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Know the Heart

By Tim Hartzell

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27
A couple of weeks ago I was sitting behind a school bus on Sherman Street as its precious cargo exited and crossed the street in front of me. It was a beautiful day and the elementary students were talking and laughing as they celebrated the end of the school day. The scene brought back a lot of fond memories and I was really enjoying the moment.
The last little guy started to cross the street in front of me and then circled back. As he did, I got his attention and encouraged him to cross while the bus still had its red lights blinking. He smiled and waved and scooted across the street. As he stepped onto the sidewalk, a car suddenly passed me on the left, just missing him.
I must confess - it took all of about one second for me to go from calm and peaceful to stark-raving mad. There’s no need to describe in detail what happened next. Suffice it to say that the other driver and I exchanged words – and almost more than words. In an instant, my body went into fight mode.
The altercation lasted about 30 seconds – and then it was over. I drove two more blocks, parked my truck in the church lot, and sat back in my seat to calm down. As I sat there, hands shaking and heart pounding, I was amazed at how my body was reacting to that threatening situation. One moment I was calmly enjoying a pleasant day, the next moment I was a raving madman. An hour later, I still had an awful feeling my stomach.
Such is the power of the heart, of emotion.
Luke 10:27 lists five key investments that God has placed within every human being: heart (emotional), soul (spiritual), strength (physical), mind (mental) and neighbors (relational). He has made these investments in us so that we can effectively accomplish His holy purposes. They are truly investments – and we are stewards. Our goal in life is to wisely utilize and grow those investments so that we can be aggressively available to God and present to Him the greatest possible return on investment. (In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the parable of the talents to drive that point home.)
To be successful stewards, we must know each investment. How can we possibly reach our full potential if we don’t understand the incredible investments that God has entrusted to us?
We must also guard each investment. We have an enemy who knows our potential. His plan is to frustrate and destroy us. If we are not prepared for his sly and often subtle attacks, we will stumble and fall again and again and our potential will suffer.
Finally, we must put each investment to work to accomplish God’s purposes. We are stewards – that means that the investments are not about us, they are about His purposes and His kingdom. When we understand the basic life principle of stewardship, we discover a purpose worthy of our greatest effort.
What does all of that have to do with my school bus story? The answer to that question has to do with knowing the heart. So let’s get started.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . .”
In this verse, the Greek word for heart is kardia and it refers to our emotions and feelings. We call emotions feelings because we literally feel them – muscles tense or relax, blood vessels dilate or contract, the digestive system slows or accelerates, palms and underarms sweat, hands tremble, the mouth goes dry, heart rate and intensity increases, breathing becomes more shallow and rapid, hair stands on end, a chill goes up the spine. All of this feeling is controlled by an incredible system that God placed within us. Scientists call it the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
Autonomic describes functions of the nervous system not under voluntary control. It is responsible for control of the smooth muscle and glands – the internal organs and bodily functions not consciously directed. It includes breathing, heartbeat, digestion, kidney function and gland secretion. It also operates the flow of chemistry in the brain, releasing and receiving neurotransmitters that have a powerful effect on how we feel - dopamine and serotonin are two well known examples. What happened at the school bus stop was an automatic response of my ANS – I wasn’t in control of the functions taking place in my body and brain.
That could sound like an excuse for bad behavior, but it’s not. It is an example of why it is so important that we get to know this incredible and vital investment that God has made in us. If we don’t understand how the heart (feelings and emotions) operates, we’ll never know how to guard it or put it to work in God’s kingdom. So in the next Faith Conversations article, we’ll invest more time in getting to know our heart.