While our family was on a walk, my youngest daughter (then five years old), kept talking about how she had to find somebody “just like daddy” to marry. “I’m going to marry you,” Kelsey said finally, somewhat defiantly.
“I’m already married,” I protested.
“Well, Mommy will just have to find somebody else.”
Few things are as fulfilling as when a loved one declares their love and devotion. It’s overwhelming to consider that we can stir God’s heart just as Kelsey stirred mine. In fact, to do so is our place as His children.
The “horror of horrors” in Scripture is a hard heart. In Mark 3:5 we read that Jesus was “grieved” over the Pharisees’ “hardness of heart” (NRSV). We are told that, of all things, “Do not harden your hearts.”[i]
What is a hardened heart? It is a heart that has stopped feeling, a heart that is dead toward God, a heart that feels no passion—and so it evokes no obedience to His commands.
What will help us obey God’s commands is an engaged heart, a heart that is enlarging in love, a heart that feels new things, and feels them more deeply than it did before.
“I will run in the way of Your commandments, when You enlarge my heart.”[ii]
Engaging or enlarging my heart to do the best for God and other people doesn’t come easily to me. I grew up with a theological, intellectual bent and, like many Western Christians, I cultivated a rather “disembodied” faith. I largely worship God in spite of my body rather than incorporating it (beyond occasionally lifting my hands or kneeling in prayer). God has challenged me in this, sometimes even providing experiences that don’t quite make sense to me.
There was a time in my life when my heart had grown hard. There were sins—always repented of, certainly, but not always put to death. In fact, I drifted more than just a little while, and the drift carried me for a few years. Finally, I decided to take a major step to end it. I sat down with another Christian and had a heart-to-heart. I’ve often found that confession does wonders for helping me address my faults more seriously.
The next Sunday, I was worshiping at church. At the time, we were still living in Virginia, where we attended a charismatic Episcopalian congregation, and as we moved from one point in the liturgy and began singing a chorus, I lifted my hands and felt a kind of burning in my physical being. As the iciness moved out of my soul, a new excitement surged through my body as well.
I had experienced this intensity years before, and it brought me to tears to have God acknowledge my desire to once again be completely, unreservedly His.
Christianity requires a tough fight. A tough, tough fight. It is a dangerous sidetrack to seek emotionalism in worship, or to seek physical phenomena. But we need every weapon that God will give us, and a heart that is passionately engaged with God and His children is a powerful weapon. Don’t fear the full range of human experience.[iii]
Do you want to become holy? Then open your heart and learn to feel deeply. Ask God for the virtue of passionate love.
Taken from The Glorious Pursuit: Becoming Who God Created Us to Be by Gary Thomas. Copyright © 1998, 2020. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
[i] Hebrews 3:8, NKJV.
[ii] Psalm 119:32, ESV, emphasis added.
[iii] No one that I know of has written so capably about this as has Jonathan Edwards in his book, Religious Affections. If this has been a weak area in your life, I highly recommend Edwards’ book as a follow-up.