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Receptivity and offering: Our hearts

Lynne Baab • Tuesday June 7 2022

Receptivity and offering: Our hearts

As a child, I had a love-hate relationship with the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter.” We sang it often in the Episcopal churches of my childhood. Even as a ten- or twelve-year-old, the first verse seemed ridiculous to me. Bethlehem is in the Middle East! The winter isn’t cold enough that the earth would be frozen as hard as iron!

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone
Snow had fallen
Snow on snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter
Long, long ago

I would start getting less angry in the second verse, because I always liked to think about angels and archangels. And I loved picturing Mary holding Jesus and kissing him gently.

Angels and archangels
May have traveled there
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air
But only his Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshiped the beloved
With a kiss

Then in the third verse, I would get such a sense of longing. Yes! I want to give Jesus my heart! As a child, I had no idea how to do that, but, oh, how I wanted to.

What can I give him?
Poor as I am
If I were a shepherd
I would give a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
But what I can I give him
Give him my heart
Give him my heart

Beth Richardson, director of prayer and worship for Upper Room Books, gives a helpful overview of the way the Bible talks about our hearts:

“In scripture, the heart is the part of the human anatomy most frequently used to define the whole person. The heart represents the whole person in all our distinct humanness — our thinking, planning, willing, feeling, worshiping, interacting. When we are not living up to our best, the scripture describes our hearts as rebellious, unfeeling, callous, or idolatrous. And it is within the heart that God works.

“We lose heart (Gen. 42). Our hearts are glad (Ezek. 4). God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ezek. 4). There are generous hearts (Ezek. 35), hearts which are stirred (Exod. 35). God gives new hearts (1 Sam. 16) and replaces hearts of stone with hearts of flesh (Ezek. 36). And God gives us the great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). Jesus advises us in Luke 21 to “be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down … by the worries of this life.” [1]

I love that Beth helps us see the way the Bible talks about the heart as a symbol of our whole beings: “The heart represents the whole person in all our distinct humanness—our thinking, planning, willing, feeling, worshiping, interacting.” I look back at myself at ten or twelve, and I wish someone had helped me understand the longing evoked in me when I sang the third stanza of “In the Bleak Midwinter.” I wish someone had explained God’s call to me to offer my whole self to God. I wish someone had used Beth’s words – planning, willing, feeling, worshiping, interacting – to help me tease out the components of my life that I could offer to God. I wish that someone had explained that in those same areas of life we can receive guidance and strength from God, if we ask God and look for God’s answers.

Offering God our hearts is something we do hour after hour, day after day. We pray about our plans, asking for God’s guidance and offering to God the thing we have already planned. We offer God our will, asking God to help us desire things that are good. We offer God our feelings and personal experiences, bringing our tears, anger, regrets, fatigue, joy, and hopes into God’s presence through various forms of prayer and music. We offer God our worship, alone and in the company of singing congregations.

We offer our interactions to God. We pray about relationships, asking that God would fill us with love with challenging people, asking for wisdom in how to show love for those closest to us, and thanking God for those moments of joyful connection with loved ones. We offer our words and our ears, asking God to help us speak wisely and kindly, and asking for patience to listen carefully and lovingly. We offer God our hands, asking that we will touch gently and in a way that communicates care. We offer to God our willingness to go beyond our comfort zone to greet new people in the neighborhood or congregation and to think about those on the margins. And through our relationships, God gives back to us. We receive so many blessings through the people God gives us.

All of this offering and receiving is a life-long journey of learning and growing. We do all of this over and over, and each time, we grow closer to the God who has planted love in our hearts and who calls us “Beloved.” I am so blessed that the God who drew my heart way back in my childhood has guided me through an adult life of discipleship. Receiving this God of love through Jesus, and offering our hearts over and over, is the greatest privilege life can give.

We receive love from God. We offer ourselves to God. I’ve been focusing on this two-beat rhythm for the past five and a half months, and I wanted to end this series with a post about offering our hearts. This series has been very thought-provoking and fruitful for me. Thanks for your companionship on the journey. 

(Next week: first post in a new series on prayer. Illustration by Dave Baab: a blend of two of his sketches. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

Previous posts on the heart:

[1] Beth Richardson, “The Longing of our Hearts,” the Upper Room

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