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Love Depends on the Heart, Smalley Says

February 18, 2011

Despite growing up in a loving family -- his parents have been married for 47 years now -- Dr. Greg Smalley told students at OBU that while he was growing up, no one told him the key to true love.

People are, Smalley said, the crucial element to fulfilling the Scripture mandate in Mark 12:28-31 to love God and others, often called the "Great Commandment," is to have an open heart.

"The reason I've missed it is because we don't understand love," Smalley said. "We are not the creators of love. God is love. He creates love."

Smalley's message on Friday, Feb. 18, was part of OBU's annual "Focus Week," which is dedicated to helping members of the OBU community strengthen relationships. This year's theme was "Building Strong Relationships through Faith, Hope, Love and Forgiveness."

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A person must first open their heart to God and allow Him to fill the person abundantly full with his love, Smalley said. Once a person opens his or her life to God, they must also open their hearts to others and allow God's love to flow through them, Smalley said.

"You and I have no control over love -- that is God," he said. "What we have control over is the state of our heart."

Smalley said a person must choose whether to have a heart that is open to love or a heart that is closed to love -- and that is the key to achieving wholehearted love.

Smalley referred to John 10:10, in which Jesus Christ says, "A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance." He said people's adversary, the devil, desires to close each person's heart to love.

Part of the Great Commandment says, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Smalley said to love oneself simply means a person keeps his or her own heart open to love. He said King Solomon, often considered the wisest man who has ever lived, said, "Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life" (Proverbs 4:23). While that Scripture often is correlated to a romantic relationship, Smalley contended the verse refers largely to life -- to learn to keep one's own heart open to love despite heartache or disappointment.

Smalley, who serves as director of marriage ministries for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University, offered several tips for taking good care of one's heart. First, he said people must deal with lies that have been written on their hearts, because the devil wants to use the lies to close each heart to love. He said people should not believe they are unlovable or that they cannot love.

He also instructed people to slow down the hectic pace of life to create a margin in the busyness. He explained the Chinese symbol for the word "busyness" uses two symbols: killing and heart. When people are too busy, Smalley said, their hearts shut down.

While he acknowledged people are often told to maintain a close connection to God through prayer and to learn Scripture by memory, he said those practices also help a person take good care of his or her heart. He said people also need to be quick to forgive so they don't hold onto bitterness and resentment. He shared the proverb: "Bitterness is the poison you drink while waiting for others to die."

Smalley said to have a healthy heart, it is important for people to realize their value. He said a person's worth should be measured by the unfathomable love of the Creator God, not by the world. He said it is a person's job to realize their own value, as God referred to his people as his "treasured possession" in Exodus 19:5. In seeking an open heart, people must also sometimes "treasure hunt" their past, he said, discovering the resources God has provided through life's experiences and trials.

But above all else, he reminded the students, "Guard your heart."

Smalley serves as assistant professor of marriage and family studies at the university, and he is also on the teaching team at Fellowship Bible Church. He and his wife, Erin, lead marriage seminars around the world, offering intensive relationship coaching for both married and engaged couples. Smalley also trains pastors, professionals and lay leaders on how to effectively work with married and premarital couples.