I have family and friends who regularly visit the cardiologist. They have A-Fib, stents, and high blood pressure. Some have had heart bypass surgery. When you get to a certain age, you are more likely to have something going on with your heart and need to keep an eye on it, hoping to prevent something serious that ends in death.
We can take that same approach to our spiritual hearts. We are called to love God with our whole heart, but sometimes those hearts aren’t working right. What if we were to do a heart check on our spiritual hearts as frequently as we might for our physical heart? Imagine the progress we could make!
How might we do that? We can start by identifying what kind of heart we have. Here are some possibilities:
Heart of a slave: A slave obeys the master because that’s what he’s supposed to do, but he doesn’t buy into the master’s plan. He may not even know what that is. If we have the heart of a slave, we serve God because we have to or out of fear of punishment. We obey out of obligation and we may fulfill that obligation with resentment. We are like the older brother of the prodigal son. He did his duty to his father, but resented the fact that he never got a party for his friends. He could not understand the joy of his brother’s return.
What’s that heart look like today? It may be someone who serves at church in some capacity, but complains a lot. Why am I always the one doing this job? Why doesn’t someone else come and help? Why doesn’t the pastor appreciate me and all that I do?
They are not serving out of a desire to do God’s will, but out of obligation, expecting something in return. They may get to a certain age and think that they’ve “done their time” of service and now they can relax. That’s the heart of a slave.
Heart of a Mercenary: Mercenaries are paid to fight someone’s battle. They are not invested in either side beyond the reward they will gain in the end. I know a 5-year old who tells me, “If you let me watch TV, I will be good.” No. I’m not rewarding you so you will be good. It doesn’t work that way.
A spiritual mercenary expects God to repay them for their good work, and that is what drives their service. In 2 Corinthians, Paul criticizes the “super-Apostles” who took money for their preaching. They were the shepherds who took care of themselves instead of caring for the sheep.
Someone with a mercenary heart thinks that if they do enough for God, He will have to let them into Heaven. They don’t realize that we cannot ever do enough to earn our way into heaven. We are the debtor that owed the king a huge sum of money and could not repay it (Matthew 18:21-35). Sometimes we might forget how much we owe God. We will always be debtors to him. He will never owe us anything. All that we receive is pure grace.
Another type of spiritual mercenary might try to bargain with God. If you do this, I’ll do that. If my husband is sick, I might bargain with God for his healing. God, if you get him through this, I promise to start going to church. It’s great if a healing leads you back to God, but that’s only the first step. You leave your mercenary heart behind when you accept God’s will, even when your prayers are not answered.
Divided heart. When Jesus said you can’t serve God and mammon, He was talking about a divided heart. Am I always doing God’s will? I would like to say yes, but I know there are times when I choose myself or something of the world rather than God. That’s when I waste time that could have been spent in prayer or spiritual reading or serving others. It’s Paul writing that he doesn’t do what he wants to do, and does what he does not want to do. It’s the people called by Jesus who said no. The rich young man who walked away sad when Jesus told him to give away everything and come follow him. Or another man called by Jesus who said to wait until he buried his father.
How often have we put off giving ourselves fully to God? St. Augustine famously said, “Lord, make me pure, but not yet!” We know we are being called, but the pull of the world is so great that we delay answering God’s call. That’s a divided heart.
Heart of stone. These people can’t hear God’s voice. They can’t see God’s miracles. They are completely closed off from the Word of God and live a life of misery, even if they are very rich. Maybe you have a family member like this. When you want to talk about God, they shut down. They don’t want to listen. When you attribute a blessing to God, they ridicule. They have complete blockage of the heart – and need a heart transplant. God can do that!
In Ezekiel 11:14-21, God says, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” That’s a beautiful promise that we can hold in our hearts when we get discouraged with the path of those we love.
Heart of flesh. The best heart. A pure heart, a clean heart, a new heart, the heart of a son and not a slave. A heart that desires God. A heart that trusts Him. A heart that wants to do His will. A heart that loves, serves, sacrifices, and surrenders. We all want to have that kind of heart. And most of us struggle with it at times. We fail because we are weak humans. It’s so easy to give in to what I want and not seek God’s will. It happens. And then I get back up. I confess my sins. I ask for the grace of a pure heart.
Every now and again we should get a spiritual heart checkup. If our heart is not healthy, there are remedies. Sometimes we need a transplant. Sometimes we need a lesser procedure like a heart cath. Sometimes we just need to take a baby aspirin each day. There is always a fix. God wants to heal our hearts. It’s up to us to allow that to happen. Maybe begin by praying Psalm 51: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
God, the Great Cardiologist, will surely heal us.
Questions for prayer:
- What type of heart have I had over the years? How did I get a stronger heart?
- What kind of treatment might help me have a strong, pure heart for God?