Kingdom Life: The Heart

written by J. A. Hart

Before you begin.

This blog is meant to engage your imagination. I encourage you to pray before you begin:
Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit. Come into my imagination. I give my imagination to you and ask that you make it yours. This is your space, and I invite you into it. Be present here as I read this blog. Show me the images I need to see. Show me the space I need to be in. Take me there with you, and lead me through this time. Make this space holy- set apart to be yours. In the name of Jesus, I pray, amen.
Imagine you are walking on a path through a wood…

The sun shines down on you warming your face as you walk under the shade of the overstory. In the trees, you hear birds singing; the branches sway to the rhythm of their song. The path before you is clear, but you notice it isn't well kept or trodden. As you walk, small cottages sit on either side of the path, and you notice vines growing over the roofs of the cottages.  
Last week we asked you to reflect on a question: whose kingdom do you live in daily? If you are like me, you probably looked at your actions or what you do every day to answer that question.
You recognize most of the fruit hanging on the vines. A sweet clear aroma like the breath of spring fills your lungs. Red apples grow and shine in the bright sunlight, oranges hang on the far wall near the chimney, and all manner of berries grow down the sides of the cottage: Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and some berries you’ve never seen before.

Your mouth waters as you think about the crunch of a juicy apple, the spray of orange juice on your lips, and the soft, sweet flesh of the berries. You plan to eat the fruit, but for a moment you look at another cottage across the street. 

Weeds grow from the ground around the vines over the roof covering the cottage like a dark canopy. Fruit grows upon its roof as well, but this fruit is nothing like the other. The apples are wrinkled, shriveled, and black; the aroma of rot and decay floats to you and overtakes the sweetness of spring on the other cottage. Berries hang from vines like mucous, a thick viscous liquid drips from their flesh. Your stomach turns and with it, your appetite.
Reflecting on your actions is a great litmus test to begin to see whose kingdom you live in. The method seems pretty flawless and logical. If I do good things, I must be living in a good kingdom. If I do bad things, I must be living in a bad kingdom. Seems fairly simple, right? I mean, even Jesus says, “You shall know them by their fruit.”
You continue down the path and come to another cottage. The fruit on its roof seems perfect. Your stomach growls, and you see a sign on the door of the cottage, “Take and eat.”

You plan to do just that.

You walk over to a low-hanging vine and pluck a perfectly round shining apple. You close your eyes and lift it to your mouth, preparing for the delightful crunch, but as you bite into it, your teeth sink into mush. You stop and observe the apple. Maggot’s squirm all over the inside of its black flesh, and the skin peels from its edges like a dark mouth opening. In a second, you drop the apple and spit the bite out of your mouth.
“You shall know them by their fruit.” -Jesus of Nazareth
If you read Matthew 7, Jesus says this twice within the span of six verses, leading me to believe that the fruit of one’s life is incredibly important. But, between the repetition of this claim, He remarks on something we often overlook:
17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 
18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
Notice: what’s at the core of “knowing one by their fruit?” He talks about the health of the tree, and the health of the tree determines what fruit it bears. Jesus only refers to the fruit as it relates to the tree’s health.
For a moment, you gag trying to get the taste of decay and maggots from your tongue.

How could the fruit be like this? You think, It looked perfect. I should let the owner know. 

You walk to the front door and knock. No one answers.

You knock again.

 Again, no one answers.

You slowly turn the handle and open the door.

“Hello,” you ask, “Are you aware..”

You stop. The scent of decay engulfs you, and your eyes begin to water. Bile climbs up your throat. You swallow, and open the door, holding your nose. You see the state of the cottage; chairs are on their sides. The tables are flipped. Black ivy grows through the floorboards, up the walls, and into the ceiling. Gray weblike material floats through the air like ash.

No wonder, you think.

You are about to call out again when a dark figure shrouded by mist materializes. It howls or screams, you can’t tell which; it rushes toward you. You reach for the handle, and as you close the door, the figure slams into it. You fall backward; fear runs through you freezing your body. You can’t move.
When Jesus mentions the state of the trees, I don’t think he is talking about its physical health. The rule can still apply, but I think Jesus is touching on something deeper here- something that answers the question, Why. I believe he is talking about the heart.
You lay still for a moment frozen like you would in a nightmare. The door handle turns. You will your legs to move, and slowly your body responds. You push yourself off the ground, as the door opens. You run down the path. Your legs feel asleep, but as you move they work better until you are in a full sprint. You don’t look back or stop until your lungs feel like fire.

You lean against a tree to catch your breath. Sweat drips down your face; you look around. Fear grips you. The sun is gone; the forest stands in darkness. Through the overstory, moonbeams cast thin veils of light across the forest floor. You try to calm your breathing, but fear holds tight.

Suddenly, you hear a voice coming from far far away. Peace is laced within the voice’s tone. It calms you; the night no longer feels menacing. You notice crickets chirping in the tall grass under the trees around you and the fireflies that flit in the crowns above. A soft breeze blows in your face, and with it the voice. Longing fills you. You continue down the path.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” - David, King of Israel
If you have been around my family, you’ve probably heard us talk about the heart, but the idea of “the heart” may be foreign to you.

The heart is at the core of your being. Everything flows from it. It is like a chamber inside of you. In this chamber, you are completely naked. Your story is written on the walls as well as every name you’ve ever taken on. This is where your worldview lies, your beliefs are seen in every book and journal. If you were to let anyone there, they would see YOU completely. The heart is where you can be completely known, seen, and heard. The heart is where God wants to be with you.
The night passes and the dawn arrives. The sun warms your face and lifts the dew from the trees and plants around you. Birds flutter to and fro singing the new day into being. You see a cottage ahead of you; something is familiar about it. A breeze caresses your face; the voice says, “Come and be.”

The longing rekindles and grows like a fire. A feeling of homesickness for a place you’ve never seen grows in you. 

When you reach the cottage, it seems familiar, like a place you knew as a child, but somehow forgotten along the way. You don’t notice the fruit growing on its roof. You walk up to the door. You turn the handle and open the door.
How do we see the answer to the question: whose kingdom do I live in?

If we look to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7, the answer is clear. 

Our life’s fruit reveals the state of our hearts, and the state of our hearts unveils whose kingdom we live in.  If we want to reflect on whose kingdom we are living in, we need to step into the realm of our hearts.

So, how is your heart?

Calibration:

Put your phone on “Do not Disturb.” Spend thirty minutes journaling and reflecting on these questions.

Finish the story: In your imagination, open the cottage door to the chamber of your heart.

Ask Jesus to lead you into the cottage. What do you notice immediately?

What is the state of the room? (Clean? Filthy? Disarray? Organized? Vines? Cobwebs?)

What does the room look like? (Colors of the walls? Furniture?)

What does all of this unveil about your heart to you? Why?

Ask Jesus what this unveils about your heart to Him. Ask him what he thinks.

Write down what he says.
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