We think our heart is our feelings. So we contrast our head and heart to differentiate thinking and feeling.
But in the Biblical understanding our heart is our will, our capacity for choice, the center of our being that is our orientation for life. Our heart is our spirit that animates our personality; it is the source of our initiative and vitality. (In Psalm 51 “heart”, “will,” and “spirit” are used to refer to essentially the same aspect of our person.)
If emotions are the center of our being and the orientation of our life, rather than our will centered on God, then we’re in trouble! Of course, this is exactly the insecure, impulsive, and sin-ruined position that so many of us find ourselves in. Don’t misunderstand me: the capacity to have emotions is a gift from God and it’s always good to be aware of our emotions, but when they run our lives they ruin our lives.
Being dominated by emotion is why compulsive behavior is rampant among us. It’s why angry conflicts in our relationships escalate. It’s why we race down the roads of life. It’s why we spend money that we don’t have. It’s why we hide in fear. It’s why we drop our heads in discouragement and isolate in shame. It’s why we don’t love the person near us.
O to live with a heart made new! Centered on God. Authentic. Free to respond to God’s loving initiative.
In the Bible David is called “a man after God’s own heart” because he chose God. He kept bringing his heart to God. He didn’t act out his emotions, instead he entrusted them to God. It was to God that he cried, trembled, complained, raged, and confessed his sin. It was for God that he waited and waited. It was for God alone that he yearned. And when David was missing God’s blessings and he couldn’t feel his love still David chose to love and worship his Lord – just because he is good and beautiful.
You and I can grow to have a heart for God like David – if we pray the way he prayed. Praying the Psalms gets us started on being honest with God and grounded in him. One way to pray a Psalm (or any Scripture passage) is to paraphrase or apply it in fresh, personal words. I did this with Psalm 51, one of David’s most important heart prayers – the prayer in which he confessed his sin to the Lord and cried out for his mercy.
This is a prayer that we need ready at hand for when we stumble into sin:
Mercy! Have mercy on me, O God Almighty!
I appeal to your unconditional love that never fails;
Forgive my sin because of your enormous compassion.
Wash away all my badness and make me clean.
All my sins are against you, my Lord –
Again I didn’t trust you, I turned away and did wrong.
You alone are holy and you alone can cleanse me;
Please let me rejoice in you again!
Form my heart to be devoted to you alone, O God,
And revive my spirit to be steadfast in loving you.
Remind me continually that I’m in your presence;
O that your Holy Spirit would thrive in me forever!
Restore my soul with the joy of your mercy
And strengthen my will to seek you continually.
My divided and distracted will is all that I have to give you;
So I come with my broken heart, humble and convicted.
O God, because of your mercy you will not reject me;
Your smile and your embrace means everything to me!
My reformed heart gives praise to you for all to hear –
O Lord, this is the offering that brings you delight!
(Psalm 51:1-2, 4, 7-8, 10-12, 17-19, paraphrased).
Here are some more of my Psalm Prayers that can help you to develop a heart for God like David had.
Lectio Divina is an ancient way to meditate on a Bible text. It’s delightful – try it!