There is a great deal of emphasis in recent times upon heartfelt religion. This, no doubt, is a reaction to how some have placed undo emphasis in the past upon formalism and traditionalism. It is true that some churches have made keeping to traditions their priority. This is just as unacceptable today as it was in the time of Christ. He often denounced the Scribes and Pharisees for their emphasis upon formalism and traditionalism and their neglect of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, what some deem heartfelt religion is little more than sensationalism. In order to understand what it really means to love and serve God with all of my heart. I must first understand what the Scriptures mean when they speak of the heart. The heart, as spoken of in the Bible, encompasses one’s intellect, emotions and will.
Solomon says For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. (Proverbs 23:7, emp. mine p.e.p.) This text shows that the heart involves the mind or the intellect. The heart is that with which a person thinks. It is that with which one may decided a course of action or inaction.
We learn that David’s wife, Michal, despised her husband in her heart. And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. (2 Samuel 6:16, emp. mine p.e.p.) This shows that we experience emotions or feeling, we feel them in our hearts. Most often today, this is what one means when they speak of the heart, especially when spoken of in a religious context. Some are accused of not having heartfelt religion if they are not constantly gushing with emotions in the public assembly. The absence of an outward show of emotions does not mean that person is not experiencing strong emotions.
The Bible also teaches that the heart involves man’s will. Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. (Acts 5:4 emp. mine p.e.p.) We see that when Aninias and Saphira decided to lie to the Holy Spirit, this act of will, involved their hearts.
We see then, that in order to serve God with all of my heart, I must serve him with my intellect, emotions and my will. How does this play out in our lives? Very simply in this way. God’s divinely inspired Word changes my intellect. Once my intellect is informed, it affects my emotions and this, together with my intellect directs and determines my will.
This is perfectly illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:17ff). First, his intellect was affected. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! (Luke 15:17) He, in effect, says “This doesn’t make any sense.” That his emotions are involved in this is very strongly implied. When he thinks of home, he yearns to return. Finally, his heart directs his will. And he arose and came to his father…(Luke 15:20a)
True heartfelt religion is not the charismatic chaos we see in some churches today, nor is that which is “better felt than told.” True heartfelt religion is that devotion to God that arises from the reaction of man’s intellect, emotions and will when it is stirred by the divinely inspired Word of God.