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An Undivided Heart

30 Sep Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on An Undivided Heart
An Undivided Heart

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness;
Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.
– Psalm 86:11-12


It’s always struck me when I’ve read this passage that the Psalmist asks God to provide for him an undivided heart. What flows out of that request is a desire to fear God’s name and praise him literally whole-heartedly. Not half-heartedly, not quarter-heartedly. The whole thing.

I think what I find most encouraging in this couplet, however, is the honest recognition that we often don’t have an undivided heart. The reality of life is that our heart is often cluttered, pulled in a dozen different directions, weighed down by the burden of our daily grind. This psalm starts from an honest place that many of us can deeply resonate with.

I don’t think there’s ever been a Christian who’s said, “If I had my choice, I’d be good with the quarter-heart praise.” We long for an undivided heart, because we know God deserves it. We long to have a whole-hearted response to God.

But the heart is a mysterious thing.


Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand

Imagine your heart as a jar containing a mixture of smooth river stones, pebbles, and sand. It’s a crowded place. Some elements are easily visible around the edges, but some are hidden behind layers. It’s perhaps an odd analogy, but one that takes on significance as we sit with it.

Think about those rocks, pebbles, and sand for a moment. Each of them can carry a name, label, association for us.

Rocks are the biggies in our life. They represent the weighty things we carry with us; everything from our central concerns, burdens, and core values, to our unresolved issues, treasures, and central concerns.

If you took a moment right now, could you list out 5 or 6 rocks in your life?

Pebbles represent our peripheral issues. They have substance and they take up space, even if they’re not as weighty as the rocks. Pebbles include diversions, entertainment, escapes, daydreams, etc.

What are some of your favorite pebbles?

Finally, there is the sand. Sand has a way of getting into every little nook and crack (don’t go there). Sand is made up of all the daily things that take our time and space. They have a way of spilling past our margin. Sand can include your “to do” list, routines, job duties, etc. Someone once explained it to me like this, “You have ‘OK sand’ – the things you don’t mind doing – and ‘gritty sand’ – the things that are irritating and abrasive but have to do them none the less.”

If you had to make a quick list of things that you’d consider ‘OK sand’, what would be on the list? How about a list of the ‘gritty sand’?


Hidden Weights

One last thing to think about with this “rocks, pebbles, and sand in a jar” analogy for our hearts… some of those hidden rocks weigh heavy in us. There are elements buried deep under layers, some have gotten down there by the passage of time, others because we found that to be the easiest way to deal with them, still others were covered because people told us to move on.

Sometimes the hidden rocks weigh the heaviest.

Things like relationships, disappointments, broken promises, unrealized opportunities, defining moments, “by me” sins and “against me” sins. These things can continue pulling us down long after they actually occurred.

The Examined Heart is a Step Closer to the Whole Heart

The jar analogy is helpful in that it invites us to take a closer look at the various things cluttering, pulling at, or weighing down our heart. It helps us become aware of the reality of a divided heart within us, but we can’t stop there. To stop there is to get stuck. We might even be tempted to take pride in the number of rocks we’re bearing.

No, the psalmist asks God to take him from that place of division and make him into something new. When we examine our hearts, we are better able to ask God to recreate them.

Take some time to sit with your lists. Perhaps it’d even be helpful to go outside and find a stone so that you can feel its weight in your hands. As you prepare to respond, here are some helpful passages to reflect on:

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me…Search me, God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” – Psalm 139:1, 23-24

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” – Ezekiel 11:19 (cp 36:26)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28:30

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness;
Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.
– Psalm 86:11-12


Aaron Brown
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Aaron Brown is an Assistant Professor of Student Ministry at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. He attended Biola University and Talbot School of Theology. Before coming to LBC, he was the Sr. High Director at Living Word Community Church in Red Lion, PA. Aaron serves as the Project's editor and web guy.