Talking the Talk or Walking the Walk?

The Critical Eighteen Inches  Part 5
The Journey from Head Knowledge to Heart Revelation
             Pilgrims Progress, considered one of the masterpieces of English literature, has a great deal to say about the head and heart in relation to the Christian experience.  The author, John Bunyan, was once quoted as saying; “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” 
            In this allegorical work, Bunyan has many characters that represent various types of Christians and people who thought they were Christians.  One of these allegorical figures is “Talkative” who is all about rhetoric in relation to his Christian experience, but when pressed upon shows very little Christian virtue to match his words.  “Talkative” is a perfect example of all head and no heart, who had a form of godliness but denied it’s power to change his life. 
            I once had an experience in a classroom where I observed someone go from head knowledge to heart revelation; from a form of godliness to a changed life.

The Classroom
Buzz off, buddy. She burned you last night!
      The story involves a young woman. The setting was a Discipleship Training School that I was leading. A young woman named Kim had arrived at the training center with a set of conflicting affections. Kim had been raised in a Christian home but recently had become involved with a young man who did not share her moral values. This involvement had taken its toll on her relationship and walk with God. At the urging of her mother, Kim had enrolled in our school.
      As the initial weeks passed, I noticed that Kim was starting to respond to the love of God. God was very gently wooing her back to himself. One day I was teaching a session on the relinquishment of rights. The message was based on the life of Abraham and how he had to give up Isaac, through whom all God’s promises to Abraham were to be fulfilled. The message of the teaching, put simply, was that there are things in our lives, some good and some bad, that if we hold on to will hinder an intimate relationship with God; they are roadblocks to our being useful to God. Normally, I would have an application or response to this teaching. I would instruct the students to take some time in prayer that afternoon, asking the Lord if there was anything that he wanted them to give to him. Was there anything in their lives that was more important to them than God? That evening we would build a bonfire where students could burn little folded sheets of paper upon which they had written whatever, if anything, God had shown them that afternoon.
      On this day we were hit with a low pressure area, and the weather forecast called for twenty-four to thirty-six hours of steady rain. This sort of precluded a bonfire, but one of our staff members said, “There is no miracle in the fire. Why don’t we put a candle in a bucket and do it right here in the classroom?” We decided we would give it a try. The spiritual atmosphere turned out to be just as solemn. There is always a sacred presence in meetings like these, because people bring lifelong dreams and aspirations and place them before God to take away or give back.
      The students brought their notes and watched them burn slowly in the flame of the candle and turn to ash. Kim sat near the front of the classroom toward the side. As the meeting progressed, she took a picture out of her Bible. It was a picture of her boyfriend. She stared at the photo for a few moments and then put it back in the Bible. My wife, who was sitting in the back of the classroom, told me later that Kim did this at least twice. As the meeting was coming to an end, I gave one last opportunity for anyone to come forward. Kim took the picture and slowly stood up and walked up to the bucket. She carefully placed the picture in the flame. It was one of those old Polaroid pictures that seemed like it was made partly of wax. As the flame started to burn through the Polaroid, the picture bent and made a cracking sound. It was almost as if you could hear Kim’s heart breaking. That night there was a change of the residents in Kim’s heart—one moved out who would never totally fulfill her, and one moved in who would never, ever disappoint her.
      The next morning I was walking toward the dining hall and the pay phone rang. I almost never answered the pay phone, but it rang and I was there, so I picked it up. Guess who it was? Kim’s boyfriend. What do I say to him? Buzz off, she burned you last night! No, it was not my place to speak. I told someone to go get Kim. I don’t know what she told the guy. I never asked her, because it was none of my business. But I do know that she finished the school, and instead of going back to her home, she worked for a couple of years as a missionary. That speaks for itself.
Why did God have me answer the phone that night? I think there are two reasons. First, he wanted to remind me again that words can sometimes be cheap. It is not what we say but what we do that counts. Even symbolic gestures such as burning our notes can be useless unless we are committed to follow through. The real test for Kim came not in the classroom that night—yes, maybe it started there—but when she talked with her boyfriend. That is where the rubber met the road. That is where she proved whom she really loved.
Second, God was reminding me of the importance of my relationship with him and the lordship of Christ in my life. The burning of notes was not a spiritual game we were playing but an avenue to allow God to take his rightful place in our hearts. There is room for only one God in our hearts. There is the capacity in our heart for many loves, but only after the one true God reigns supreme in it. Anything that challenges his supremacy and lordship is a vain idol, which God in his mercy must allow to die. Why? Because he knows such idols will never fulfill those who worship them.
            Kim had to choose whether she was going to be a “Talkative” or the real deal.  Was she going to have a form of godliness or allow God’s love and power to change her heart?  That evening Kim’s intellectual understanding of God and a heart revelation of his love for her embraced.  Our Christian experience must have head and heart.  Bunyan in his Apology to his work finishes by inviting us; “O then come hither, And lay my book, thy head, and heart together.”  No, my friends, we never arrive, but are you on that journey to traverse those critical eighteen inches?
Adapted from Ken Barnes, The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places: The Joy of Serving God in the Ordinary (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2011), 99-102.

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