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On Divided Hearts

As I’ve mentioned before, I often join a few Anglican colleagues for morning prayers on Wednesdays. When I do so, I invariably come away with something to ponder from the Scriptures we read together and the traditional prayers that we join our voices with. This morning’s Psalm was a portion from the longest of them all, Psalm 119. Our reading began with these words: I hate those with divided hearts…

My first thought upon reading those words was, “Gosh, who among us would escape the charge of having a divided heart?” Not me, certainly. My heart often feels divided in more ways than I could (or would care to) enumerate. Divided between God and self, hope and despair, joy and sorrow, love and fear, charity and cynicism, mercy and pride… Between the good works I was created in Christ Jesus to love and to do and the sin that I hate but cannot leave.

During last Sunday’s sermon, I referred to Paul’s anguished expression of a divided heart in Romans 7:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Yeah, you and me both, Paul.

I’m glad that even though the Psalmist might hate those with divided hearts (or think he’s supposed to), even though Paul and I (and countless others, no doubt) might hate how easily our hearts divide, that God has a rather different disposition toward divided hearts. He loves them. Even as they remain divided. And he rescues them. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

After we had spent some time reflecting on these matters, my colleague wisely concluded with this very appropriate Lenten collect for those who hearts remain divided:

Father of mercy,

alone we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.

When we are discouraged by our weakness,

strengthen us to follow Christ,

our pattern and our hope;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for this Ryan. When I had cancer many years ago, I found myself contemplating and returning to Ps 86:11 when I came out of my chemo stupors: “…give me an undivided heart that I may be in worshipful awe of Your Name.” What struck me about the Psalmist’s awareness of the divided heart was the concurrent awareness that it is God who must do the surgery or the transplant for an undivided heart. But more, the undivided heart is for the purpose of fearing (worshipful awe, holy wonder of) the Lord. Thus in the heart of such suffering, I was given a gift of worship. Thanks for your prayer, and the allusion to the long standing reference to the Triune God “who lives and reigns… now and forever.”

    March 7, 2018
    • Thanks for this insight, Rusty. Yes, it is surely God who must do the surgery. This insight is all the more poignant given the circumstances within which it emerged in a new way for you.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

      March 8, 2018

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