Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8), so how do we get our hearts in that condition?
I once heard a missionary from Russia tell this story.
There was a little village in a remote area, far away from major cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg. The surrounding land was all farms, and the locals specialized in growing pumpkins and squash.
One day the villagers noticed that the river through their town was changing. The water was becoming warm. When the women from the town went down and bathed, they noticed that their hair was silky and softer afterward. Farmers were finding that their plants were growing larger and the produce was bigger than ever.
Everyone thought it was wonderful. At least, they did until the squash began to grow into odd shapes, people began to get sick, and the women’s lovely, soft hair began to all fall out.
A few people managed to move away, but soon the village was empty, marked only by graves, wild pumpkin plants and the strangely warm river.
Several miles upstream, a group of workers came every couple months with giant trucks. Each was filled with barrels of radioactive waste from a nuclear power plant, and the men in their protective rubber suits carefully buried the barrels. Afterward, they all rinsed off their suits and trucks in the nearby river and drove away.
All the major cities were far away. No one would notice, except one missionary who traveled to a remote village where he had once preached and discovered that everyone was dead or gone.
Why Does the Heart Matter?
The Bible has surprisingly strong words concerning our hearts and their state. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, ESV).
Why all the fuss and bother over our hearts? Well, like it or not, our fears and desires deeply affect our thoughts and choices. If that fertile bed of life-impacting emotion is left uncultivated, then past pain and sinful wants will happily grow rampant in the place of good, spiritual fruit. Even as a believer who’s aware of this, combating it can be a challenging task.
“Satan cleverly goads Christians into being more sensitive to their emotions than they are to the voice of the Spirit. Do you have hard feelings smoldering in your heart?” David Wilkerson asked pointedly in a sermon.
“Do not look upon it as something you have a right to indulge. God takes such things very seriously and all the discord and friction among Christian brothers and sisters must grieve his heart more than all the sins of the ungodly. If you think your prayers might be hindered, be sure you are not smoldering over your hurt feelings or mistreatment from others. This can lead to a spirit of revenge when there should be a spirit of forgiveness and love.
“Yes, even those who have hurt you the most deserve forgiveness in the name of Jesus.”
Our hearts drive our actions and thoughts like the steering wheel of a moving car. If it’s pointed in the wrong direction, then we’re about to end up in world of hurt or trouble or both.
Jesus taught his disciples that “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
In the Psalms, David recognized that only God can guarantee that good treasure in the heart, crying out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
Over and over, the Bible talks about the importance of a pure heart, otherwise it poisons everything else in our lives. Even if we feel like unhealthy emotions are justified or we enjoy them — who doesn’t like winning a heated argument? — God relentlessly requires us to submit our hearts to him because only he can purify the radioactive waste contaminating our source of life.
What if My Heart Gets Hurt?
If protecting the heart is so important, avoiding anything and everyone who threatens to hurt us or ‘pollute’ our lives seems like the best course of action. We didn’t get a choice in this as a child, but as an adult, we’re more or less free to shut out anyone who seems potentially dangerous to our feelings.
Unfortunately, Jesus throws a monkey wrench into this perfectly good plan when he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:43-46, ESV).
We’re supposed to guard our hearts as the wellsprings of our lives, so why would God give us this command? Why can’t we cut painful, annoying people out?
In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.
“If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
“The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell….
“We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.”
In the end, we’re called to be careful what we allow into our hearts, to seek God constantly so he can purify our hearts and to love others even when they’re difficult and painful.
How Will My Heart Heal?
As C.S. Lewis aptly points out, God doesn’t give us this command without also giving us the strength to carry it out. When we are hurt by the people we love, we can offer up that suffering to God.
Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, “There is a little tree planted on a little hill of Calvary…. it’s the telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking forth into time. It is an eternal reminder to a power-drunk generation that love is the only way.
“So, this morning as I look into your eyes and into the eyes of all my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you, I love you. I would rather die than hate you. And I'm foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love of Jesus Christ, somewhere men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed.
“Then we will have from on high, the power to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to even decide to be good to those people who hate us, and we even prayed for those persons who despitefully used us.”
We must go back to the source of living water. We must ask him to refresh this fountain of life that he has put inside our hearts.
Then and only then will we have to power to love, be hurt, heal and love again.