We are familiar with the expression, ‘a broken heart’, or ‘a heart ache’, to describe the profound depth of emotions associated with longing and grief. Conversely, a young man courting a woman is said to ‘win her heart’, and those who are said to have ‘no heart’, have no sympathy. We might also say, ‘take heart’, meaning, to have courage or enthusiasm. There is its opposite as well, ’to have my heart in my mouth’, to describe being frightened. I like the expression in particular, ‘to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve’, meaning, to reveal one’s feelings or intentions.
There is a particular problem with the heart though: it can be deceitful. We are often unable to see the deeper motivations which others see in us (Jeremiah 17:9-10). God himself can see the true condition of our heart with its mixed motives and fickle commitment to him. Despite Israel’s well intentioned motives to love God wholeheartedly (there’s another use of the word!), she kept on breaking her commitment to him and took other lovers – the idols which surrounded Israel and trusted in her military alliances for protection. Her heart was deceitful; she adhered to God’s law superficially, but her heart was far from him (Isaiah 29:13). This cold hearted, superficial religious adherence, dogged Israel in the time of Jesus too, and he condemned it, quoting the Isaiah passage (Mark 7:6-7).
What is the solution then, to our tendency to be cold-hearted toward God, to call on him and use him in a time of need as a convenient prop or idol who will save us, only to ignore him until the next disaster strikes?
The solution is that God will give us a new heart, one of flesh, not stone (Jeremiah 31:33-34). This is God’s promise to us, and also a sign of the new agreement (covenant) he makes with us in Jesus Christ. It will be a different covenant from the one Israel entered into under Moses however. The Law will be written in our hearts, not on tablets of stone, like it was under Moses (2 Cor 3:3). How is this achieved? By the work of the Holy Spirit. He indwells us and changes us and takes what the Law prescribed, and outworks their values in our daily lives (2 Cor 3:17-18). We are transformed by His work, and love God ‘wholeheartedly’. The trick, like in marriage, is to daily spend some time with the one you love, and to make a determined decision not to be tempted to go after someone else.