I used to worry a lot about the ugliness in my heart. Sometimes I felt like I genuinely cared about others. Other times, I would find myself disturbed by how deeply selfish and even downright evil my thoughts could be. I noticed that when I did things for others, I wasn’t motivated exclusively by care for that person but also by the desire to seem to others like I cared or even just the desire to feel better about myself internally. I worried that perhaps I didn’t love others at all but only did seemingly altruistic things in order to feel good about myself. Have you ever worried about things like that? Eventually, there came a point when I decided this simply wasn’t a constructive conversation to be having with myself. I decided that doing good was a worthwhile endeavor no matter how selfish I felt on the inside. And worrying about my motives was only making me crazy. As I practiced just trying to love others without second guessing myself, I was surprised to find that, as I focused more on my behavior and less on my thoughts, my thoughts gradually started to come into alignment with my behavior. I was reminded of this when I read in the beatitudes this week,
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Matt. 5:8 (NIV)
This is the sort of teaching that would have driven me bonkers earlier in my life. I would have started worrying and worrying that my inner thoughts were so filthy that I could never see God. But in the Bible, the heart is about so much more than our thoughts and feelings. The heart is the core of the person’s being - the seat of the will out of which all our behavior flows. We don’t gain a pure heart by obsessing over scrubbing away our impure thoughts but by trusting Jesus to make us clean in spite of them and to transform and empower us on a “heart,” or whole person, level.
The more I meditate on purity of heart, the more find myself thinking of this story,
When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.”
Luke 11:37-41 (NIV)
We tend to imagine the outside of the cup as our bodily behavior. And we tend to imagine the inside of the cup, like the heart, as our inward thoughts and motives. But see what Jesus says instead. Washing before the meal, a religious behavior centered around the body and seen by others, is likened to cleaning the outside of the cup. And Jesus doesn’t even bother to do it. Generosity to the poor - also a behavior, but a much more important, heart-centered behavior that may or may not be seen - is likened to cleaning the inside of the cup. If we do this, Jesus says, we don’t have to worry about the outside because everything will be clean for us. The inside and the outside don’t represent thoughts versus actions but rather what is seen versus what is unseen, or in this case, religious actions performed on the body versus private actions that put into practice God’s heart for those in need. If we pursue the things that God loves, namely goodness toward people, especially those in need, we don’t have to worry about religious rituals or what others see or think of us. Nor do we have any need to panic over the selfish and ugly thoughts that still manage to creep into our minds. Rather, as we walk with Jesus by his Spirit, our hearts will be more and more in tune with his heart, and we will surely see the face of God.
Jesus, let us be a church family that is free from all religious shows. Let us also be free of all anxious fears about our own inadequacy. Let us trust instead in your blood that cleanses us. And let us be a people of overflowing generosity and grace as we are led and empowered by your Spirit. Let us be among those who are pure in heart and who are blessed to see your face.
Love in Christ,