Bible history offers contrasts between God-seeking hearts and hard hearts. Let’s chase some heart stories here and see what we can learn.
King Saul, for one, had it all. All except a heart for God. He certainly acknowledged God. He also had a big physical presence. He was king over God’s chosen nation. But God dismissed him. David, his replacement, was a farm kid who herded sheep. He was good with music and poetry but as a young man he seemed ordinary.
What David did have was a heart for God. When Saul had one of many spiritual heart attacks God told Samuel, his prophet, it was time to find “a man after [God’s] own heart.” And that was David. But even when Samuel visited David’s home to select a king from David’s family the prophet was more impressed with Dave’s older brother. God then made a point for the ages: “man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
But what does “heart” mean? And what does God look for in hearts? Or, in our times, how do I get a heart like God’s heart if I’m not already there?
A heart for God starts with responsive love—a tenderness to God’s prior love. It’s not birthed by personal ambition or religious training. God’s preference for love has more traction among blind, lame, and weak people—people with obvious needs—than it does with strong and able folks. It’s mainly linked to sinners, not saints.
Jesus often made this point. When he was with the Bible-trained, cutting edge people of his day he wasn’t impressed. He picked fishermen rather than academics. Along with street people and tax-fiddlers. And his rebuttal to grumbles from polished folks was tough: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
On one occasion a socially established man who was hosting Jesus for lunch was offended by a low-life lady washing Jesus’ feet with her tears. Jesus responded, with his host in view: “he who is forgiven little loves little.” The woman, Jesus told him, came with “many” sins and so she “loved much.” And Jesus forgave her sins, not his.
Here’s a lesson. Righteous people tend to see Jesus as an equal. He’s righteous, and so are they—so it’s a sweet deal for both. But Jesus never goes there. In place of partnerships he wants lopsided love from people. From those who don’t bring anything except their hearts.
Even today it can be hard to hear what Jesus was saying. Partly because of the distance between then and now. The Pharisees may have been religious and shiny members of their local synagogues, but they certainly weren’t like us! We, after all, are religious and shiny members of faithful churches.
And so we miss the point that the Pharisees were Bible-devoted, morally sound, and spiritually active folks like most of us. And if they didn’t get it, we may be as dense as they were. If Jesus is simply a useful figure for our religious side of life, but not one whom we love with wholehearted devotion, we may be as self-blinded as those first century folks.
Let’s turn to another Bible example. Paul struggled to know what to do with the church he planted in Corinth. He loved them and spent many months with them, but after he left they split into competing clans. There was the “Let’s still follow Paul” group, and the “We like Apollos more than Paul!” group. That’s in 1 Corinthians. By the time we read 2 Corinthians Paul was begging them to respond to his love. The problem was heart-based. Some in Corinth were still using faulty spiritual standards by following “those who boast in outward appearance and not about what is in the heart” (5:12).
So the heart is critical. It’s the value-tender part of any soul. We always follow our heart desires. And the key question of life is, what or who do we love most? Our careers, money, security, toys, community, or family status? Or Jesus?
And that’s the truly radical message of the Bible. We were made for Jesus—to be the collective “bride of Christ”—so that for the rest of eternity we can be with him and come to know more and more of the love he has for us. It’s based on quality, not on glittery, short-term spiritual displays.
Getting back to King David. He started as a shepherd who was fiercely devoted to his sheep. And when he heard the great Shepherd call, he had ears to hear. Read, for instance, David’s Psalm 23. And, after Uriah’s horrific death, read Psalm 51. And Jesus is still in the business of calling lost sheep. Sheep who hear his voice and follow him.
Completely. No partnerships. Just those who agree that apart from Jesus we can do nothing. And with that openness as our platform we love him with whole hearts.