My Word for 2022 is Wholehearted. It’s a word with many meanings and connotations, but for me, this year, it is a word that is guiding my focus and attention towards wholeness and integrity as I seek to live a life that is aligned in belief, thought, word, and action.
In Biblical terms, the heart is at the center of who we are, defining and directing us and driving all that we do; therefore, to have a heart that is healed and whole is to lead a life that is animated by wholeness. Wholehearted embodies holiness and sanctification; it is having a heart that looks more and more like that of Christ.
And therein lies the question: what, exactly, does the heart of Christ look like? My search for an answer led me to this first of twelve books I hope to read this year on the subject of discipleship and spiritual formation.
Pastor Dane Ortlund begins his book with this introduction: “This is a book about the heart of Christ. Who is he? Who is he really? What is most natural to him? What ignites within him most immediately as he moves toward sinners and sufferers? What flows out most freely, most instinctively? Who is he?” Gentle and Lowly—written for “normal Christians, for sinners and sufferers”—draws upon Scripture and the works of 17th century Puritans to answer the question of how Jesus feels about us. Ortlund leads us beyond sterile doctrines into the very heart from which these doctrines were birthed. . . the heart that is the originator of all . . . the heart that abounds in love . . . the heart of Jesus.
In the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, there is only one place where Jesus tells us about his own heart. He reveals attributes of Himself (and of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit) in nearly every verse of the four Gospel books, but in only one place do we see Jesus share His own heart: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Of all the words He could have chosen to describe Himself and His own heart, the ones He selected were gentle and lowly. Ortlund spends more than two hundred pages unpacking these aspects of the heart of Christ, guiding us into a deeper understanding of Jesus’ overwhelming love and grace.
The overarching theme of this book is straightforward: Jesus loves us. More than we could possibly fathom. It’s a message most Christians have heard more times than we can count, but Ortlund manages to convey this message in a manner so exquisitely profound that it literally took my breath away. Through the most stunning word pictures and insightful Scripture interpretation, Ortlund paints a remarkable portrait of Christ’s heart that left me in utter awe of my Savior.
My copy of Gentle and Lowly is now brimming with highlights and margin notes—indicators of how enamored I was with this book that offered a deeper understanding of Christ’s heart and, in turn, the concept of wholeheartedness. Of the many memorable passages and takeaways, these were some of my favorites:
+ Jesus is our friend who approaches us on our own terms and befriends us for both his and our mutual delight. His friendship with us is a two-way relationship of joy, comfort, and openness.
+ “Miracles are not an interruption of the natural order but the restoration of the natural order. We are so used to a fallen world that sickness, disease, pain, and death seem natural. In fact, they are the interruption.”
+ Christ got angry and still gets angry because he “loves too much to remain indifferent. And this righteous anger reflects his heart, his tender compassion.” But “the wrath of Christ and the mercy of Christ are not at odds with one another, like a see-saw, one diminishing to the degree that the other is held up. Rather, the two rise and fall together. The more robust one’s felt understanding of the just wrath of Christ against all that is evil both around us and within us, the more robust our felt understanding of his mercy.”
+ Our sin evoke Jesus’ compassion as He sides with us against our sin (not against us because of our sin). He hates sin, but He loves us more.
+ The crevices of sin are the places where Jesus loves us most. “Our sinning goes to the uttermost. but his saving goes to the uttermost. And his saving always outpaces and overwhelms our sinning.”
+ God’s “highest priority and deepest delight and first reaction—his heart—is merciful and gracious. He gently accommodates himself to our terms rather than overwhelming us with his. . . His anger requires provocation; his mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth.”
+ “The battle of the Christian life is to bring your own heart into alignment with Christ’s, that is, getting up each morning and replacing your natural orphan mind-set with a mind-set of full and free adoption into the family of God through the work of Christ your older brother, who loved you and gave himself for you out of the overflowing fulness of his gracious heart.” Our inclination is towards a law-fueled resistance to Christ’s heart, but we need to remember that it is Christ’s heart (not our sin OR our resistance to sin) that defines us when we are united in Christ.
+ “The creation of the world was to give vent to the gracious heart of Christ. And the joy of heaven is that we will enjoy that unfettered and undiluted heart forevermore.”
In the books’s epilogue, Ortland responds to the question of “What are we to do with this?” with the simplest yet most unexpected of answers: nothing. He points out that to attempt to apply these ideas about Jesus’ love would be to trivialize the study of the heart of Jesus. And so, the answer of what to do with this book is the answer for all of th Christian life: Go To Jesus. This is my first and primary step in becoming wholehearted, and I’m thankful to Ortlund for pointing the way.
I can’t stop talking about this book and want to press a copy into the hands of everyone I know—Christians and nonbelievers alike. Jesus met me within the pages of Gentle and Lowly and I feel so much gratitude for having encountered Him here as I seek after His heart and welcome Him into my own.
My Book Rating: 5+ Stars!