A few years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Ravi Zacharias speak. A brilliant man, he has lectured all over the world in places like Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard, making the logical case for Christian faith.
A young man in the audience asked the question, “How do I know Jesus instead of simply know about him?” A very profound question, which strikes at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. Knowledge about Jesus is not the same as knowing Jesus.
Dr. Zacharias gave an insightful response, urging the young man to read the scriptures, pray, and read biographies of great followers of Jesus. Then, almost as an afterthought, he said, “The longest journey for thought is the journey from the head to the heart.” Profound.
Your heart is where you make decisions. Most decisions come down to either yes or no. Yes, I will pursue a relationship; no, I will not pursue a relationship. This is where our thoughts come into play. If I think you are my friend, I seek you out. If I think you are my enemy, I keep my distance. If we think God is for us, we seek him. If we think God wants to rob us of joy, we avoid him.
I’ve met some people in my time who knew the Bible well, but never let God into their heart, into their decision making. They could quote “Love your enemies” but they never did. When you let God into your heart, into your decision making, God has a habit of presenting you with decisions you just as soon avoid. You begin to receive whispers from the Spirit: “See that lady over there struggling with that big box? Go help her.” “But Lord,” you protest, “I have a big meeting in fifteen minutes, and I can’t be late.” If God stays in your head, it’s easy to justify any behavior you want. Besides, the same God who whispers to you to go help someone also knows about the big meeting coming up.
When God starts knocking around in your heart, you get convicted, a good old-fashioned word that means God brings something to your attention that requires action. It might be a sin pattern you need to discard. It might be God calling you to love somebody you don’t really want to love.
My hero, Will Campbell, was praised by liberals when he fought for civil rights. The same liberals condemned him when visited the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in prison. Will’s response was that Jesus told him to visit folks in prison, not on the basis of their politics. Having Jesus in your heart will mess up your neat box of ideology.
Hanging on the wall in my office is quote from an old country preacher, Sam Durrance. Sam was a distant relative and close neighbor to my family. He did not speak at Oxford, Cambridge, or Harvard, but in places like Popash, Ft. Green, and Mt. Pisgah. Sam did not have what you call a formal education, but he did complete eighth grade at the Lemon Grove School.
Before my cousin Tiny went off to study for the ministry, Sam pulled him aside and told him, “Keep the Lord in your heart, and not in your head, and you will do alright. Now if you don’t, you’d be better off if someone knocked you in the head and threw you under a bunch of palmettos, because you won’t be no good to nobody.” That’s the quote that hangs on my wall.
Sam’s home spun wisdom and Dr. Zacharias’ words of counsel are really the same. Funny how a scholar and a country preacher can find the same truth. What you think is important. Having a relationship with Jesus that changes how you live – that’s eternal.