I stumbled on a simple German bedtime prayer that has been passed on from parents to their children for generations:
Ich bin klein
Mein Herz ist rein
Darf niemand drin wohnen als Jesus allein.
I’m showing you the German so that you can see why the poem is so easily remembered; klein, rein and allein each end with the sound -ein, which is pronounced like the English mine.
The English translation doesn’t rhyme, but it’s just as profound:
I am small
My heart is pure
No one may live there but Jesus alone
What a great final thought to place in a child’s mind just before she/he drifts off to sleep!
One of Jesus’ famous Beatitudes is
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
What does it meant to be “pure in heart”? Clearly, it means to be childlike. In the old German prayer/poem, the third line is the key: Jesus allein – alone. This is how the praying child sees God; through the eyes of a heart filled with Jesus alone.
As the child grows older, through the process we call maturing, many more things enter the heart – favorite possessions, friendships, good and bad memories, fascination with new experiences, vague longings and urges. Soon the once-pure heart of the emerging person has become very confused and complex, with little room left for Jesus.
The quest to regain purity of heart is one of the major themes of the Bible. In the Old Testament, ways are provided for true worshipers of God to deal with the sins that obscure and threaten to choke out what little purity of heart remains from the days of childhood prayers. In the Law they are given sacrifices and devotional exercises designed to eliminate the defiling forces in their lives, as well as observances that celebrate ritual purity. But there was still a longing for a deeper purity of heart, as is expressed by David in his great prayer for renewal,
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)
When Jesus came, there was an even sharper focus on the fact that the struggle for purity is a heart matter, and not the result of a series of ritual observances. He talked about the possibility that really religious people may turn out to be “hypocrites, like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27). He affirmed that “out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander; these are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:19).
In reflecting on Jesus’ teaching about this subject, the Apostle James uses a word that is unique to him in the New Testament. In our English Bible, it’s translated “double-minded” in the two places where he uses it:
The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 1:6-8, 4:8)
In 1846, Danish theologian/philosopher Soren Kierkegaard used this passage from James as the basis for his profound book Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. He summarized the highest, most God-centered aspirations a human can have as “the Good,” and he writes, “If, then, a man in truth wills the Good, then HE MUST BE WILLING TO DO ALL FOR IT OR HE MUST BE WILLING TO SUFFER ALL FOR IT” (capitalizations are his). That was Kierkegaard’s uncompromising conclusion about the meaning of Jesus’ teaching.
Surprisingly, this complicated thinker comes to the same place as the little child praying at night:
I am small
My heart is pure
No one may live here but Jesus alone
— Pastor George Van Alstine