The Heart of the Matter is the Heart

By Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr

(Sabbath, September 24, 2011)

Guard Your Heart

Do you love your heart?  By all means love your heart, and love it all the time.  Biologically, the organ called ‘the heart’ is at the centre of your being as it’s what pumps blood (the life force) to all parts of your body to keep body and soul together. So treat your heart well by keeping it safe from foods with high concentrations of fat and oil and/or cholesterol. That will save your heart from being wrecked by cardiovascular diseases so prevalent in today’s fast-food society.  But then, the term ‘heart’ means more than a vital body organ.

Theologically, the heart is the centre of human emotions and thoughts as well as the seat of conscience.  Understandably, this is where you must treat your heart with even more care, and love it with extreme caution. In plain words, love your heart but not in the sense of indulging its every whim. Instead, be in firm control of it; be in the driver’s seat, or your heart can ruin you forever. This is the advice King Solomon, who, perhaps more than any person dead or alive or yet to be born, gave free rein to all the passions of his heart (Eccl. 1:16-18; 2:1-22), eloquently gives in Prov. 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (NIV).   

“Guard your heart” with “all diligence” (KJV), the wise king says, but the problem is that the heart of man is ordinarily “unclean” (Prov. 20:9) and inclined to evil (Gen. 6:5).  Yet this is the part of man most important to God and He constantly examines it. We read in Prov. 20:27: “The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all his innermost parts” (ESV). As is to be expected, people fall short each time they are so examined by God: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD weigheth [evaluates] the hearts” (Prov. 21:2 RV). 

So what do we do with our heart for it to be acceptable to God? It has more to do with what God does with our heart than what we do with it, though we still have a role to play.  Like all other human beings, our hearts are impure—filled with unclean and wicked thoughts (Mark 7:21-23; Jer. 17:9)—before becoming believers. However, on coming to Christ, our hearts go through a process of spiritual cleansing: our hearts are purified by faith (Acts  15:9; Heb. 10:22), purified by the Holy Spirit (Ps 51:10; Ez. 11:19, 36:26) and by God writing His law in our hearts (Heb. 8:10-11; Ez. 36:27).       

For God, either the heart is wholly His or He will have nothing to do it with. David says in Ps 24:

“Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?

“He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

“He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Ps 24:3-5; see also Ps 5).   

Indeed, it’s only “the pure in heart” that “shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). So “guard your heart”, as a believer, once God has done His part to make it clean; don’t make it impure again.  But how do you go about that?

First, give your heart to God (Prov. 23:36). Love Him with all your heart (Mark 12:30), serve Him with all your heart (Deut. 11:13), and keeping His commandments with all your heart (Deut. 26:16).  Be warned that unless you devote your heart wholeheartedly to God, there are ungodly ‘rivals’ ready to take over your heart. One is carnal thinking (Rom. 8:7), another is ‘good living’ and success (Hos. 13:6; 2 Chron. 26:16; Deut. 32:13-15), and yet another is a conscious stubborn attitude towards God (Heb. 13:7-10).  

Take care that your heart does not fall for any of these ‘rivals’; any of them can ultimately cause you to fall away from the Living God (Heb. 3:12). Feed your mind with the word of God and with worthwhile  godly virtues (Phil. 4:8). Don’t esteem success unduly so as to make it the king of your heart.  Finally, don’t make your heart stout; make it tender for God so that you might be easily persuaded in the things of the Lord (see 2 Kings 22:19).

Devote Your Heart to God

Since your heart can make or unmake  your relationship with God, why don’t you consecrate your dear heart to God?  You can discipline your heart and devote it to godly causes.  We have a model in Daniel and another in Ezra; both were godly masters of their hearts.

We read of Daniel: “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” (Dan. 1:8).

Daniel could have easily excused himself from keeping God’s law of food in deference to the king’s order that he and other Jewish exiles of noble birth be “assigned a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank” (vv. 4-5).  As a Jewish captive serving the Babylonian palace, he really had no rights much less ‘challenge’ the royal decree that he partake of the king’s meal. But he purposed, he resolved, in his heart not to “defile himself with the portion of the king’s food and wine”.  Because the heart is the controller of the human will, what Daniel “purposed in his heart”, he unwaveringly carried out with God’s help.

So, what godly thing have you resolved in your heart to accomplish? Are you determined to steer clear of sexual relations as long as you remain unmarried in the face of all the peer pressure to break your virginity?  Have you ‘purposed in your heart’ to stick to clean business practices no matter the short-term costs?  What you have determined in your heart to do, that you will do with God’s help. As the saying goes, where there’s will there’s a way. 

As he set out on his return journey to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity, it’s said that Ezra, the priest who led the second batch of Jewish exiles back to Judah, “had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:10). In the Hebrew text, the phrase “prepared his heart” is “established his heart”, that is Ezra ‘fixed in his heart’ “with all his powers and affections, to seek the law of God, and to do it himself, that he may be properly qualified to teach its statutes and judgments to Israel” (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament). Thus Ezra with all his heart (being), utilizing all his faculties, set himself not only to study and personally practise the Law of the LORD, but also established his heart to teach it to the people of Israel with every fibre of his being.  

It was total WHOLEHEARTED determination to live God’s truth and to indefatigably teach it others. The result was phenomenal. Easton Bible Dictionary reports that, after Ezra read from the Book of the Law “from early [Sabbath] morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand, and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (Neh. 8:3 ESV), “There was a great religious awakening.  For successive days they held solemn assemblies, confessing their sins and offering up solemn sacrifices. They kept also the feast of Tabernacles with great solemnity and joyous enthusiasm, and then renewed their national covenant to be the Lord. Abuses were rectified, and arrangements for the temple service completed, and now nothing remained but the dedication of the walls of the city (Neh. 12)”.

The level of input surely determines the level of output.  Because Ezra put ALL HIS HEART into the study and teaching of God’s Word, “there was a GREAT religious awakening” in the restored nation of Judah.  What about you? What will you dedicate ALL your heart to?

God Demands a Loyal Heart

We have seen Daniel’s example and also Ezra’s. Now the onus is on you: To what cause will you devote your heart today? Here are some of the typical things God wants you to use your heart for: He wants you to trust Him with all your heart (Prov. 3:5), do His will from your heart (Eph. 6:6), sanctify Him in your heart (1 Pet. 3:15), love your fellow with “a pure heart fervently” (1 Pet. 1:22), and walk before Him in truth with all your heart (1 Kings 2:4).   

As King David said to his son Solomon on his deathbed (2 Kings 1-2), “know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek Him, He will be found of thee; but if thou forsake Him, He will cast thee off for ever” (1 Chron. 28:9).

This is what God requires of your heart—perfect loyalty to Him with a ready mind! But don’t trust your heart to stay loyal to God without God’s help. Prov. 28:36 says, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool; but whoever walks wisely, he shall be delivered”.

So ask for God’s direct intervention to make your heart obedient to His will. David prays in Ps 86:11, “unite my heart to fear your Name”. In Ps 119:36 he prays, “Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies, and not to covetousness”. If you pray to Him He Himself will “direct your heart” towards loving Him which is the keeping of His commandments (2 Thess. 3:5; John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).

Life is short. Don’t give free rein to the sensual desires of your heart. Be in firm control of your heart. The Psalmist says in Ps 90:12,“teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom”. This means devoting your heart to godly fear in this short life of yours with God’s own gracious help; it means “making the best use of your time” (Eph. 5:16 ISV). Or your heart will entice you to fall away from the living God as the end approaches (Heb. 3:12-13). Don’t fall into a life of ease, satiating the fleshly desires of the heart (Luke 21:34-36).

Instead, “Guard your heart” against becoming hardened to God’s word (Matt. 13:13-15). Don’t begin with the Spirit and end with the flesh (Gal. 3:3).  Your heart is at the heart of your relationship with God. It’s where God seeks to dwell (Eph. 3:17, 2:21-22; Rev. 3:20), and it’s where Satan also desires to pitch his camp of evil (Acts 5:3; Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9).  So “Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it” (GW). Amen!