“I have you in my heart.”
Sounds charming, doesn’t it? The stuff of Hallmark cards and chick flicks, BFFs and boyfriends.
What if I were to tell you that the person who said this wrote it from a prison cell? That he (yes, he) was a time-hardened traveler who never could take “no” for an answer? That he once was a religious terrorist and murderer? A 63-or-so-year-old man who had argued his way in and out of trouble so many times, many of his closest associates had hit the road?
And yet from prison he wrote to a group of VIPs – friends who had been sources of great joy to him. And this is what he said:
I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I deeply miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:3-8).
These aren’t the breathless words of a new believer, but the seasoned words of a heart-still-on-fire. But he’s writing to people who had touched him with something other than whips or stones. This group of believers had gone to a place in his heart where few had ever visited: they had become his friends.
Friends. That’s a word used cheaply as often as “love.” The same word my five-year-old son once used to describe a kid he’d just met five minutes earlier, and Facebookers use to describe, well, anybody, is the word Jesus used for people in covenant-to-death with Him. But however casually you may use the term, one thing is clear: The day will come when somebody slams and locks the door behind you. Or life will get lonely and cold. And on that day, you’d better hope to God you have somebody in your heart.
So who’s in yours?
Here’s a little primer that may remind you (or surprise you) of the people in your heart.
1. Who do you remain grateful to, even to this day?
“Gratitude,” Helen Keller said, “is the memory of the heart.” It’s a wonderful and important thing. But it also decays with time. I was really grateful that Dr. Cothen lent me 20 bucks to buy gas money on the way home from New Orleans Seminary. But I hardly ever think of that any more, and certainly don’t feel the same relief. After all, it’s been 29 years. But other people have touched my life in ways like Paul described the Philippians – to this day, every time I think of them, my heart fills up with gratitude.
2. Who is a complete joy to pray for?
We have opportunities to pray for lots of people. Some are heartbreaking and others are rather neutral. But a rare few are actually a sweet delight to pray for. Interestingly enough, this may be someone you have never actually met personally or haven’t seen in a long time.
It’s as though God uniquely gives something back to you as you offer prayer support for them. Sort of like the time I told Mrs. Willie Mae Dawkins that I’d been having a hard time.
“I know,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“How’d you know that,” I asked, surprised.
She said, “Let me tell you something, Andy Wood. I pray for you. And when I talk to God about you, He talks back.”
She had me in her heart.
3. Who do you believe – really believe – in?
Paul knew who his ultimate faith was in – “He who began a good work in you,” he said. But he didn’t use this kind of language about everybody he wrote. Have you ever noticed what it does to your heart when you know somebody with promise? Who seems destined for something awesome? It feels like an adventure in the making, and you get a front-row seat. That’s one reason I’m such a sucker for kids. The potential is unlimited. But it’s just as heart-filling for me to say to somebody my age or older, “The end of the story hasn’t been told about you yet. I believe in the (wo)man you are yet to be.”
4. Who do you miss?
“God is my witness how deeply I miss all of you,” Paul said. He longed for them. Couldn’t wait to see them. Not in the sense of how pleasant it would be to say hello sometime. These people had so impacted Paul’s life, he yearned for the day he would set his eyes on them again. Who has touched you like that? Who could you see today and it wouldn’t feel as though you’d missed a beat? That’s somebody who’s in your heart.
So what do I do with this?
Okay, so you know who’s in your heart. So what or what now? I suggest you do what Paul did – find a way to keep them close. Life pushes people away from us, and it pushes hard. We have to be intentional to keep the people in our hearts actually in our lives. In the next post I’ll show you how.
But what if, when you’re honest, you look in your heart and nobody’s there. I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you sit there in self-pity and do nothing about it, you’ll die as lonely as you are right now. Get up! Reach out! Risk! Serve! And most of all, remember – there is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother. And the world may abandon you, but Jesus never fails.