Thursday, September 3, 2009

By heart....

My friend Anne preached at Franklin Hill last week. A former fundamentalist turned female pastor who says "kick ass" from the pulpit, she is so great! While the whole teaching was packed with solid theology and pointed challenge, she used one particular phrase that has been rolling in my head and heart all week. Anne said that part of Israel's problem was that they began to think that what God wanted them to do was ascribe to a set of beliefs and practices instead of learning to know Him by heart.

That's the phrase.... to know God by heart. It's like a parfait, that phrase. Layer after intriguing layer has been unfolding in my soul this week.

The most obvious layer is the one Anne certainly intended: that God desires us to know Him at a heart level. Throughout history, God has been revealing Himself to humanity. His wildly passionately good heart whispers at twilight and shouts in thunder. He wants us to understand His incredible love for us so that when circumstances seem to indicate His lack of proximity and care, we can reinterpret them accurately because we know His heart. When we know God's heart, we can discover the roots of a particular attitude or belief and identify them as True because they line up with His heart or as (insert shrill German lady voice here) "Lies! All lies!" because they do not align with His heart. This layer, in and of itself, is so encouraging and challenging!!

But then I thought of the other way to know thing by heart: memorization and recitation. I know lots of things by heart: The Star Spangled Banner, the first 45 minutes of Robin Hood, my parents' phone number, sections of Goonies and sections of John. I know these things by heart because I've encountered them so often. But this kind of knowing doesn't necessarily indicate I've given much true consideration to the meaning of these things.

It reminded me of Friar Laurence's chastisement of Romeo's infatuation for Rosaline: "Thy love did read by rote that could not spell." Yeah Romeo "loved" Rosaline but he was just "reciting" what he thought love should be. He didn't really know her, so he couldn't really love her. I've done that with God. Having grown up in church, I know how my "love" for God is supposed to look, but I didn't really know Him. Could I then really love Him? How glad am I that God is a pursuer and didn't leave me in my mimicking.

I'm thinking living the "Christian life" is like memorizing poetry. If I haven't taken the time to figure out what the poem actually means, my recitation might sound good, but it is actually hollow and meaningless. However, if I've spent some time with the poem, gazed at its angles and texture, grappled with its imagery and implications, then and only then do the words I speak have true meaning. Others might be impressed by either, but I can only communicate with the latter.

Isn't the same true for how I live? Others might be impressed by my life, but if all the exterior doesn't come from a heart that knows and loves God, then it doesn't mean a whole lot.... not really. But if I'm learning to know Him more, then my life is what I want it to be: a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him.

What a heart He has... one that pursues and invites and corrects and comforts. This love of His is a poem worth memorizing...

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