by Kimberly Reisman
“God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.” – Matthew 5:8, NLT
God created us to be whole, genuine (‘the real thing’) persons. God desires that our hearts, the core of who we are, be pure. If we are to be genuine (‘the real thing’) as we were created to be, our hearts must be undivided, undiluted, full-strength. That is the kind of heart needed.
But consumers are used to the fact that ‘pure’ doesn’t really mean pure. When we buy products that are labeled ‘pure’ or ‘100 percent,’ the fine print on the juice bottle tells us otherwise. Despite labels on packages, pure really means 100 percent of one thing.
Because of this, God’s Word from Proverbs is significant: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23). If we are to see God, if we are to stand face to face before this awesome God we follow, we must have pure hearts.
Unfortunately, our hearts are anything but undivided. Peter and the rest of the disciples were challenged too. They wanted to follow Jesus, but their hearts were divided by their notion of what a Messiah was supposed to be. Their concept of Messiah as triumphant king hindered them from welcoming 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 singleness of heart.
What is it that you desire most?
In Isaiah 58, the people believe that they are following in God’s way. They seem to be seeking God out; they claim to fast and humble themselves, eager for God to come near. But that is simply the surface. Deep down, their profound motivation is something other than being in relationship with God. They are living with divided hearts. On the surface they appear devout, but their fasting is not genuine, their humility not pure.
The crux comes in verses 9-10, where Isaiah proclaims the power available when we follow God with a singleness of heart:
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
Isaiah’s word is about the power we have when we follow Jesus with an undivided heart, carrying out the ministry and mission of God in our world single-mindedly. We will be able to live in the light, 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.
The NIV wording in verse 10 is significant: “If you spend yourselves… ”
What are you spending yourself on? How you answer that question is a major indicator of whether you are following Jesus with an undivided heart. Following Jesus with a single heart is about aligning our thinking with God’s thinking, our heart with God’s heart. That is difficult, because our profound motivation is often not Christ; our thinking is not in sync with God’s thinking.
God is sending a wake-up call in Isaiah 58. We may feel as though we are following with singleness of heart. But might there be oppression, indifference to famine, gossip, or self-righteous judgment? Our hearts are divided because we are looking for a god who can give us personal peace and affluence, a god who can make us look good and feel good—even if it’s at the expense of someone else.
Following Jesus with an undivided heart is about engaging the needs of the world, not about surface activity. Jesus was not fond of ‘temple religion’—a self-righteous, counterfeit rehearsal of religious faith. For Jesus, what happened in the sanctuary, while important, wasn’t nearly as significant as what happened in the street.
Jesus broke the chains created by those who wished to keep God only in the sanctuary, and He embodied God’s presence in the streets. He met folks where they were. Our hearts become divided when we confuse surface-level activity with commitment to Christ, when we believe we are following because of the flurry of our religious activity.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus promised that God blesses those with pure, undivided hearts – those whose profound motivation is following Christ. He promised that they will see God.
He also described what those people look like. He said that those who follow with a singleness of heart are those who feed hungry kids, give drinks to thirsty immigrants and clothes to the broke, who visit patients in the hospital and bored people in jail, who welcome new, unfamiliar faces.
Following Jesus with an undivided heart means engaging the world on His behalf. It means getting in touch with the needs of the world—needs that can’t always be placed in tidy categories, needs that sometimes require that we get dirty and even risk our reputations as ‘good church people.’
As risky as all this sounds, Isaiah is saying, “It is God who gives you power, not your surface religious activities. Your power comes through the posture of your heart toward people.” There is a distinct pattern of cause and effect in Isaiah’s words. “If you spend yourselves . . . then your light will rise.”
If you reach out, if you stop gossiping, if you put an end to self-righteousness, then your light will shine out from the darkness; then, God will guide you and satisfy your needs and give you the power to flourish. Then, you will see God.
Is your mission single-minded?
Kimberly Reisman (@KimsNextStep) is executive director of World Methodist Evangelism. An author, pastor, teacher, and theologian, Kim is a frequent speaker, focusing on evangelism, spiritual formation, women’s ministries, leadership development, and the intersection between faith and culture. She is an elder in the United Methodist Church and has written numerous books. She has a PhD in theology from Durham University in the United Kingdom.