, supply shortages, inflation, and climate change.
Now more than at any other moment in our lifetimes we are challenged to keep believing, both in the face of the big issues facing the world and also the personal issues you alone face with your finances, your health, and your circumstances.
My heart for you and intention for our church family at this difficult time is to care for your heart and soul. As God cares for us and we care for each other our hearts can be healed, rested and restored so that we might become wholehearted in our love and service for God. I see this as a season when we need to apply the words of scripture, Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees, ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” (Hebrews 12:12–13) This is the pastoral role of a shepherd, one of the primary tasks of the eldership and it is a level of care we should be showing to each other. We cannot charge ahead denying the reality of our present circumstances. We cannot put our heads in the sand and ignore the anger, confusion and anxiety that is in our society; and is washing over us. Today is a day to put your arm around a neighbour in the community, around a sister or brother in the faith and to help each other. To do this we need to attend to the heart of the matter, to take heart and to be wholehearted in our faith.
- On a scale moving from no heart for God, through being half-hearted and ending at being wholehearted, where on that scale would you place our church family at this season of our lives? Do you think this changes from time to time, and if so why might our level of devotion fluctuate?
- Read Numbers 14:24 and 32.10-13 What do we learn from these verses about being wholehearted? What do you think wholehearted means in this context?
- What do you think about the ancient view of the heart as the governing centre of a person’s life?
- Do you find it comforting or confronting that God looks at the heart? Does knowing God sees the heart make a difference to the way you live?
- Do you think the bible is too harsh when stating the heart is deceitful? How might this link in with Paul’s views in Romans 7:15?
- Read John 16:33 & 1 Peter 5:7 What assurance do we find in these verses. Have you ever found comfort in these verses? If appropriate share this with the group.
- Read 2 Samuel 12.1-7 and Psalm 51.10-12. What are the key lessons you find in these passages? How did David respond when confronted with his sin? How might David’s response be a helpful example for us?
- Read Hebrews 12:12–13. How might we practically apply these verses in our church?
- What difference do you think it might make to the future of the church if we were wholehearted like Caleb?
Rev John Malcolm