“They are going to have to operate on my heart.”
I could barely hear my husband’s wavering voice through the phone connection. He was calling from a cardiologist’s office in the Mayo Clinic. I was 650 miles away helping our daughter prepare for her wedding in four days.
This chapter in our lives began just five days prior to this call. Mike had gone to the doctor’s office for a minor concern. When the physician noted that Mike had not been to the office for seven years, he dealt with the presenting complaint and proceeded to do some routine health checks. When he was through, he said, “I’ll be back in a moment.” That moment turned into several moments. When the doctor returned with an appointment for a cardiologist, he said the mitral valve in Mike’s heart was not working properly and needed evaluation. We left that day surprised, but we thought some medication and exercise would take care of it. We were sorely mistaken.
The heart is the organ that pumps life-sustaining blood throughout the body. In God’s magnificent design of the human body, He created the heart to be the center. Even the brain cannot function if the heart is not doing its job. If the heart is weak, fingers and toes do not get needed nourishment from the blood. If the heart does not get the blood to the lungs for proper exchange of impurities for life-sustaining oxygen, cells will not thrive. Yet long before the Jews knew all of these intricacies, the Creator led Scripture writers to draw the picture of the heart as the center of the person’s emotions, will and intellect:
“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).
“You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound” (Psalm 4:7).
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).
We learned much about the tiny mitral valve over the next several weeks. So too, there is much to learn about the heart Jesus was talking about when He sat on the mountainside and taught the rewards of a pure heart.
What is a pure heart? How should it be cared for? Those who want a healthy heart may enter into a regimen of diet and exercise to bring down their cholesterol and strengthen the heart itself. The Jews learned from Scripture to take care of their inner hearts by guarding them, examining them and worshipping God:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
“Praise the Lord. I will extol the Lord with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly” (Psalm 111:1).
The New Testament writers continued in this theme of one’s heart being much more than the blood pump:
“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’ ” (Galatians 4:6).
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23).
“All the believers were one in heart and mind” (Acts 4:32).
Mike’s heart did not have blockages that could cause a heart attack. The pure heart that Jesus described would be a heart that would not have the blockages caused by idols or falsehood:
“Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god” (Psalm 24:3-4).
“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands” (Psalm 119:9–10).
Mike’s valve condition could not have been taken care of by diet and exercise. He needed the help of surgeons and medical support staff. Scriptures encourage us to seek the Great Physician in procuring a pure heart:
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
“Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness” (Psalm 26:2-3).
“Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11).
A Heart That Feels
Many phrases speak of our emotional hearts that might seem silly or concerning if they were applied to our physical hearts. After a visit with my grandchildren, my heart is full. When I recognize turmoil in circumstances around me, but peace within, I might say that my heart is at rest. When I hear reports of conflict in a body of believers that had been near to my heart, my heart hurts. But what does a pure heart feel like?
A pure heart is a contented heart. This contentment comes with being fully devoted to God’s will and ways. The pure heart does not shake its fist at God when something seemingly unexplainable happens; it rests in God’s sovereignty and purposes. The blood that pumps through a pure heart has vitality that comes from seeing God – seeing God through His
Word, through His creation, through His people. The pure heart is a heart poised to reject lies and opportunities to divide loyalties.
Is there room in a pure heart for a “hidden fault” or a “willful sin” (Psalm 19:12)? Although Mike was 49 years old, he could easily have passed for a 30-year-old. He looked the picture of health. But there was a leaking heart valve that — left unchecked — would have taken his life within five years.
The Holy Spirit is active in the believer’s life convicting and guiding into truth. The pure heart invites this and responds. The “response time” can surely make a difference on the severity
of consequences. Surgery was going to be painful, but the sooner it was done, the greater the chance that Mike’s valve could be repaired. Delay would have required replacement and significant long-term consequences. The pure heart does not postpone the Spirit’s call to care for the leaking valve. Counseling to help remove the “leaking” from past abuse can be daunting. People who work through the Celebrate Recovery program can testify how difficult “surgery” to
fight addiction can be. But the alternatives are more costly to spiritual health and relationships. Indeed, ignoring or rejecting His voice could lead to a hardening of the heart and spiritual death:
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did” (Psalm 95:7-8).
“Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble” (Proverbs 28:14).
“They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (Ephesians 4:18).
A pure heart encompasses it all. You cannot have a pure heart and an impure thought life. You cannot have a pure heart and harbor bitterness and unforgiveness. A pure heart cannot exist where there is refusal to surrender one’s will to God.
The choice to nurture the pure heart enables it to pump pure spiritual “blood” to the mind and the body. As a young Christian, I recognized how easy it was to hum a beer commercial I had heard on television. I started paying attention to the lyrics of the songs I listened to. I determined that I would choose to listen to Christian music almost exclusively as a way to feed my spirit. It was not an “all secular music is evil” decision; it was a choice to regularly plant thoughts of God in my heart.
A Heart for the Bible
Another choice we can make to nurture the pure heart is immersing ourselves in Scripture:
“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
“My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times” (Psalm 119:20).
The nutrition for a pure heart is the Word of God. The “vitamins and nutrients” provided by Bible study and memorization are key components to seeing God. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to lead us to greater spiritual health. Applying God’s precepts to our lives is the daily food of the Christian. There is no substitute.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Considering Paul’s guide for our thoughts, what choices do you need to make to nurture a pure heart?
With the prognosis Mike was given, would he choose not to have the surgery? If it means seeing God, would there be people who would not pursue a pure heart? Unfortunately, yes.
In “The Truth Project” video series, Del Tackett quotes two notable evolution scientists who recognize current facts do not support Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. As Tackett reads their conclusions, you can hear the incredulity in his voice. These scientists have written that there must be more science to uncover or universes to find because the alternative would be
a Creator and that idea is totally unacceptable to them. Indeed, atheists would not consider seeing a God they do not believe exists:
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).
Another group who would not be interested in seeing God would be those who have a distorted view of Him:
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
These individuals have listened to the lies of Satan and miss the true character of God. They have rejected the hope of salvation or even the thought that they would need forgiveness of sins. This group would include those who believe they must earn their way into heaven. They may even live with the question, “What if I see God and He says I have not done enough?” They have missed the light of the gospel.
Mike mistakenly thought he had a healthy heart, but consequences would soon have challenged that thought. So, too, rule-keeping mimics a pure heart. Rule-keepers say they want to see God, but in reality, they want God to see them. Jesus was very direct:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-8).
These religious leaders may have looked good, but Jesus could see what was in their hearts. He healed many, drove out demons, and forgave the sins of the repentant, but for this group, He only had harsh words, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33). The Great Physician was speaking to them and
they would not humble themselves to be healed.
Those who do not pursue pure hearts will face eternal consequences for their choices.
Mike had his surgery, and the valve was repaired. He has periodic heart exams, takes a daily heart medication and must keep his blood pressure down. Each year, on the anniversary of the surgery, he writes his doctor to thank him for his skillful work.
What about you? Are you having periodic heart exams? Is God’s Word your daily medication? Do you need a lifestyle change to improve your heart? Or do you need the Great Physician to do surgery?
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” What a glorious thought!
Janet Hopper is a Free Methodist elder appointed as the assistant to North Central Conference Superintendent Mike Hopper. The Hoppers have been married for 34 years and have pastored churches in Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota. They have three adult children, two sons-in-law and two grandchildren.2