by Paul Joiner
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1)
If we are going to experience the transforming power of the gospel, it has to go to the deepest parts of our being. It was once said that the greatest distance the gospel has to travel is the distance between the head and the heart.
But that is a dichotomy that the Bible doesn’t fully embrace. The heart is always crying out, it is always panting with want (Psalm 42:1), it is always acting (Proverbs 4:23), and it is always thinking (Hebrews 4:12).
The greater problem is that we that we tend to build fortresses to keep the heart and its cries safely confined. But Jesus is intent on breaking through the walls. Or, maybe better said, Jesus is intent on breaking into the walls.
In John 4, Jesus offers the woman at the well a tremendous promise:
“Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
But she cannot connect the offer to her heart. So Jesus goes deeper.
“Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” He had to expose the deep cry of her heart because she was unaware of what she was actually looking for.
This is all of us. We are so unaware of what is actually going on in our hearts that we find it difficult to connect to Jesus in soul-satisfying ways.
Our hearts are deeply, deeply religious. In all things, they are directed Godward. There is not an ounce of our being that does not make its movement toward God, and therefore our whole being will not be satisfied until it completes that journey.
John Calvin begins his most important work with this observation in his very first paragraph — everything we experience ultimately directs our attention toward God.:
“Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.”
For Calvin (and Augustine before him), if one did not know the tendencies of his own heart, then one simply cannot know God. And, vice-versa. Knowing God leads to a greater and better knowledge of oneself.
But, Calvin goes on to say that God has to break into the walls of our hearts and lead us back to him.
“For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him.” (Institutes, 1.1.1)
So – what are you experiencing? What are the cries of your heart?
We have to stop to notice and ask. But most of us won’t stop. We try to drown out the hearts cries with the low-level dim of busyness.
But when you do stop and ask, “What am I experiencing? What does my heart want?”, you will find that the answer to that question is littered with highly emotional words.
Emotions are the language that the heart uses to express its desires for God. On this side of the New Creation, our hearts will always cry out to God. Even the “positive” emotions – joy, contentment, etc. still have hauntings until they reach their fulfillment in God alone. They haunt because even joy seems to dwindle as quickly as it comes. This world cannot sustain joy for very long. That is because the heart is crying out for the face of the Lord, which alone can sustain joy forever and ever.
This is why Augustine starts his Confessions this way, “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” (1.1.1)
God is always moving the heart toward himself. And the heart voices its restlessness through our emotions. The heart is experiencing life and vocalizing its yearnings through our emotions.
And, if we shut down the heart by refusing to let its voice be heard, it will never find its rest in Jesus.
“Emotion links our internal and external worlds. To be aware of what we feel can open us to questions we would rather ignore. For many of us, that is precisely why it is easier not to feel. But a failure to feel leaves us barren and distant from God and others.” (Allender and Longman, The Cry of the Soul, pg. 20)
A heart that is shut down, is shut down in every area of life. Even to the Lord. Or maybe, especially to the Lord. Because a shut-down heart is simply a self-created refuge. And any self-created refuge also shuts the Lord out.
“Emotions are like messengers from the front lines of the battle zone. Our tendency is to kill the messenger. But if we listen carefully, we learn how to fight the war successfully.” (Allender and Longman, 26)
The goal is not to resolve our emotions or even to express our emotions – but to recognize what we are experiencing so that our souls might journey to the throne of grace and find Jesus.
If we are going to connect our restless hearts to the rest of Jesus, we need to know what our restless hearts are asking for.
“Every emotion is a theological statement. All feelings reveal our attempt to maneuver into a position of regaining access to the pleasure and perfection of God.” (Allender and Longman, 36)
So, let me commend the initial steps in the Seeing Jesus Together Journal as essential steps in coming to Jesus.
Stop and be quiet long enough to let the desires of your heart come to the surface. Use the emotion wheel at the back of the journal. And then ask the Lord Jesus to come near, by His Spirit and through his Word, to meet those desires with himself.