Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.
Proverbs 27:19 As in water face reflects face, So a man's heart reveals the man.
When You Search for Me with all Your Heart
The title of this chapter comes from Jeremiah 29:13, where an important key is identified for the kind of close relationship most believers want to have with the Lord. In this chapter I want to identify where our connection with the Lord, our healing and therefore our preparation of heart tend to stall or get stuck, and why. There is a primary bottleneck that has to be identified and understood if we are to see widespread and thorough healing in the body of Christ. In order to present this point as clearly as possible I will use the illustration the Lord gave me while I was working with the person I first discovered these principles with, or at least came to the kind of clarity that the United Heart Illustration used in this chapter describes. We will we give this person the name Ruth—Ruth means friend or associate. This person was a friend of Jesus, not actually enjoying the friendship, though knowing all about it.
Ruth came to see me as she was finishing her master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling at a prominent Christian College. She would shortly be graduating with honors. She was very intelligent, quite motivated, a high achiever and well regarded by friends and associates in her intern program. She also was suffering from depression, which had been a recurring experience for most of her life. She was certain that her course of study in graduate school would result in her depression lifting, and in equipping her to minister to others who struggled in a similar way. Ruth, an extremely honest person, said at our first meeting that she could not understand why, with all she had learned, she still felt heavy and so distant from the Lord. It did not make any sense to her, and she had no choice but to conclude that God neither valued her, nor wanted to be with her. That conclusion added quite a bit to her depression, and was so discouraging to her that she wondered about continuing as a Christian. She said that she probably would, but that was honestly how she felt.
Ruth knew the Word of God, and she knew the psychological therapies that are designed to produce healing. She could set clear boundaries in her life, had worked through many understandings related to her background and some of the ways in which it hampered her, but she could not be peaceful with certain levels of intimacy. She was rarely aware of the presence of the Lord, and unable to stay in it when it happened. She had many acquaintances, and a growing number of ministry colleagues, but she did not feel very known by anyone and had no close friends with whom she could share her heart. It was visibly uncomfortable for her to be telling me where she was, though she knew she could count on the confidentiality that our alliance assured.
I asked her how she felt about herself, as I have noticed that depression very often has causes based in the person’s sense of their own value. She said not that good. She felt like a phony. "Here I am, supposed to be ministering to people what I don’t experience myself, or only in my head."
Ruth had grown up in a home where both parents professed to be Christians, but her father was angry and verbally abusive, and her mother, not knowing how to get him to stop, kept her distance and tried to make things okay. She felt unprotected by her mom and outraged that her dad used Scripture to justify his treatment of her and her siblings. She could not get emotional connection and security from them, but she could get practical support. Her parents had paid for her education and agreed to let her live on campus.
I said: "So, Ruth, you have everything but connection?" Her response was a very quiet and thoughtful look, followed by some anxiety. I talked to her about the need to connect with the Lord at a deeper level and find out that His valuing of her was not based on "doing" anything for Him. Her only real affirmation in life had been for her achievements, so while being valued aside from "doing" was a concept she knew about, she had no actual experience of being valued in that way, and no clue how to get there.
I described the process of connecting prayer, which would help us identify what the barriers were, and then we could work on taking them down with the Lord and allowing His comfort and cherishing to heal some of the pain in her life. She had not called it pain as much as dysfunction, which needed to be understood and changed in the expression of her own life. Comfort was a rather foreign experience for her, and she had not focused on the prevalence of it in Scripture, the way in which it describes an aspect of the character of God, or that it was an outstanding need for her. Nor did she see it as having any particular power to impact her depression. Her whole energy had been spent on trying to find the right combination to get to the Lord and accomplish a more vital relationship and union with Him. I suggested that we turn that around and spend some time letting Him join her, right where she was—to come into the midst of the depression and confusion, where His light and manner and love could help her through them. She could not relate to letting go of her efforts, feeling that if she did not make them, surely nothing would happen. Even with them, nothing happened. It depended on her, and if she did not get it to happen, no one would. That sense of how life and relationship works is understandable from her experience and a sense we all have of needing to know and figure things out, but it is definitely not the gospel—the Lord coming to get us when we are quite lost. Someone caring, knowing where she was and coming and get her was the need, but that attitude of God, though known about, was not yet an emotional reality for her. She needed help to sharpen the difference between what she thought and what she felt, as they were not at all in agreement.
We began to pray, taking the Lord seriously about His desire and intent to be with His children. Those prayers crashed into a great deal of conflict, anxiety, and just plain blocking. The emotional conflict and anxiety were due to a fear of letting anyone close. If someone were to get that close, they would be able to crush the hidden away, protected part of her heart. There was a need for connection, but a near terror of what would happen if she allowed it. The blocking appeared to be using that anxiety, adding arguments to it—arguments like: "You better not go there; you know what will happen." So there was an emotional battle due to her own hurt and pain, and there was a spiritual battle that was very invested in holding those barriers in place. I find that the spiritual battle seems to be in proportion to how much ground the enemy has comfortably worked in for years, and the threat that someone who has been successfully oppressed will turn into one with power in God, and with a clear handle on how to release others.
When I prayed against the spiritual battle, and asserted the authority of the Lord and His purposes in that place, we could get enough clearing for her to have some awareness of the Lord—out there somewhere—but she did not have a sense of what He is like or His attitude toward her. That continued for several sessions. As a result I set aside a prayer time to do what I call "digging in," praying for the Lord’s direction on how to pray and asking for a breakthrough and release from prevailing hindrances.
A Vision Describing What the Lord Sees
A little while into that prayer time I began to experience a vision. It was of two hands of light reaching toward one another. It was evident from the positioning, one hand reaching down and characterized by tremendous concern and compassion, that one hand was the Lord’s and the other was my client reaching for Him. I saw the hands coming together and clasping and was very excited, as I felt that was the Lord’s answer and promise. But I felt a check from the Lord over that interpretation and was charged to "look more closely." For one thing the vision was something I was looking up at, above my eye level. I had wondered about that, as it was very noticeable.
The Lord’s response was to remind me of the definition of heart: center of our being, including intellect, emotions, and will. I realized that the Lord was showing me that the connection was a head connection—intellectual, knowing about, while the rest of her heart was not connected. The area below that was darkened, not really impacted by the hands of light.
I asked the Lord what He was showing me in this, and began to see that the heart definition was also the order in which our connection with Him proceeds—first our mind/understanding, then our emotions, and then our will freed by mind/emotion agreeing. When the top two levels of agreement have occurred, it frees us to act—to choose with God and so follow and respond to Him. "Oh Lord," I said, as I often do when the Lord shows me something that is mind-boggling in its implications. She knew about Him and agreed intellectually. She could barely identify the extreme anxiety she had that closeness would produce further crushing, and so could not respond to His offer to join her. She was stuck at that juncture. Many people are!
As I continued to listen to the Lord and question Him about what He was showing me, I had the sense that though He cared about all the fear that was stirring around in her heart, she did not. She did not want to be bothered with that level, and was rather threatened by it. She was invested mostly in getting away from the feelings that came up when we prayed—not in listening to them and participating in getting them over to the Lord. What needed to happen was getting in touch with her heart, being honest with herself and with the Lord about what she found there. We needed to move into something more like: "I see that I am very afraid that You are going to hurt me, too, be unhappy with me and say so, and then where will I be?" She would have to accept and care about that emotional part of her heart, and participate in the healing at that level. Before she could let Him comfort her, she would have to find out if what her heart was afraid of was even true with Him. Is He anything like her father or other authority figures? She "knew" He wasn’t, but she did not yet experience the Lord as her safe refuge, though her mind affirmed Him to be.
In order to get near the pain and experience healing she needed the Lord’s comfort, but she could not allow His comfort due to the fear that He would inflict more pain. What a dilemma! It was overwhelming to me to consider how prevalent that dilemma is in the hearts of His children, and it added another huge piece to the puzzle of why such difficulty surrounds drawing near to the Lord.
As I sat contemplating these things I tried to draw the things He was showing me, which has now become an illustration describing the process of coming to heart unity with the Lord, or having our whole heart reconciled to Him. It describes three levels of unity. There is a need for us to come to unity or "one accord" within ourselves. We cannot do that by hiding, burying, or ignoring our emotions and whatever belief structures are attached to them. Those realities determine what we expect and hope for from God. We will have to be able to commune with our whole heart even to know what we have to bring for reconciling with Him. So there is the work of coming to unity within—head and heart need to agree. Secondly, there is the work of coming to unity with Him—exchanging our thoughts for His, exchanging our emotional turmoil for His truth and perspective, and therefore being freed to unite our will with His and act on what He says. The implication of a whole body of believers being united with the Lord in this wholehearted way is that we could come to the third level of unity—being in one accord corporately, in that He would be the light for all of us and we could easily defer to Him and feel no loss. The point just prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, is this place of one accord.
Acts 2:1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
We have tended to think of that as being in one accord doctrinally, or according to our understanding of the word, and these are all part of it, but there is much more to it than that! A work that will get us to wait on the Lord for over a month, spending that time regularly in prayer, involves our whole heart and a massive adjustment of priorities. Even a superficial examination of the work the Lord did in the hearts of His disciples reveals the thoroughness of preparation and healing He applied. Peter was very clear intellectually that he would follow the Lord, even to death. When he was challenged in a way he never expected to be, his heart was too afraid to profess his knowledge of Jesus—he knew where he wanted to be, but he was afraid to live there, until that part of his heart was uncovered and reconciled. It required the power of God being poured out in restoration, and a much deeper awareness for Peter about Peter and his need for God to be the One supplying strength, not Peter’s own will. We could say that he was trying to operate on the combination of his intellect and will, not even aware that emotionally there was still some work to do if he was going to be able to respond with a whole heart. It takes the Spirit of God filling all areas of our heart to truly free us. We cannot do that ourselves or demonstrate it regularly until we also learn how to move into the level of one accord to which the Lord brought His disciples.
So the Illustration goes up and down on our side indicating the need for our whole heart to be known and united within. It goes across in the sense of our heart being united with His heart, and the cross in the middle of it indicates His work of opening access to Himself, which makes the whole work of unity and reconciliation possible.
Here is the crux of what the Lord was showing me, and what this illustration reflects. We have to start with reconciling our thoughts and mind to the Lord. That is actually the easiest, if we can call any of it "easy." With that understanding we can begin to move into the deeper level of heart, which is our emotions. This is the part that most people don’t know how to do, and it is the part we least want to do. It is much more uncomfortable than thoughts, and we naturally want to avoid that discomfort and the pain or confusion that is lodged there. We have many ways of ignoring our emotions, but the way to bring peace to them is actually to reconcile them with the Lord. To do that we have to do the opposite of what we are inclined and even trained to do. We have to turn around, inquire into them, listen, get clear on what is going on at that level and get our feelings all the way over to the Lord!
The primary bottleneck that most people experience in being separated from the Lord is what is going on emotionally and the inability to consider it important enough to submit it to the Lord, where it could be exchanged and become as reconciled as their thoughts have been. In the progression of Isaiah 61, which we looked at in Chapter 4, there is a consistent focus on the emotional level of our hearts—mourning is emotional; heaviness (depression) is emotional; our struggle with the ashes in our lives is primarily emotional; shame (which the Lord says will be exchanged for double honor) is an emotional condition; getting to a place of rejoicing in our portion with God instead of being in confusion is an emotional shift. The Lord causing righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations is on the other side of these emotional realities being healed and exchanged for the legacy we have in God.
The Example of Jesus
One of the Scriptures that occurred to me in association with this vision was the Lord Jesus in the garden, praying to His Father: "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup from me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). That was the decision, but in order to come to peace with it, He wrestled through very strong and difficult emotions: "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me" (Matthew 26:38). He exhorted His disciples to watch with Him, but "When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, "Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation."
They went to sleep rather than deal with the intensity of their emotions and be able to stay with Him. I can certainly relate to that! I have gone to sleep many times when what I am getting in touch with feels overwhelming or too hard. It is one of the ways we can escape the emotional part, if we can’t leave or undertake another activity to divert from it. But fortunately, the Lord gives us another chance, and He is right there when we wake up, or awakens us Himself and invites us to continue. Three times He came back from prayer and awakened the disciples, which says to me that we don’t take in the whole message of God the first time we hear it! Moreover, if the Lord had to wrestle through His feelings about the will of His Father in order to come to peaceful reconciliation, so will we!
The Lord had (and has) a great deal of freedom and honesty in expressing His feelings. He is not an example of One who had the lid on them or ignored them. When He came to Jerusalem, He wept over the city because they would not let Him gather them under His wing, and because they did not know "the things that make for your peace!" Wept means "to sob, i.e. wail aloud" (Strong’s). Not exactly a guarded or careful expression is it? (See Luke 19:41,42 and Matthew 23:37).
In the midst of Mary and Martha and the Jews who had come to mourn with them over the death of Lazarus, the Scripture reports that Jesus "groaned in the spirit and was troubled" (John 11:33b). Verse 35 says simply, "Jesus wept." That word for "wept" means to shed tears silently, without the quality of sobbing or wailing aloud. Jesus weeps freely in both ways and not in private in either case.
In Matthew 9:36 it says: "But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were scattered, like sheep having no shepherd." Compassion means: to have the bowels yearn, i.e. (fig.) feel sympathy, inward affection (Strong’s). It is a gut wrenching inward affection and sympathy that moves one to action. I was reading Nehemiah recently, and in the commentary was struck by one of the aspects of leadership they attributed to him. It was compassion—"compassion is often the springboard of obedience to God’s will."
Nehemiah 1:3,4 And they said to me, "The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire."
So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Had Nehemiah not allowed those deep feelings, he would not have been motivated to pray and seek the Lord for four months, or to share his sorrowing heart with King Artaxerxes, when doing so could just as easily have caused his death as his aid.
In Mark 3:2-6 there is the report of the man in the synagogue on the Sabbath who had a withered hand. The Jews were watching Jesus to see if He would heal on the Sabbath. He asked them:
"Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill? But they kept silent. And when he had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.
The Lord was angry and grieved but neither of those emotions caused Him to sin (Ephesians 4:26).
Jesus was free to grieve over our condition, and also free to delight in those His Father gave Him (Matthew 11:25):
At that time Jesus answered and said, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes (the simple). Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight."
When the scribes and Pharisees brought him a woman caught in adultery, and they were full of law and fury and righteousness to stone her, He intervened with truth that caused them look at their own righteousness ("He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first."). Then He expressed compassion, tenderness, and uncompromising truth in restoring her. They were not in touch with compassion, though He had said plainly, and more than once, that He desired mercy not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7).
These Scriptures reflect the Lord’s heart, His freedom to use and express His compassion and affection, as well as anger and grief. In the tradition of man there are many admonitions against expression of emotion. However that is one of the traditions of man that cannot be substantiated scripturally or with the example of Jesus. That being the case, we shall have to reexamine our traditions, holding them up against the Word of God, so He can free the emotions He gave us to unite with Him and be the motivators they are designed to be!
Getting Down to the Emotional Level
When I am ministering to people who want a closer relationship with the Lord, the problem is rarely in their thinking. This is partly because people don’t seek help in getting through to connection until they have invested quite a bit in "knowing" God and His ways. If I were to talk to them at the beginning of their walk, reconciling the mind would be more pronounced, but that level of reconciliation is being handled in the church quite well. There are many, many means available for reconciling our thoughts, and earnest believers take advantage of them.
Invariably what I discover is that the key to what prevents deeper closeness with the Lord is found at the emotional level of our heart, and that the biggest problem is that we are not aware of it, or too dimly to act on that awareness or know how to proceed. When we begin to pray and people discover strong fears or misconceptions or protections, they are often very surprised to find them there, but on the other side of the discovery they experience something more like: "No wonder there is a struggle!"
Getting into the emotional level of our heart, and getting it over to the Lord are primary barriers to achieving intimacy with Him. That is the level where bonding happens, that is the level at which we feel secure and peaceful and loved, or anxious and uncertain and alone. We would not say that bonding with a parent is primarily intellectual, but somehow we expect that a mind bond with the Lord should be sufficient, or we think that in uniting our mind we have united our whole heart. Really, only a third of it, and that describes the incompleteness people feel in their relationship with God. In private, what people say about that condition is: "Something is missing."
Why Do We Get Stuck at the Emotional Level?
Many factors we have already discussed are part of the answer to this question. First, and perhaps chief among them is our powerful tendency to be "chiefly in the mind." This is a universal human tendency, very strong in our western culture, part of the fall and an element of our nature now. Therefore, it is normal and largely unquestioned. The misuse of mind power regarding our emotional captivity is in trying to explain, answer, fix our emotions with logic instead of investing in hearing them, encouraging them to be poured out to the Lord. They need to be reconciled, not controlled or ignored. That is the more thorough work. We are willing to do that with our thoughts, but for some reason not willing to do it with our feelings. The bottom line to this unwillingness is probably nothing more complicated than how much more uncomfortable it is to reconcile emotions—it is vulnerable, often painful, feels out of control, and for those reasons alone it is something to be avoided. Therefore, it is a rather challenging journey to go from the hidden areas of our heart to where we see David arrive:
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23,24)
"Wicked" in this verse means an idol (something we have put before God), or a way of pain or sorrow (something we have not let Him restore or reconcile to Himself). Is there anything I have before You, Lord, that I am paying more attention to than to You? Is there any way of sorrow or pain that I need to bring to you and exchange?
Secondly, there is the element of the fall that is listening to one another more than to God and taking our approval from man instead of God. When that is the case, we are afraid to let our feelings be known, as they might get us in trouble with those around us, on whom we count for approval and blessing.
Third, our way of insuring our own security tends to be hiding from. That is the way Adam and Eve dealt with their sin. They hid from God for security. It is the opposite of what the Scripture advises us to do, which is to hide in Him, where we can pour out our heart to Him.
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us Selah (Psalm 62:8)
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:5) David knew how to pour out his heart before God, being bone honest with Him emotionally, and he kept moving deeper and deeper into God, as his whole heart was being continually united to the Lord. Moses also knew this level of security and honesty with the Lord, pouring out his anxiety and helplessness to Him.
So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!" (Exodus 17:4)
The "self-control" we are charged to exercise over strong emotions is that of not pouring them out inappropriately on each other, which is likely to happen if we do not pour them out to the Lord first and come to resolution and unity with Him. Indeed, the only way we can successfully participate in the forgiveness and forbearance and compassion for one another IS to pour out our hurt and anger to the Lord, and share His heart. Else we are prone to harbor the anger, distance ourselves, blame, and slip into resentment and bitterness, feeling justified because their behavior is clearly wrong. Perhaps so, but we do not have to lose our emotional lives even if that is the case. God charges us to come to Him for comfort and restoration, so we can pour out the same kind of comfort which we have received from Him.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3,4)
Until we do this emotional work with the Lord, we will not be in a condition to extend grace from the heart. It is more natural for us to extend judgment tinged with self-righteousness, which has never been the most admirable or fruitful quality of the church.
Not being able to get our emotions and the beliefs they hold to the Lord prevents the kind of relationship in which we can receive His comfort and restoration. It also keeps us from being able to relate to one another through the grace extended to us.
These elements work in all of us to hinder the level of heart unity and preparation we need with the Lord. There is also a fourth reason for getting stuck at the emotional level of reconciling our whole heart. It is an outgrowth of these universal conditions, and unfortunately it has manifested as a prevalent teaching in the church, though it is also easy to find in the world.
The teaching, or what we might more nearly call a "theology" about feelings is that we pay no attention to them because they are not trustworthy and should not run our lives. This is true and false. They are not trustworthy as an absolute truth to count on. However, they are an honest starting point. They identify where we actually are and therefore the point from which we must proceed with the Lord. If we do not start there, we actually end up nowhere, other than mysteriously distant from the Lord. We are not in touch with what is going on emotionally, and we are not where we "should" be because what is happening emotionally is preventing the movement there. We live in a pretense that gets harder and harder to maintain, and are often puzzled about recurring physical symptoms that seem to have no clear cause or cure.
The theology and teaching go something like this: If you think the right thing, your emotions will come along like the caboose on a train. The implication is therefore that transforming our "mind" is the whole work. There are a couple of problems with this teaching. One is that it does not happen. Our feelings do not follow our thoughts in any kind of thorough way. They are very different in nature, and have to be dealt with in a way that goes with the nature of emotions. I have prayed with people who have dutifully attempted to get this teaching to work for many years (we are talking 20 to 40 years!). It never happened. The gap between their thinking/knowing and their feeling/affection simply persisted, hampering them and limiting their relationship with the Lord all that time. It also caused a feeling of failure and/or seeing oneself as a bad Christian for not being able to get it to work. When the emotional realities were addressed and reconciled directly, their awareness of the Lord and relationship with Him deepened in the way they had always hoped it would, and thought it should.
In Romans 12:2 it says, "do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." This is a strong and very clear Scripture that demonstrates scripturally the prevailing teaching, right? "Mind," nous in the Greek, means the intellect, i.e. mind (divine or human; in thought, feeling, or will)." That is the definition according to Strong’s Concordance. Vine’s says that it refers to "the seat of reflective consciousness, comprising the faculties of perception and understanding, and those of feeling, judging and determining." They both define mind as whole heart—mind, emotion and will. Though it is translated mind, it includes feelings and will. So the transforming involves our feelings as well as our thoughts.
The Scripture does not tell us to ignore our emotions or to fear them, but to pour them out to the Lord and reconcile (heighten the difference, and then change or exchange) every aspect with Him. Every time the word "heart" is used in Scripture it means all three areas of the center of our being. When the term "whole heart" is used it accentuates the fact that there are all three levels within us.
Another very powerful Scripture that is often used to verify the teaching that we pay no attention to feelings, is in Jeremiah 17:9.
and desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
Of course it goes on to say the Lord is the One who searches the heart and tests the mind of man. This Scripture IS often applied to feelings to demonstrate how untrustworthy they are, the implication being that our mind is trustworthy. That is not really what this verse says, if only from the perspective that "heart" means all three. BUT in addition to that, deceitful means fraudulent or tracked—crooked, polluted (Strong’s). Remember the definitions of "broken" hearted having to do with close associations wearing tracks or ruts in our hearts that break or crush. The result is a clogged, polluted condition which we cannot trust for true light—not until the contents are cleared, cleansed and replaced, reconciling them to the Lord (Matthew 5:8; 6:22,23). By the time that happens, we have learned to trust Him, putting no confidence in the flesh—be it mind, emotion or will (Philippians 3:3).
Similarly, "wicked" in Jeremiah 17:9 means "to be frail, feeble, or (fig.) melancholy…incurable, sick, woeful" (Strong’s). It has to do with being in a desperate condition. That is not a place one puts one’s trust. It is, however, quite a statement about our need for a Savior and how deeply that saving grace needs to be applied to our heart. Of course we don’t trust our heart in that condition. But this Scripture is generally used to demonstrate that feelings are bad, evil even, and that there is something really wrong with us if we take them seriously in any manner, even with a view to reconciling them. The acceptable approach is to ignore them completely. However, it is quite a distortion of this verse, and of accepted expository principles, to come out with that interpretation. Nevertheless, that is the impression people have, and they are trying to operate in it as though it is the means to get them where they need to be with the Lord. Tragic, to say the least!
Well, what do we do with this heart condition—frail and feeble, desperate and sick? What do we do with the fact that we are all in a similar condition, if we could acknowledge it?
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. (! Thessalonians 5:15)
We all are either currently stuck at this emotional level of our hearts and fearful of taking the lid off that territory, or we have been in the past but have found a way of recovery. There are several things to recover from even to enter this phase of reconciling the emotional part of our heart. We must get through the elements of the fall that have been reinforced for many generations; and through the teaching/theology, devised by those elements, which is still very much in authority.
Here’s what I believe the bottom line is in reconciling our emotions to the Lord. We avoid it because it is uncomfortable, vulnerable, painful, and for a time is an out of control and fearful place compared to staying "chiefly in the mind." I do not know of anyone who has experienced it any differently, and that is why we do not go there until the accommodations we make being chiefly in the mind are so miserable and incomplete that it would be better to face taking the lid off the rest of our heart than staying in that place any longer.
However, when a person gets to that point, the church needs to be ready and able to meet them there with complete provision for this part of the journey. No pat answers, or logical fix, or statement that they just need to pray more or read the Word more will suffice. Those means have ministered to their intellect, and that part of the reconciling is done or well advanced, but the emotional part is not addressed in that way, and the means for addressing that level need to be as available as those for the intellect. If they are not, the "heart failures" that have caused so many leaders to fall in recent years will continue, and the disenchantment with the body of Christ for not looking and acting more like her Lord will increase. That is one motivation for addressing this bottleneck in consecrating our whole heart to God. The other is sitting across from people for all these years, seeing the wrestling that goes on in lives without the tools to get through this bottleneck, really not even knowing it exists, or what the treasures are on the other side of this level of reconciliation with the Lord! That is heart breaking—for me, to be sure, but imagine for a moment how it must be for the Lord seeing His sons and daughters crashing into this same wall regularly, not able to find their way through, and therefore believing that He is not there and does not want to be.
What Happened to Ruth?
The perspective the Lord gave me in that vision enabled me to address Ruth quite differently. I shared the illustration with her, though not that I was praying for her when it happened. I said that we would need to slow down, get in touch with one piece at a time of the emotional turmoil, and work only with the piece her heart could currently tolerate. Also, we needed to accept the extreme discomfort, realizing that there undoubtedly were causes that matched the intensity, and to assure her heart that she was not being required or pressed to do anything that was overwhelming to her. The Lord was not rushing in. He would not do that because He is aware of the fear, why it is there, and what it will take to restore trust. He would, however, find a harmless and gentle way to make His presence known at a distance her heart could agree to, but that would still enable her to have a sense of what He is actually like. She could stay there, look at Him, ask whatever questions that go with the fears, let Him respond, and when she was ready, invite Him closer.
Guess what her response was? It was anger and impatience with her heart, with those feelings of fear and anxiety. She said she was angry at her heart for being such a wimp. Why didn’t her heart just realize that the Lord is who He says He is and get on with it?
I said, "That is the way your head does it."
That was met with frustration and a kind of disgust for having to invest in that way, and especially to take that much time to deal with things that she wanted to be on the other side of. Wasn’t there some way that she could just get on with her life?
I said, "Ruth, you will have to care about your heart, about what is going on emotionally. You are going to have to invest in a way that others did not. Who didn’t care how you felt? Who couldn’t be bothered to take the time or inquire or wait or have compassion or bring comfort?"
My question caused a deep quietness—then tears. In the subsequent weeks Ruth experienced a tremendous sadness and mourning for the loss of the kind of connection that was needed but never happened. As she could be honest about that, and kept having a growing awareness of the Lord, even at a "safe" distance, she began to see how kind and patient and gentle He was in waiting for her to be comfortable with Him. Then her heart asked for a closer place, and it was not difficult to get Him to respond. Ultimately she experienced a very close connection with the Lord, received His comfort, and, surrounded by that security and assurance, could look at many painful experiences in her life. She realized the messages that had lodged in her heart about her and her value and exchanged them for His view of her and His healing of the pain.
When I last talked to Ruth our discussion was about how she could add the kind of prayer she had experienced to her sessions in a clinical environment or a hospital setting. I could not answer that question and still cannot, because in the intervening years it has become practically illegal to pray in those environments. The real point is that this kind of healing is actually the province of the church, and that is the topic for Part IV of A Prepared Heart.
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out with joy,
And be led out with peace;
The mountains and the hills
Shall break forth into singing before you,
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree,
And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree;
And it shall be to the Lord for a name,
For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."