Extreme Makeover: Heart Edition

Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.

–1 Peter 3:15–

Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?

–Luke 14:28–

            Decades ago, I picked up a little pamphlet, published by InterVarsity Press, entitled “My Heart—Christ’s home,” by a Presbyterian minister named Robert Boyd Munger.  As the title suggests, the author compares his heart and all its varied interests to a house.  He begins:

           I will never forget the evening I invited Jesus into my heart.  What an entrance he made!  It was not a spectacular, emotional thing, but a very real occurrence at the very center of my soul.  He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light.  He built a fire in the cold hearth and banished the chill.  He scattered music where there had been stillness and harmony where there had been discord.  He filled the emptiness with his own loving fellowship.  I have never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will….

               After Christ entered my heart, in the joy of that new-found relationship, I said to him, “Lord, I want this heart of mine to be yours.  I want you to settle down here and be fully at home.  I want you to use it as your own.  Let me show you around and point out some of the features of the house so that you may be more comfortable.  I want you to enjoy our time together.”  He was glad to come and seemed delighted to be given a place in my ordinary, little heart. 

            Over time, Jesus enters and takes possession of one room after another in Rev. Munger’s heart.  In the study, or library, of the author’s mind, Jesus eliminates all reading material that is not pure, wholesome, and helpful.  To displace the shameful pictures hanging on the walls, Our Lord puts up a huge portrait of Himself.  Next, Jesus and Rev. Munger enter the dining room, the place of appetites and desires.  Here the author learns just how delicious it is to do the will of God.  In the living room, Rev. Munger comes to know the importance of daily, intimate fellowship with Christ.  He discovers that time spent with Jesus in prayer not only nurtures his own spiritual growth but also delights his Savior.  The two next proceed to the workroom, where the author surrenders his talents and abilities, meager as they are, into the hands of Christ.  In the rec room, Robert Boyd Munger realizes, contrary to his expectations, that Christ-centered friendships mean real joy, laughter, and music.  In the bedroom, the author learns to place even his relationship with the opposite sex under the dominion of Jesus, fully accepting God’s plan that the gift of sexual union between man and woman is to be used only in the context of marriage.

            So far, Jesus has occupied the study, the dining room, the living room, the workroom, the rec room, and the bedroom.  There is, however, the matter of the hall closet.  Here’s how Rev. Munger describes it:

            …One day, I found him waiting for me at the front door, an arresting look was in his eye.  As I entered, he said to me, “There’s a peculiar odor in the house.  Something must be dead around here.  It’s upstairs.  I think it’s in the hall closet.

               As soon as he said this I knew what he was talking about.  Indeed there was a small closet up there on the hall landing, just a few feet square.  In that closet behind lock and key I had one or two little personal things I did not want anybody to know about.  Certainly I did not want Christ to see them.  They were dead and rotting things leftover from my old life—not wicked, but not right and good to have in a Christian life.  Yet I loved them.  I wanted them so much for myself I was really afraid to admit they were there.  Reluctantly I went up the stairs with him and as we mounted, the odor became stronger and stronger.  He pointed at the door and said, “It’s in there!  Some dead thing!”

               It made me angry!  That’s the only way I can put it.  I had given him access to the study, the dining room, the living room, the workroom, the rec room, the bedroom and now he was asking me about a little two-by-four closet.  I said to myself, “This is too much!  I’m not going to give him the key.”

           “Well,” he responded, reading my thoughts, “If you think I’m going to stay up here on the second floor with this smell, you are mistaken.  I will take my bed out on the back porch or somewhere else.  I’m certainly not going to stay around that.”  And I saw him start down the stairs.

               When you have come to know and love Jesus Christ, one of the worst things that can happen is to sense him withdrawing his face and fellowship.  I had to give in.  “I’ll give you the key,” I said sadly, “but you’ll have to open the closet and clean it out.  I haven’t the strength to do it.

               “I know,” he said. “I know you haven’t.  Just give me the key.  Just authorize me to handle the closet and I will.”  So, with trembling fingers, I passed the key over to him.  He took it from my hand, walked over to the door, opened it, entered it, took out the putrefying stuff that was rotting there and threw it all away.  Then he cleaned the closet, painted it and fixed it up all in a moment’s time.  Immediately a fresh, fragrant breeze swept through the house.  The whole atmosphere changed.  What release and victory to have that dead thing out of my life!  No matter what sin or what pain there might be in my past, Jesus is ready to forgive, to heal and to make whole.

In the end, as I think you can guess, the author signs over the title deed of his heart to Christ.

            Holiness is, for the vast majority of us, not a once-and-done affair.  It is a process.  This growth in blessedness, this gradual conformity to the image of Christ, is what we Catholics call sanctification—the process whereby the grace we receive in baptism more and more transforms us, through prayer, good works, and the sacraments, into living temples of the Holy Spirit.

            It’s not enough, however, for Jesus simply to occupy, clean, and take over the house.  His ultimate aim is far more radical.  In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis takes Rev. Munger’s analogy one step further.  He explains:          

I find I must borrow… [a] parable from George MacDonald.  Imagine yourself as a living house.  God comes in to rebuild that house.  At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.  He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.  But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense.  What on earth is He up to?  The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.  You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.  He intends to come and live in it Himself.[1]

           If that’s not blunt enough for you, how about this?  Lewis does not mince words here.  Again he writes:

Christ says: “Give me All.  I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You.  I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.  No half measures are any good.  I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there.  I want to have the whole tree down.  I don’t want to drill the tooth or crown it or stop it, but to have it out.  Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked, the whole outfit.  I will give you a new self instead.  In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”[2]

           Saint Peter urges us to “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.”  Make no mistake, however.  The Prince of the Apostles is calling for far more than superficial repairs and house cleaning.  He is demanding that we allow Christ to utterly transform us at the very core of our being.  We are to give Our Lord permission to undertake nothing less than an extreme home makeover.

[1] Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 9.

[2]Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 8.