As I have worked to encourage Christ followers to show and share the love of Jesus with those around them, at certain points I always try to steer the conversation to the topic of trust. I do that because we Christians talk a good game – especially about love. Jesus taught that we are to love not just our neighbors, but our enemies as well. Paul devoted an entire chapter of his letter to the church in Corinth to teaching about love and said that only three things would remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest was love.
So Christians talk a lot about loving others – but do people believe us? Do they trust that we love them the way we say we do?
I believe answering that question requires an examination of our hearts. Our hearts are the very centers of ourselves. From our hearts flow the good, the bad, and everything in between. That’s why the warning from Proverbs is so important: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (4.23, NIV).
You don’t even have to be a Believer to see how important our hearts are. You can see it just by the way we talk. For Christians especially, our hearts are important because they are the places where Christ lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.
A first step, then, in answering whether or not people trust that we love them the way we say that we love them is to think about our hearts. The second step is to recognize that our hearts need to be whole, complete, and undivided.
This is the hard part, because unfortunately, our hearts are anything but undivided. Thankfully, though, we aren’t alone in this difficulty. The disciples were challenged in this arena as well. They wanted to follow Jesus, but their hearts were divided by their idea of what a Messiah was supposed to be and do. Their concept of Messiah was as a triumphant king, and that made it hard for them to welcome the leadership of a suffering servant with an undivided heart. They tried to follow Jesus, but their desire to sit in the favored spot in God’s kingdom blocked them from taking up their own crosses with a singleness of heart.
We’re a lot like the disciples. We want to follow Jesus with a singleness of heart, but our hearts are divided. There are gaps between what we say and what we do. We say we love people, but our actions speak otherwise. We talk about respect, but our actions feel more like judgment.
In many parts of our world, societies are polarized. There are huge religious divides, political divides, and cultural divides. For Christ followers, it can sometimes feel as though few people share our value system or our understandings about family, politics, sexuality, work, economics, and so many other things. A sense of distrust and anger pervades so many of our cultures, and it’s been deepened and expanded by social media in a way we have never experienced before. On top of all of that, there seems to be a renewed intensity of religious nationalism in countries all around the world, that is, the intermingling of politics and faith in ways that are damaging to both.
This is the environment in which we find ourselves as we seek to follow Jesus with undivided hearts and show and share his love with others. As social norms shift and Christian values are not always shared by the dominant culture, it can be tempting to run and hide. To retreat to the safety of our own church networks and circles. But if we do that, we won’t be able to reach our world for Christ because we will no longer know or understand, or even love, the very world we’re trying so hard to protect ourselves from.
It can also be tempting to hate the culture around us: ranting on social media about people who disagree with us or hold a different set of values than we do. Railing that the government doesn’t share our exact commitments. This last one puts us in sync with the disciples. Remember how they wanted a Messiah who would be a triumphant king, who would basically become the government? But did Jesus do that? No. He told everyone that his kingdom wasn’t of this world.
The temptation to hide or hate divides our hearts. It undermines our integrity and hinders the working of the Holy Spirit. It blocks us from the ability to act in ways that live out the love of Jesus, rather than just talking about the love of Jesus. That’s what following with an undivided heart is all about – reaching out to others and loving them, before anything and everything else. Before they’ve gotten their acts together. Before they share our values or behave like Christians.
Jon Sobrino is a Latin American Jesuit theologian. He describes spirituality as a profound motivation. He says it’s about instincts, intuitions, longings, and desires—both within nature and in our culture—that move us, inspire us, and shape us. The things that inform and fill our decisions and actions. That definition of spirituality—“profound motivation”—connects with the idea of the undivided heart.
Our spirituality is whatever we desire most. Whatever we strive for, whatever motivates us, drives us, moves us to select one thing over another; whatever primary shaping forces are in our life, that’s our spirituality. And if it’s not Christ, we won’t be able to follow with singleness of heart or show and share the love of Jesus in ways that people can trust. Our spirituality won’t be Christ-centered. Instead, it will be centered on whatever it is that holds the attention of our hearts. And when that happens, we run the risk that the gospel people see reflected in our lives will no longer seem trustworthy.
Every culture creates gods (with a small “g”) to justify its way of thinking and make people feel more comfortable about its lifestyle. These gods come in all shapes and sizes, and they divide our hearts, dilute our loyalty to living in the Jesus way, and make it all the more difficult to show and share his love. Some of these “gods” lead us to believe we’ll receive blessings or healings or wealth – but only if we give our money first. Others lure us into thinking that a particular political party is divinely ordained to lead, or that our “righteous” anger makes it ok to rant at people who disagree with us. And there are other gods that entice us to feel that our identities as white or black or gay or straight or male or female are more important than our identities as people who are made in the image of God and saved by his unmerited grace.
But loving people the way Jesus loved is about guarding ourselves against false gods. It is about making sure that our most profound motivation is Christ. It is about going out into the world as people who are willing to become channels of healing and transformation in the lives of others, regardless of who they are or what they believe.
Isaiah has a great word for us about the power we have when we follow Jesus with an undivided heart, showing and sharing his love single-mindedly. In chapter 58, Isaiah says that if we engage the world on behalf of Jesus, if we become immersed in the real lives of people and reflect a deep commitment to their wellbeing, both physical and spiritual, we will be able to live in the light. In fact, when we do this, our light will shine in the darkness and our night will become as noonday. Our righteousness will go before us, and God’s glory will be our rear guard. God will be ever-present to help us in our moments of need and struggle.
When people talk about Communion, sometimes they use the metaphor of a squeezed-out grape. Making our lives comfortable isn’t God’s top priority; neither is helping us achieve success or affluence or advancing our preferred political party. God is about the business of squeezing us so that we can become drink, or nourishment, for the world. In our polarized world, too many of us are like marbles rather than grapes. If you try to squeeze a marble, more often than not it will slip out of your fingers and escape your grasp. We can be like marbles, trying to escape God’s squeeze.
God calls each of us to show and share the love of Jesus, to allow God to squeeze us out like grapes, and to stay in God’s hands so we can be squeezed out as sustenance for the world.
God’s grace is good news in all kinds of circumstances, for all kinds of needs. That’s the beauty of the gospel. It’s multifaceted good news that addresses the multifaceted dynamic of being human, and it stands in stark contrast to so many cultures of the world. That means we are uniquely suited to offer a radically beautiful alternative. And when we follow Jesus with an undivided heart, people can risk trusting that we really do love them the way we say that we love them. And even more importantly than that, people can risk trusting the Jesus way, a way in which nothing and no one is beyond God’s inexhaustible love and transformative power.