Monday, March 21, 2016

Get to the Heart

"Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." - Proverbs 4:23

People change from the heart. Therefore our ministry must move beyond behavior and action items, and get to the heart. We've talked on TRF about getting to our own hearts, in the post Attack the Base. But how do we help others with heart change?

First, what is the heart? The Bible describes the heart as the seat of our motivations and affections, and it's from the heart that our lives are lived. Jesus says in Mark 7:20-23 that it's from the heart that all our sin flows, since our hearts are filled with sin (Jeremiah 17:9). So the heart is more than just our emotions, it's also our beliefs, and what we love.

Why do we need to get to the heart? Because that's where true and lasting life change must take place. Our behavioral sins are on the surface, but the real source is the heart. As you're helping someone understand their sin and repent, if you just address the behavior, it's like using a weedwhacker on dandelions but only cutting off the flowers. The roots are still growing! We have to get to the heart to unearth the motivations. Jack Klumpenhower gives a great illustration in Show Them Jesus, the image of a shark swimming: only the fin is visible, while the rest of the shark's body is underneath the water. And so it is with our sin: the behavior is just the tip of the problem, the heart needs deeper exploration work. Another model to understand change from the heart is the Three Trees model from CCEF. Our behavior is the thorny tree of bad fruit, but our hearts are the root system feeding and producing the bad fruit. If we just replace bad fruit with good fruit, that's "fruit stapling", every religion and self-help program can do that! For gospel-change, we go deeper. Once the root changes to gospel-beliefs, then gospel-fruit starts to form.

Quick examples:
  • Sally is struggling with looking at pornography. Behavior-change would just advise an internet filter or memorizing some verses. Heart change goes to the root: she's lonely, angry at God for not providing a husband, and looking at porn is her way of coping. She believes porn will give the comfort that God won't. 
  • Edward is spending significant money on new technology and designer clothing. Behavior-change would give him tips on stewardship and help him form a budget. Heart change goes to the root: he loves the praise of man, and believes that he'll be accepted if he has the latest gear. 
  • Martha talks excessively, often talking over others. Behavior-change would recommend memorizing James 1:19, or learning some good listening techniques. Heart change goes to the root: she is prideful and selfish, she believes that what she has to say is more important than what everyone else has to say. 

How do we get to the heart with others? You need to ask more questions. Getting to the heart requires digging, and questions are your shovels! Ask, "What do you really desire and WANT in this situation? What are you afraid of? Why do you respond this way? What does this behavior give you?" If the person is already aware of the heart, you can be more direct with asking, "What's going on in your heart? What lies are you believing?" Caution: Be gentle as you get to the heart, you want to be kind to the person. Also be patient, getting to the heart is not a simple one-question process. It may take longer than expected, but it's worth it.

As you uncover the heart, you shift to the gospel: "How does Christ give you those things you desire? How is Jesus better? How does the Gospel intersect with what you've shared? What would it look like to believe and live the gospel in this situation?" This is critical. We aren't aiming for merely heart awareness. We're aiming for heart CHANGE. And change comes about through the powerful gospel! Titus 2:11-14 says, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." Our goal is transformation, not just information.

In summary: True change comes from the heart. Our sin results from not just wrong thinking or wrong behavior but wrong LOVING. We get to the heart by unearthing the motivations, fears, and desires of those we're discipling, and then point them to the superior delight in Christ, through the gospel. This results in sustainable life change for God's glory.

Get to the heart,
The Relentless Fight