Mother Teresa once said, Listen in silence because if your heart is full of other things, you cannot hear the voice of God. Watching the snow fall on the frozen creek outside my window, I sit in silence, listening but hearing nothing. I turn to the book of Joel and linger there.
Give me your hearts, the prophet writes. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.
Garment-rending is a foreign concept to us, but it was a common and well-understood sign of deep sorrow in ancient times. Patriarchs, kings, queens, prophets, and people from all walks of life shredded their garments to express profound grief, lamentation, loss, fear, distress, despair, repentance, horror, or dismay. As dramatic and costly an act as this was, God is saying it’s not enough. He wants much more.
If I tear open my heart, I expose my innermost being to the One I most want to hide from. I wonder what my heart contains that is taking up space that rightly belongs to God? What will spill out that I don’t want to see?
The prophet Jeremiah writes: The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?
But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. In Mark’s gospel, we read that out of a person’s heart come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.
And this is the shortlist. Self-doubt, self-love, self-loathing, self-interest, self-pity, and self-righteousness come to mind. Add to this all manner of cravings and covetings, idolatries and ambitions, anger and regrets, bitterness and unforgiveness, mockeries and contempt.
Jesus tells us that it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. What we say flows directly from what is in our hearts. This is something to give serious thought to in our current culture of contempt. If the insulting, disrespectful, self-righteous, mocking language that has become the accepted norm is this ugly – what must our hearts look like? And what must God think?
But it’s not my job, nor is it possible, to look into the heart of another. As I look at the list above, I have my hands full with my own sinful heart. What is self-doubt other than lack of dependence on and trust in God? Where are my hidden idols? What about the painful regrets I cling to and the self-loathing that slithers out every so often? How much space belonging to God have I cluttered with distractions and vain arguments, useless illusions, and pointless issues? Is it any wonder we can’t hear his voice at times?
As God looks on my torn heart, my prayer is that he will reveal me to myself and lead me into a real sense of grief, lamentation, and repentance. Because this is what he desires – the sacrifice of a broken spirit and a broken, repentant heart.
Move your heart closer and closer to God, and he will come even closer to you. James 4:8
Jeremiah 17:9-10; Mark 7:21-22;Luke 6:45;Psalms 51:17; Psalms 51:10-13