By Steven Norris
“Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?” We encounter these words from the two disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:32). Though first thought to be a stranger, their eyes were opened and the two disciples recognized Jesus as he broke bread with them.
It seems that there has been no shortage of hearts burning over the past few months. I cannot count the times I’ve had to close the cover of my laptop because I just couldn’t take any more spewing of anger and hatred. I cannot recall how many times I’ve flipped off the television or radio as a result of some expression of a heart burning out of control.
As I read the account of these disciples, I thought of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. After graduating from Oxford, John and his brother Charles came to America as missionaries with General Oglethorpe on his second expedition to Georgia. Neither could escape a haunting feeling that they were living by good works instead of by faith. John Wesley wrote of his experience in Georgia, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?”
Three years later, upon returning from America, Charles and John Wesley were both influenced greatly by the doctrine of God’s unconditional grace. Charles came to a new experience of faith on Pentecost Sunday. Three days later, on May 24, 1738, John Wesley had a profound experience with God’s grace at a meeting house on Aldersgate Street in London. He would later write of the event:
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.”
John Wesley found that the established church of his day was not receptive to his understanding of gospel message. Therefore, he took to an itinerant ministry, preaching to coal miners and other commoners. Historian, Roger Green, estimates that John Wesley rode 250,000 miles on horseback as a part of this ministry, preaching over 40,000 sermons and converting as many as 120,000 individuals.
The burning hearts of these two disciples and the burning heart of John Wesley provide examples of lives transformed by the grace of God. In both cases, their knowledge of Christ was revolutionized by an experience with Christ. This experience led to burning hearts and transformed lives, not to mention the fires of revival and spiritual awakening all around them.
My earnest hope is that people of faith will recognize the difference between the burning heart that leads to destruction and the burning heart of God’s Spirit. May that Spirit propel us away from toxic words and actions, toward a deeper love and compassion for our neighbors, and into a life that proclaims Easter’s resurrection promise for us all.