I don’t hear this expression much anymore, but when I was a little girl, I remember hearing Christians talk about “asking Jesus into your heart.” This was a way of describing how to become a Christian, how to be born again. Ask Jesus into your heart. Some little children have taken this quite literally, thinking that Jesus is inside their blood pumping organ.
We discover many expressions, idioms, and metaphors in Scriptures — phrases that we don’t take literally, but that express meaning through word pictures, sometimes communicating bigger ideas in fewer words, and usually in more colorful words. To offer some common, nonbiblical examples, we realize that when Sam says, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” he means we are experiencing a heavy rain. When Sally says, “It’s time to hit the hay,” she means that it is time to go to bed.
Many biblical expressions have become a regular part of the English language, largely through the King James Version of the Bible which has had a major impact on the shaping of our language, along with Shakespeare’s works, Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, and the Oxford English Dictionary (my favorite English dictionary). We could go on identifying other enriching tributaries that flow into the ocean of the powerful English Language, but our topic is idiomatic expressions, such as the heart metaphor, discovered in our English Bibles.
Psalm 23 is one of the most famous chapters of the Bible, often quoted at funerals. It is one long, extended word picture: “The Lord is my shepherd . . . .” The meaning is in the comparison. God is like a benevolent shepherd who cares for all the needs of His sheep, and I am a sheep, His lamb. Verse 5 says, “my cup runneth over.” Hmm. Literally? No, metaphorically. My life is blessed abundantly. The shepherd-sheep imagery runs boldly through the Old and New Testaments — through the sacrificial system and through the commonly understood pastoral experience. God becomes both the Good Shepherd who alertly protects His own and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In both images, God’s love is revealed through action.
Here are some more examples of idiomatic expressions from the Bible:
A cross to bear (Luke 14:27) Seeing eye to eye (Isaiah 52:8) Feet of clay (Daniel 2:31-33)
A fly in the ointment (Eccles. 10:1) A thorn in the flesh (II Cor. 12:7) You sow what you reap (Gal. 6:7)
A wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15) A leopard cannot change his spots (Jer. 13:23)
Now we come to the biblical metaphor of the heart. Employing a number of Hebrew and Greeks words translated “heart” in the Old and New Testaments, the Bible refers to the “heart” nearly 1000 times! It is a major biblical theme. So what does it mean? How are these words used? What concepts are we to learn? And how may these ideas impact me — How I know myself? How I know God? How I understand others?
This takes me back to this idea of asking Jesus into your heart. Is this a truly biblical idea? Do you find such an expression in the Bible? One of my seminary professors told us back in the 1980’s that we shouldn’t use this expression in sharing the gospel because he said it’s not a biblical expression. Over the years, I’ve talked about Jesus in my life rather than in my heart, but after more study on my own, I’ve come back to the “Jesus in my heart” expression as an appropriate expression. I don’t see it as inaccurately representing biblical ideas, though it needs some explaining. When one sees the vast and deep ways the heart is used in Scripture to describe the inner person of a human being, the expression for me becomes meaningful and precious.
Now, this post is getting long enough, so I’ll begin a small scale, biblical investigation of the heart next time. For now, you may want to do a “heart search” in the Bible — and in yourself. Here are some sample verses to check out. Look up just one or two, but if you have time, you’ll find it fascinating to look up more of them, noting their contexts and reading them in more than one translation. (Look them up online at BibleGateway.com .) What do these verses reveal about the nature and the function of the human heart, the metaphorical heart?
Proverbs 3:5-6 Jeremiah 5:23 Romans 6;17 Psalm 28:7 Mark 2:8
II Samuel 6:16 Genesis 6:5-6 Exodus 4:14 Ecclesiastes 1:13 Proverbs 15:28
I’ll close this post with the wisdom and courage inducing passage of Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
🙂 Enjoyed your post; I too blogged about the “heart” in a post from our worship series known as “The Joshua Project.” If you care to, I invite you to stop by and check it out: http://jasonmin.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/article-vi-part-1/ 🙂 Again, thank you for posting.
I also grew up with the expression “ask Jesus into your heart.” This verse always figured heavily in the presentations of salvation that I heard over and over again. My dad is/was a Pastor and my mom was an avid children’s ministry worker. Sunday School, VBS, Day Camp – these were all places where I heard my mom and others present the salvation message to children many, many times. Because of this verse, I have always considered “asking Jesus into your heart” a Biblical expression.
Coupled with the meaning of “heart” throughout Scripture that I began to understand more and more in depth as an adult, it all makes perfect sense to me.