Before my conversion, I’d listen to a sermon and think to myself: I know this. And, to be honest, I did know it. After my conversion, my thoughts changed from I know this to The Lord is speaking to me about how He wants to change me, and how He wants to shape my life. That’s true even today. It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with the Biblical content; but it’s those moments when I feel God is doing something inside of me; He’s revealing something deeper to me.
It’s the difference between seeing something and really hearing something. It’s the difference between knowing and knowing. It’s knowing in the core of your being what is true.
The great danger people in churches face today is falling into the habit of going through the routine, the liturgy, without there being any substance. Often, people who attend church cannot tell you the subject of the sermon three days later. It’s because they’re not receiving anything that’s life-changing. But then there are times we hear a message or a word during church, and we know we’ll never be the same because of what we heard. It’s because it’s full of substance, and substance comes from the heart. It’s those encounters with the Lord that are life-changing.
What’s interesting is that science is now beginning to reinforce the importance of our hearts beyond a physical level. In a 2007 study by Professor Mohammed Omar Salem called “Heart, Mind and Spirit,” he concludes: “It has long been thought that conscious awareness originates in the brain alone. Recent scientific studies suggest that consciousness emerges from the brain and body acting together.” He goes on to say, “A growing body of evidence now suggests that the heart plays a particularly significant role in this process [of cautious awareness]. Findings indicate…the heart is more than a simple pump. In fact, it is now seen as a highly complex, self-organizing information processing center with its own functional ‘brain’ that communicates with, and influences, the cranial brain via the nervous system, hormonal system and other pathways.”
I’ve seen many star athletes and celebrities wear crosses around their necks, making sure the cross is visible for all to see. They wear it as a fashion statement, but the Bible tells us the cross is a place of death. So when a person wears a cross around his neck, it should be to declare to the world, “I’m dying to myself.” But the behavior of many people who wear crosses actually shows they’re not interested in dying to their own selfish desires and ambitions. To those people, Jesus would say, “your heart is far from Me” (Mark 7:5-7). You may say you’re following God, but your heart is far from Him if you don’t have the heart knowledge of what the cross means.
This lack of heart knowledge isn’t limited to those outside the church either. In many seminaries, future pastors are taught everything except how to be a man of God. As a result, they come out of seminary with a head full of knowledge about the Bible, but with very little heart understanding of God’s Word.
In Matthew 5:20, when Jesus was looking at the Scribes and Pharisees, He said to His disciples “that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” The amazing thing about the statement is the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees were the most knowledgeable religious people – the theologians of that day, yet Jesus said there was nothing in their behavior that reflected they knew God at all.
The Scribes transcribed the Scriptures by memory. They didn’t have anything written down…they just remembered. They had a head full of knowledge, yet nothing was in their hearts. There are many people in the world today who have knowledge about God, but their hearts are far from Him. That could be said of me in my own journey. During my teenage years, I was elected to be the church clerk. As an officer of the church, I recorded all the historical records of the church by taking notes during business meetings and other church events. I was active in my church and knew all that was going on, but I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus. All I had was head knowledge about God.
God used a painful season in my life to show me the difference between head and heart knowledge.
I write in more detail in my book, “I Wish I’d Known”, but for now I’ll simply say I came to a point in my life when I was divorced, abandoned, and alone. I became so depressed about my situation that I began to plan my suicide.
The night arrived for me to end my life. I got in my car to drive to the bridge I planned to drive my car off. I looked down at the passenger seat and saw a church bulletin sitting there. I picked up the bulletin and looked at the address on it. It was the address of the pastor’s house. I didn’t know the pastor and had never spoken to him personally, but I decided I would go by his house before I drove over to the bridge. I reasoned that if I was going to take my life, I better be right with God.
I drove down the pastor’s street and found his house. I didn’t even need to look for the house number. The front window was open, and from the street I could see he was sitting inside reading the Bible. I parked my car, went to the door and rang the doorbell. He came to the door and invited me in.
I kept my suicide plan to myself, but did tell him I wanted to be right with God. We talked and talked, and I told him my history, I told him about how I’d been raised in church and that I had been baptized before.
Finally, he said to me, “You’re a believer. I just think this circumstance with your wife and your divorce has gotten the best of you. I’ll tell you what, let’s settle this issue tonight. Get down on your knees.”
I got down on my knees, and he knelt down there with me and said, “I want you to repeat after me. Lord, I know I’m a sinner. I know I need a Savior. I accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. Forgive me of my sins and come into my life. Amen.”
When we finished praying, I got up off my knees, and the pastor said, “Okay, I want you to write something down. Write down: ‘On September 16, 1959, at 12:25 am, I prayed the sinner’s prayer.’” I wrote it down on a piece of paper before I left, and he told me to go home and put it in my Bible.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have the understanding or the head knowledge before I met with the pastor that night. I had grown up going to a Southern Baptist church in rural Alabama. My Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Burks, taught me about Jesus and how to be saved. I had the head knowledge of how to be saved. I knew to confess my sin. I knew Jesus was my Savior. I knew I had to ask Him to come into my heart. But those things had to become real in my heart. When I met with the pastor that night, I gained a new awareness in my heart that there is a God; there is a way to salvation. That night, unbeknownst to me, God took everything I’d ever learned, everything I knew, out of head and put it in my heart.
After I came to know the Lord in my heart, I never had another suicidal thought again.