Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All

Understanding With Your Heart

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“‘Let anyone with ears listen!’ Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand. With them indeed is fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah that says:
You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn –
and I would heal them.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.'” (Matthew 13:9-16, NRSV)

I conceived this post as a sequel to my posts, “Why Is God Hidden?” of 5/20/14 and “Addendum to Why Is God Hidden?” of 5/24/14. I chose the tongue in cheek title, “Why Is God Hidden? – Part Zwanzig”. Instead, I will let you make the connections, while I make a fresh start.

Jesus ended the Parable of the Four Soils with words he frequently used: “Let anyone with ears listen!” He sought openness and receptivity in his listeners (those are the qualities that attracted the “more” and the “abundance” of knowledge in Jesus’ teaching). Jesus told parables to discover to his hearers their receptivity or lack thereof, and to awaken desire for God. C.S. Lewis wrote of using imaginative literature to get past “the watchful dragons” that seek to guard against God and the undermining of the self-centered heart. Jesus’ parables rarely even mention God. To those who heard them, at first, they seemed to be safe stories about a woman losing a coin or a man stumbling on a treasure, but not about God or the hearer. As the listener walks away, suddenly a bomb goes off in her heart and an abyss opens at her feet, and she realizes the stories are about God and about her!

Jesus explained in the above scripture text, that his parables also reveal those whose “heart has grown dull” and who have “shut their eyes”. To understand spiritual truth, one must first want to see and hear and understand. One might say that intent precedes content. Do you really want to know truth and are you willing to shape your life by truth? Jesus insisted that one must have childlike openness and humility to enter the kingdom of God:

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14b-15, NRSV)


Let me remind the reader that I use the word, ‘heart’, roughly the way that Dallas Willard does in his very helpful book, “Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ” (2002). The heart, in distinction from the soul, the body, the mind and the emotions, is synonymous with the spirit and the will. The heart is the decider. Taking input from the mind, the body, the emotions, the external world, social relationships and the spiritual world, the heart makes choices and sets the fundamental direction and orientation for a human life.

Your heart, your intention, your will should be to understand and believe truth. Your mind, emotions, soul, are designed to detect truth. Your heart/will is to keep you oriented toward truth, toward the Son, like my bamboo plant in the kitchen turns to face the sun. Willingness, openness, desire, precede knowledge, and then, you understand or stand under, submit to truth. Once the choice is made, the heart helps us to stay turned toward reality/truth. The 19th century Scottish fantasy writer George MacDonald wrote, “To give him truth who loves it not, is to give him plenty of reasons for misinterpretation.” Intent precedes content. Humility and an honest heart are necessary for understanding God’s revelation to you rightly.

Jack Lewis, the Balding Bible Study Dag (BBSD), awoke this morning to his morning routines. They include dancing (!) under the bed, while Terry helps me get ready for the day (I am getting closer to the day when I will have recovered enough from my foot surgery and will not need Terry’s help in this way), and then when Terry leaves the room, Jack enjoys an invigorating game of what I call “the predator game”, just ‘like the next bloke’. The game involves me moving my hands quickly (!) around the BBSD’s head while he snaps his teeth at them. Sometimes I am quicker and sometimes I become painfully aware that Jack Lewis has added to his skills, even over night. We all need some routines and assumptions, or the need to make thousands of choices everyday about trivial actions would paralyze us.

Here is the interesting part of the story. To get on the bed to play the predator game, the BBSD must propel himself almost straight up since there is almost no ‘runway’. Jack Lewis hesitates, makes some false starts, worries about whether he has enough room, tries to visualize success, and looks to me for encouragement, before finally, propulsion and altitude are achieved. Jack’s desire must become strong enough and his intention definite enough before he can become airborne.

To understand, to stand under, truth/revelation we must have a strong desire to know God and his will and make a definite choice to follow truth wherever it leads us. We need a good and open and discerning heart. We need a healthy heart, working as it was created to work. We need a surrendered heart. Half-hearted surrenders make our hearts unreliable and introduce into our lives a false note, a shiftiness, a growing lack of honesty. Further, an incompletely surrendered heart will never be able to escape the specter of doubt. C.S. Lewis asked will you be “a man or a rabbit”?

Our hearts can grow “dull”, as Jesus says in our opening text, so that we shut our eyes and fail to hear, as we seek to avoid God’s claim on our lives. The 16th century Reformer in Geneva, John Calvin (1509-1564), had this motto: “God, here is my heart; I give it to Thee promptly and sincerely.” You may have seen Calvin’s symbol on a Presbyterian pulpit, perhaps where especially the preacher can see it: a hand holding out a heart with flames above the heart, a heart aflame. What if our hearts were so surrendered to God that in every moment, we promptly surrendered control of our heart to God in response to his every desire? And so, our hearts were always turned toward God, like a compass needle always points North?

A heart can become “sick” from simply being frustrated over and over and waiting a long time for it’s godly object: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Prov. 13:12, NRSV) God, in the Bible, often complains that his people have hard hearts, that is, they are insensitive and unresponsive. Notice in these verses that hardness of heart is associated with willfully not hearing, and therefore not understanding, like in Jesus’ instruction about parables:

After the plague of frogs, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart, and would not listen to them, just as the LORD said.” (Ex. 6:15, NRSV)
After the plague of gnats, “But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD said.” (Ex. 6:19b&c, NRSV)
After the plague of boils, “The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.” (Ex. 9:12, NRSV)
After Moses warned Pharaoh of the plague of the killing of the firstborn, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, in order that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’ Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened his heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.” (Ex 11:9-10, NRSV)
Over 1,500 years later Christians were warned, “And it is said, ‘Today if you hear [God’s] voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.'” (Hebrews 3:15, NRSV)
And finally, Christians were warned, “…[God] sets a certain day – ‘today’ – saying through David much later, in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.'” (Hebrews 4:7, NRSV)

“Today, if you hear [God’s] voice…”, not later, or as Calvin said, “promptly”, respond sensitively to God’s every desire: offer your heart!
“Today, if you hear [God’s] voice…”, “do not harden your hearts”!
Or more vividly, God speaks through Ezekiel of a “heart of stone”. As Bob Dylan sardonically sang in the song “Property of Jesus” on the album, “Shot of Love” (1981): “He’s the property of Jesus, resent him to the bone; but you’ve got something better, you’ve got a heart of stone…” Just as we don’t want hard arteries in our physical body, we don’t want our will/spirit/heart to be hard. But for us hardhearted disciples, these are hopeful words indeed: “A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27, NRSV)

childlike faith1

Sometimes we can sense an incongruity between someone’s outward demeanor and the words they say, on the one hand, and where their heart is taking them, on the other: “Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are smooth lips with an evil heart.” (Prov. 26:23, NRSV) This is another way of saying that someone with a delightful way of speaking but an insensitive, hard or misdirected heart or otherwise disordered heart, is not to be trusted. And yet we shape each other, heart to heart, for good or evil: “Just as water reflects the face, so one human heart reflects the other.” (Prove. 27:19, NRSV) How important it is that one’s heart is directed toward life in God/Christ and that it is continuously sensitive to God and is “promptly” and “sincerely”, moment by moment, offering the whole person to God! “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:21, NRSV)

Is there a knowledge that is appropriate to the heart? Yes, if the heart is receiving good input from the soul, body, spiritual world, etc., and it is a healthy heart (open, childlike, desiring to know and do truth). The heart knows what to choose (copywrite, 2014, Zachary Bright, lolstc). This is the heart that is turned toward Jesus and is listening to him and is filled and saturated with the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit/the Living Water is flowing out of her or him to others:

“[Jesus]…cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart [Gk out of his belly) shall flow rivers of living water.”‘ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive…” (John 7:37b-39a, NRSV)

woman prause2

This post was powered by the following high octane tunage: the CD, “Silence Worth Breaking” (2011) by Brooke Annibale; the songs, “Lifeline” and “Mystery” on the CD, “What to Do With Daylight” (2004) by Brooke Fraser, and the CDs, “Albertine” (2008), “Live At the Aotea, Auckland, New Zealand” (2008), “Flags (Special Deluxe Edition) (2011), and “Brutal Romantic” (2014), all by Brooke Fraser; and the song, “Planet Waves”, a gorgeous tune, on the CD, “The Ladder” (2010) by Andrew Belle. Probably the most appropriate song for this post is “Hosea’s Wife”, which can be found on the CDs, “Albertine” and “Live At the Aotea, Auckland, New Zealand”. “The C.S. Lewis Song”, also on both those CDs, will appeal to admirers of C.S. Lewis, and also those with a philosophical bent. BTW, if you don’t know where to hear full versions of songs like these before you buy them, than you obviously don’t know about Spotify, Noisetrade or enough about YouTube.

*Footnote – You may find instances of the English word, ‘heart’, in the Bible, where it is not used in the way I used the word in this post. This is primarily because of two realities: 1) there really is a range of meaning for Hebrew and Greek words used to refer to different aspects of humans; and 2) the wide variety of English translations may use different English words to translate the same Hebrew and Greek words.

Author: Zachary Bright

Until February 2014, I was pastor of Divine Savior Presbyterian Church for about 24 years. I am interested in theology, alternative music, new worship music, culture making, philosophy and dogs. Most of all I am interested in extending the Kingdom of God and its blessings to everyone around me. I am the Director of the Southern CA. C.S. Lewis Society and I am a graduate of Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary. My wife Terry, my dog Jack Lewis and I host a Bible Study in our home on Sunday afternoons.

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