The Heart Above All Things
"Even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments." (Joel 2:12-13)
Imagine London without Big Ben; or Paris without the Eiffel Tower; or Sydney without the Opera House. They just wouldn’t be the same, would they? Or imagine a car without its engine, or a cycle without its pedals, or a TV without its screen. There are certain things in life that, if you take some bits away from them, just aren’t the same any more. And that’s how it is with worship and prayer. Take "the heart" out of them and what we’re left with just isn’t worship and prayer.
The heart has such an important place that God tells us to pay particular attention to it when we come to Him; for without the heart being right – trusting, tender, open to receive - worship and prayer is a meaningless ritual. That’s why, again and again in the Bible, we find God calling His people to examine their hearts. Saul thought Samuel would be pleased that he’d offered a sacrifice; but Samuel challenged the complete lack of "heart" behind it. "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22). Saul thought the sacrifice would work just because it was a sacrifice; he had forgotten the most important aspect of it: the heart.
This is why the prophets constantly challenged empty ritual that had no heart. Through Isaiah, God’s challenge was that, "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Isaiah 29:13); through Ezekiel that, "With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain" (Ezekiel 33:31); through Malachi, that "you have not set your heart to honor me" (Malachi 2:2).
Still today, God is looking for one thing from us: our heart. The prayer, the worship, the service – all are secondary to this one thing. Will we have the courage to stop and let Him have our heart again today?
Look deep into my heart, O God, and find out everything I am thinking. (Psalm 139:23, CEV)
Copyright © 2017 Martin Manser and Mike Beaumont