Matters of the heart

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There is a not so well known true story, about Robert Bruce, King of Scots.

He became King of Scots in 1306 and spent much of his life fighting, first to unite the clans of Scotland and then to free them from English rule and oppression.

The story is told of how Robert ‘The Bruce’ promised God that once everything was settled and Scotland was free, he would undertake a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He never managed to keep his promise. However, on his deathbed he is believed to have urged one of his most faithful friends and lieutenants, Sir James Douglas, that once he was dead, to cut out his heart and take it on that promised pilgrimage.

It might sound a little gruesome, or some people might even feel his idea was misguided. Whatever the finer details or debate, it makes me wonder where does my heart truly want to be?

The good old days?

In the Old Testament story of Israel, God brings them out of Egypt (a symbol of sin) and wants to greatly bless them and give them everything a loving father would want to give his children. He writes His law on stone and makes a covenant with them. But the hearts of the Israelites yearn back to Egypt (where they ate onions and garlic). It always sounds strange to me. How can a people who were oppressed and in severe slavery desire to go back to that? Yet, are we not oftentimes the same? A loving God brings us out of the slavery and bondage of sin, where, just like the Israelites, we were unloved, beaten down, abused, suffered, and had no hope. This picture is the reality of the bondage of sin. Then for some strange reason, after we are free, we long back for the ‘good old days’. In our heads we serve God. Often times as Christians we even say we love Jesus, yet our actions and thoughts don’t mirror this. We want to have our hearts cut out and returned to Egypt.

The Bible says that where a person’s treasure is there will their heart be also (Matthew 6:21). Where is your treasure? Or to be more precise, where is your heart? A few verses earlier in chapter six of Matthew, Jesus is urging us to lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth. We understand that the heart is seen as the seat of desire, passion and love. These are the emotions of true relationships. It is really these things that drive us and make us who we are as humans. Head knowledge is good - even my computer has head knowledge (so to speak). But only humans have heart knowledge.  

It is no wonder that God says of Israel, through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh, and I will put my Spirit in you.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

God longs to have a loving, personal relationship with each one of us. It is about personal relationships. Israel had head knowledge of who God was, but they did not know him intimately. He did not dwell in their hearts. They understood, intellectually who God was and seemed to focus on the act of doing rituals, such as offering sacrifices, but missed the whole point that our Loving Father desires a personal relationship.  

Through the Prophet Hosea, God cries this out when He says, “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6: 4,6. ESV). I can see the confused looks on the Israelites’ faces. “But God, you told us we must offer sacrifices, and now you say you don’t want them?”  I can relate. “But God, I go to church nearly every week for an hour and I read my Bible almost every day and I even help out at shelters for the needy.” Our minds can be saturated in Bible knowledge for all God cares, but where, oh where, does my heart long to be? And with what is it saturated?

We can be so busy ‘doing God’s work’ or doing ‘good things’ and miss what is most important, a loving, personal relationship with God the Father and Jesus our Saviour. The well-known story of Martha and Mary is a classic in this regard (Luke 10:38-42). Notice firstly, it is Martha who invites Jesus into her house and then becomes distracted with many things. Let’s be honest, she was busy doing good things not bad things.

‘Let things be’

Many years ago I went with my mom to my grandfather’s house. He was not well and we were going to take him to hospital. My mom (being the amazing person she is) was busy running around cleaning up, packing things and making my grandfather comfortable. My grandfather was sitting down and kept telling her to let things be and just come and chat for a while. They didn’t speak for long and my grandfather didn’t come out of the hospital alive. My mom says that she always regrets not just sitting and chatting for a while longer. Telling him certain things she wanted to, but then never got the chance. Life is busy and hectic, but maybe sometimes we should just let things be and sit and chat with Jesus for a while.  The dirty dishes will still be there in the morning.

There is a beautiful promise in Jeremiah 31, where God promises that He will once again bring His people out of captivity. He will make a new covenant with them and He will write His law on their hearts, not on stone and the most amazing part is where He says that they will all know Me. It is about loving, meaningful relationships. It is about the true, deep matters of the heart.

Robert the Bruce was buried in Dunfermline Abbey and when exhumed in 1818 it was found that his ribs had been sawn through, indicating that his heart had indeed been removed. Sir James Douglas is said to have taken Bruce’s heart in a casket with him, but died in battle in Spain. Sir William Keith brought Bruce’s heart back to Scotland. The casket now lays buried at Melrose Abbey.


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