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The Concept HEART Language

By the Rev. Dr. Arne H. Fjeldstad

  

 [Full Text]

  

God reveals himself through personal, passionate and indeed untraditional acts of communication. In this he reveals his heart to us to establish, nurture and develop real communion and fellowship with us. Real communion with God leads to communication that in its turn gives rise to more communication.

  

God has commissioned us to communicate the gospel of salvation and eternal hope into every language, every culture and every “reality” that has not yet heard and received the good news. Being faithful to this commission, through communication we need to establish relationships to touch the core of the human being: the heart. Because, as the apostle Paul writes in Romans 10:10: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified.”

 

However, as communicators we know that only sending the message, or giving out information, is not enough. Communication is what is heard, not only what is said or written. Cultural patterns of a society fundamentally influence the form of communication. Existing beliefs and value systems are a major factor in building communication. Personality and experience modify the form of the message.

 

Our goal must be to penetrate to the very core of the human being, the heart. We need to establish knowledge, or maybe even better, an integrated understanding that can be transformed by the Holy Spirit to a growing, vibrant faith. We need to have the same goal as Paul, who writes in Colossians 2:2-3: “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

 

How, then, can we be effective communicators aiming at the heart — to give the Holy Spirit a foothold with a human being? In the following, I would like to propose a grid, or maybe we could call it a set of criteria, to help the quality control of our communication efforts. I have chosen to call it “HEART language,” based on the first letter of each word.

 

Communicating in a postmodern era challenges our Christian testimony to be real and embodied in our own personal stories of lived life. It must be passionate, incarnating God’s heartfelt love and desire for relationship with every person. A new model for this communication approach can be the HEART language.

 

The purpose of the concept of HEART language is to communicate Christ with a holistic approach, an evangelistic focus, an authentic content and a reconciliating purpose aiming at a transforming outcome (result). We need interactively to communicate Christ crucified to the core of the human being, which the Bible says is the heart.

 

HEART language can be identified with five characteristics, each connected to one of the five letters in the word:

 

Holistic approach: Communicating God’s love for the whole human being.

 

Evangelistic focus: Communicating the eternal good news to the whole world.

 

Authentic content: Honestly including myself to communicate the objective truth.

 

Reconciliating purpose: Communicating God’s redemptive and restoring purpose for all relations.

 

Transforming result: Communicating faith in God’s promise to make me a “new being in Christ.”

 

In essence, HEART language is about revealing and communicating God’s heart for us. Henri J.M. Nouwen points out what HEART language is all about:

 

In our world of loneliness and despair, there is an enormous need for men an women who know the heart of God, a heart that forgives, that cares, that reaches out and want to heal. In that heart there is no suspicion, no vindictiveness, no resentment, and not a tinge of hatred. It is a heart that wants only to give love and receive love in response. It is a heart that suffers immensely because it sees the magnitude of human pain and the great resistance to trusting the heart of God who wants to offer consolation and hope. [1]

  

HEART language is basically and ultimately about God’s love for us, as we may experience it in an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The purpose is to experience a true interaction, from one heart to another. In a Christian context, it is ultimately to allow the Almighty God to communicate all that he wants to give of love, wisdom, faith, strength, admonition, and whatever it might be, in a truly transforming way. Very often God allies himself with the feelings he has created in us to reveal himself to us.

 

Henri Nouwen challenges every Christian leader to “know the heart of God.” The Christian leader of the future is the one who truly knows the heart of God as it has become flesh, “a heart of flesh,” in Jesus:

 

Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation or despair begin to invade the human soul this is not something that comes from God. This sounds very simple and maybe even trite, but very few people know that they are loved without any conditions or limits. This unconditional and unlimited love is what the evangelist John calls God’s first love. “Let us love,” he says, “because God loved us first” (1 John 4:19). [2]

  

HEART language requires a servanthood attitude from the communicator. Only then may we truly communicate effectively to glorify God and serve his redemptive purpose, to “reconcile the world to himself in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19, NIV).

 

Used with this purpose, the HEART language may serve as every commissioned Christian’s “diplomatic language.” God has commissioned every Christian to be his ambassador and called us to communicate his appeal through us: “Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:20b-21).

 

However, HEART language may also be misused for commercial purposes. Much modern marketing aims at stirring up emotional reflections to promote sale of commercial products. One may recognize much similarity between, for example, popular TV shows. Heart language shaped in the image of, for example, the electronic media with the purpose of being only humorous, entertaining, articulate, rich and timely gives no real satisfaction or outcome. Yet, it is also true indeed that within the concept of HEART language, using whatever communication tools available to glorify God and proclaim Christ, the communicational methods in use may very well be humorous, entertaining, articulate, rich and timely.

 

HEART Language

 

 

 

 

 

Concepts Key Questions Desired Outcome
Holistic Does it communicate hope?
Is the message giving help?
Does it reveal God’s holiness?
Promote healing
and humble relations
(diakonia)
Evangelistic Is the message essential?
Is the message encouraging?
Is the message exalting Jesus?
Promote effective
and everlasting
(enduring) relations
Authentic Is the message admonishing?
Is the message artistic?
Promote authentic
and accountable relations
Reconciling Is the message real (to me)?
Is the message relevant?
Promote restoring
and redemptive relations
Transforming Is the message true
(objective)?
Is the message tested?
Is the message touching?
Is the message timely?
Is the message transferable?
Promote thankful and
trustworthy
relations

 

 

This table may also provide some key questions to help evaluate the communication process as well as the outcome of it. The concept of HEART language is intended to help people ask key questions in the process of defining the goals, tools, type of content and methods suitable for communicating the gospel to a new generation. Ministers, missionaries and others working with Generation X people will find it useful to ask questions like these:

 

“Does the ministry communicate in a holistic way, and not only to the mind?”

 

“Are we honest about the purposes of our activities?”

 

“Are we promoting healing, between God and man, humans and nature as well as between human beings?”

 

“Are we communicating the good news (Greek: evangelion) in a creative way?”

 

“Are we sharing about experiences in our life with Christ in a passionate way?”

 

“Are we being authentic and do we promote accountability?”

 

“In what ways are people encouraged to experience reconciliation in Christ?”

 

“How are we witnessing about transforming relationships with Jesus Christ?”

 

In essence, HEART language aims at communicating the essence as well as the fullness of Christ embodied in living relationships. It also promotes a true “freedom in Christ” (Gal. 5:1) to dare to move humanly made fences and build bridges for the sake of the gospel wherever possible.

 

“With hearts enlarged with love, communities of fence movers do not fear dialogue with those who differ from themselves. As Christians, our affection for Christ often results in the use of love language.” [3]

  

The Bible has many references to the heart as the core of the human individual. God is the God who “searches every heart” (1 Chron. 28:9, NIV). He is the one who “knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:21, NIV). The Lord “does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7, NIV). A man’s heart is important to the Lord. Jesus confirms this when he affirms the essence of the Old Covenant. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37, NIV). It is a matter of being true and whole in the relationship with the Supreme Lord of the entire universe.

 

This is by no means only an intellectual or cognitive attitude. To have the heart in the right place in relationship with God implies faithful obedience and a servanthood attitude. As it is written, “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 10:12, NIV).

 

God also looks to our hearts for true repentance (Psalm 51:17) and he wants to renew our hearts so that we may love him wholeheartedly (Ezek. 36:26). It is with our heart that we believe and are justified (Rom. 10:10). In Christ he has let the light “shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:6, NIV). The apostle Paul prays that the Lord may make the love increase and overflow and that the hearts may be strengthened so that we may be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus returns (1 Thess. 3:12f).

 

All these references (and many more) underscore the importance of keeping the heart close to the Lord and letting him be in control of our innermost being, the heart. The postmodern reality challenges us to communicate the good news from heart to heart, in the same passionate, intimate way as God revealed his innermost desire for us by having Jesus die on the cross.

 

The table aims at relating the concept of HEART language to some key questions that can be used as a test when one wants to communicate the gospel within a postmodern frame. Asking key questions may help to stay on target in the communication process. However, normally only some of the question may apply in each situation. Furthermore, to ask what the desired outcome of the communication process may help to avoid misunderstandings in the midst of the process.

 

The first concept focuses on a holistic approach to communicate God’s eternal love. While modernism compartmentalized knowledge and exalted the individual, postmodernism exalts community and reunifies what modernism has dissected and torn apart. “In our transition from a modern evangelistic enterprise to a post-modern evangelistic enterprise, our challenge is to discover how we can embody the gospel story in a way that appeals to the community-oriented post-modern mind.” [4]

  

The Buster generation finds hope, help and sometimes healing in the community. As Christians we need to build real communities, emphasizing the same values in a Christian context. Above all, a humble approach filled with respect for people with a different appearance is needed. While presenting and representing God’s unconditional love, we must not hide or deny his holiness and desire to transform us into his holy people.

 

Second, we must honestly maintain an evangelistic focus. The ultimate goal is conversion, to lead new people into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and introduce them to the community of forgiven sinners. While maintaining a holistic approach, allowing all kinds of initiatives and ideas that may communicate God’s love the core content of the message must never be diluted.

 

The core message is that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, and that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6; NIV). The message should be recognized by its essential focus, encouraging attitude aiming to exalt Jesus as Lord and Saviour. A polluted gospel will lose its effectiveness and have no everlasting impact.

 

Third, we always need to remember that each messenger is a part of the message conveyed. Interacting with Generation X challenges our own authenticity because falseness in our own appearance may affect the authentic content of the gospel. We are challenged to accountability, to a genuine, transparent life. At the same time an admonishing attitude is deeply needed for a generation that is in pain and feel like they have been trashed. Yet, an artistic attitude and willingness to try out new ideas are always welcomed as long as they grow out of an authentic desire to understand and communicate.

 

Fourth, this generation is longing for reconciliation and restoring relationships. The gospel can really be good news when and if it is presented in a humble, vulnerable and real atmosphere of love and care. Unlike generations marked by modernity and cognitive disbelief, the story of the gospel lived out through real life may be relevant and appealing in a different way in a postmodern culture. The gospel can bring forth redemption and restoration by the work of the Holy Spirit and supported by an authentic, real community.

 

Finally, the real Story has the power to transform lives as it has done for almost 2,000 years. Embodied in the person Jesus Christ, the Story is true, tested, trustworthy, touching, transparent and transferable to new people’s lives. Yet, it can, it must be embodied in our lives and especially in the Christian churches and communities. Only then will the message prove to be timely and relevant today. The gospel will continue to transform many people’s lives by the power of the Spirit, making them a new being in Christ and thankfully worshiping the Risen Lord.

 

The essence is always to keep in mind that “I am a part of the message.”

 

These questions are therefore questions for self-testing — before, during and after communicating the gospel in a sermon or in a private conversation. If they can be a help to stay humble, authentic, enthusiastic, relevant and transparent when sharing both the personal story as well as the Story, the Story of God (see the works of Leighton Ford), an important purpose is fulfilled. As Leighton Ford’s son, Kevin Graham Ford, writes,

 

But my generation demands a different apologetics — an embodied apologetic, a flesh-and-blood apologetic, living and breathing argument for God. The old apologetics of previous generations assumed that the barrier to conversion was intellectual and the way to remove that barrier was to answer all cognitive doubts. But Xers live in an age of intellectual ambiguity, when cognitive answers carry considerably less weight. The question my generation asks is not “Can Christians prove what they believe?” but “Can Christians live what they believe?” [5]

  

We are God’s chosen storytellers, to embody God’s passionate heart for each person. We are chosen to demonstrate God’s loving heart in a painful, alienated world and to a generation who feels hurt, alone, and without hope.

 

The concept of HEART language aims to help to communicate God’s love for the whole human being in a holistic way, sharing the eternal good news with an evangelistic focus, authentically including myself to communicate the objective truth, always longing to be God’s ambassador to bring about restoring reconciliation, and faithfully praying to be able to experience the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, making an alienated generation “new beings” in Christ.

 


 

[1] Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York: Crossroads, 1989), 24.

[2] Ibid., 25.

[3] Donald E. Messer, A Conspiracy of Goodness: Contemporary Images of Christian Mission (Nashville: Abingdon, 1992), 139.

[4] Kevin Graham Ford, Jesus for a New Generation (InterVarsity, 1995), 117.

[5] Ibid., 174.

 

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