One of my favorite singing groups, the Canadian Tenors, wrote and perform a beautiful song entitled “Lead with Your Heart.” Here are some of its words:
In this world, it’s hard to tell the shadows from the light.
What is real can find a way to hide behind the lies.
Don’t be fooled or ruled by voices all around you
‘Cause your road will always be revealed.
If you lead, lead with your heart,
it’s the one thing you can trust, to always come from love.
And it will shine, right through the dark
like a northern star to show you what is true.
You’ll never lose, if only you
will lead with your heart.
The very first time I heard this lovely song I immediately thought of two passages of Scripture I had to memorize when I was a child:
Jeremiah 17:9—“The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse.”
Proverbs 3:5—“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely (“lean” in the KJV) on your own insight.”
Taken at face value, these verses are not supportive of the message in “Lead with Your Heart.” In fact, these verses seem to suggest that the heart cannot be trusted and should not be consulted with any confidence. Whenever I listen to a song, watch a movie, or read a book, I am always in dialogue with the song, movie or book asking what they say in light of the Christian faith as I understand it. Almost always, when I look more deeply both at the message of the medium and the biblical and wider Christian faith, I come to a better appreciation of both messages and often see them in harmony with one another.
Notice that the song realizes that what is authentic is often hidden behind the lies. (Such an insight is especially pertinent in our day.) The song also recognizes that the voices around us are deceptive and we must be vigilant lest we become seduced, manipulated, and hoodwinked by those misleading words and messages. But I’m still left with the impression that these songwriters have a deep trust in the heart of each individual. Have not many in our world acted as their hearts guided them and, in the process, done great harm to others? (I have heard many equate the heart with the conscience. But there are apparently many who do evil and hurt others with a clear conscience because they have twisted convictions of what is good and what is evil.)
We sometimes talk about people “who have no heart.” (My mother often said of people who were cruel and lacking in compassion that they didn’t have hearts. They had “thumping gizzards!”) I would suggest such people do have hearts—they have twisted, arrogant, cruel, and self-centered hearts. The heart can shine like a northern star or it can be dark and malicious. Many racists believe in their hearts that they are doing the right thing as they persecute or even kill those they have decided are less than human. During the Holocaust, there were German guards in concentration camps who tortured and murdered Jews, and then at Christmas would return home as heroes and sing Christmas carols with their families. They felt they should be applauded and not condemned. The same was true of U. S. troops who slaughtered unarmed and innocent men, women, and children at Wounded Knee. The soldiers first disarmed the Native Americans, and then fired upon them. Those soldiers went home as heroes. Twenty medals of honor were awarded to these practitioners of genocide for their “heroism, dedication, and bravery.” These are examples of how twisted one’s heart (that place where we decide how to live and what to value) can become.
I think Jesus understood that our hearts can be inclined toward love or bent toward evil. In one of his most famous and brilliant teachings, he said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Here’s my interpretation of this verse: “What you value is who you are.” The heart in biblical theology is the deepest part of who we are. It is the source of our will and the secret self at the core of our being known only by us and God. So, the heart can be loving or full of hate. It can be compassionate or apathetic, if not cruel. It can be generous or greedy. It all depends on the heart’s orientation.
At the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter, James Dickey, the poet laureate of South Carolina, read one of his poems which contained a reference to “the quiet strength of tended fields.” With Carter’s peanut farming background, Dickey knew the President would appreciate that metaphor. If you want good crops and long-term health for your fields, you must cultivate them with care, wisdom, and appreciation. The same is true with the heart.
I think the Canadian Tenors are correct in warning us not to be guided and misled by the voices around us. And there are many foolish, misleading, seductive, and suspect voices bombarding us day by day which pander to our fears and base desires. So, the questions facing us is “What should be the orientation of our heart? What or whom can we trust? What should we value? How should we determine the direction and content of our lives?” Within Judaism the greatest commandment is all about our foundational orientation. That commandment is found in the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) which commands us to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our might. (Jesus added “with all of our mind” for all those who think they must have frontal lobotomies if they follow him.) Jesus said that this was the greatest commandment, and then added that the second greatest commandment was to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. (It would be interesting for those who want to go more deeply into Scripture to note that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark have Jesus referring to a “second commandment” about loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Luke, however, never refers to a “second commandment.” He sees loving our neighbor as a part and extension of loving our God. So, after he says, “… with all our mind,” he immediately says, “and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-28). 1 John writes that if we claim to love God whom we have not seen but do not love our brothers and sisters whom we do see, we are liars, because we can’t love God without loving our neighbors. For both Luke and John, loving our fellow humans is a part and extension of our loving God. Do I have to tell you that far too many Christians in the history of the church have never understood this “Greatest Commandment?)
So, what is the take-away of all we’ve looked at in this article? Just as fields must be well tended to have the strength to exist and be fruitful, so must our hearts. Such tending will require honest prayer, a rigid scrutiny of our motives at the deepest level of our being, a vigilant maintenance of what we value as followers of Jesus and lovers of the God he called Abba, and an unwavering commitment to love and compassion in all our dealings with our fellow humans. The heart can be easily deceived, hardened, and twisted. And there is much in our day that could lead to such degradation. With leaders who don’t know the truth and have no desire to learn the truth but are guided by greed, arrogance and petty vengeance, it’s apparently easy for many in our society to follow such an immoral and devastating path. But if Jesus (the Jesus of the Bible and not the Jesus of American civil religion or the distorted Jesus of the false prophets of our day) is our northern star, then the Canadian Tenors are correct. He will never lead us astray. With such guidance, we can lead with our hearts because we have given them to One we trust knows the way.