Understanding the Heart

Central to a truly Biblical understanding of human personhood is an understanding of the heart.

Most of us are aware of the way our culture has bifurcated heart and mind in direct contrast to the Biblical picture of heart as being central to who we “are”. We are to guard our heart, says the Teacher, because all of life’s issues are in it and flow out of it. A flowering life comes from a flowering, well-tended heart.

And if you lead anything, you know that people’s hearts is the “thing” you are after. Capture the heart and you capture everything else.

That’s all nice, but let’s be honest, the human heart is a mess. Like the Teacher goes on to say, the purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, the man of understanding draws them out. That’s a pretty apt description of discipleship and by extension, leadership, don’t you think? Tapping into a person’s depths and longings and desires.  What could be unleashed when that is understood and channeled?

The problem is that the people I lead have purposes in their hearts that are–at least to me–deep and unsearchable. I don’t think they even know them. The waters are too deep and murky and old and uncharted. Better to leave them alone. I know I’m up against heart issues when I feel resistance to a suggested change. When I suggest have a BBQ of Sacred Cow and a look of horror flashes across their face. When they give lip-service to a new approach but continue behaving the old way. The secret to leadership, it seems, is in the heart.  And it’s really frustrating, because I don’t like messes.

But if I can’t help people process their hearts, I can’t lead them. And more importantly, if I can’t process my own heart, I can’t lead myself (that honestly feels like the bigger challenge). To say nothing of helping them do the fundamental work of giving their heart in a complete way to Jesus.

Enter the circle: A way to help someone observe, reflect on and discuss the things that seem unknowable even to themselves. And not to simply reflect on them, but set in motion attitudes of mind and heart that move the heart in a new direction. I’d argue that the average church leader does not have a tool like this in their bag. They might have a theological hammer (or lever), but information pounded or pried usually doesn’t touch the depths. They might have psychological spectacles for insight into human behavior, but that approach can stay clinical and detached and feel like observation, not partnership and help. They might have a willpower jackhammer to forcefully pound out their own way. I know, because I’ve used every one of these tools to pry open the depths of the human heart (with varying degrees of success).

The circle becomes a way to teach a person to learn for themselves and teach other people to learn for themselves who teach other people to learn for themselves…from Jesus. Isn’t this what Jesus did? Repeatedly touched the heart of his followers? What if I could learn to do the same? My youth pastor–who uses the circle regularly with students–says it thusly, the circle is golden.

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