“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”
(Proverbs 4:23, NIV).
Certainly we live in a consumer-oriented, materialistic, hedonistic society bent on pleasing self. In comparison to some portions of the world, most of us are accustomed to very high levels of luxury by way of our comforts, pleasures, and security. With this has come the prominent idea that happiness comes in accomplishments, in recognition, in material possessions, comfort, and the like. We have come to believe the mistaken (and Satan promoted) notion that if we just acquire certain things, then we can be truly happy and even secure. As a result, people develop their own agendas by which they seek to climb the mountain of success or happiness. Of course, the chosen agendas are very much the product of the mindset of a Wall Street, Madison Avenue controlled society.
As Christians, we may have rejected some or even a lot of these notions. Yet, the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and because we are all so easily influenced by the world around us, our hearts need guarding.
Scripture clearly teaches us that the real issues of life are spiritual and are really matters of the heart, the inner man. Maybe it’s for this reason the word “heart” is found so many times in the Bible. Because the word “heart” can be translated a number of ways, depending on the context, the number of times it is found varies in the different translations of the English Bible (863 in the NASB, 963 in the KJV, and 791 in the NIV). As these numbers suggest, the heart is a prominent concept and one of the most commonly used words of the Bible. Most of these occurrences are used metaphorically of the inner man. When used metaphorically (depending on the context) heart refers to either the mind, the emotions, the will, to the sinful nature, inclusively to the total inner man, or simply to the person as a whole and is often translated as such. As a simple illustration of how various translations handle the word heart, compare the translation of the KJV in Exodus 9:14, “I will send all my plagues upon thine heart (referring to Pharaoh), and upon thy servants,” with the NASB’s “I will send my plagues on you (marginal reading has “heart”) and your servants.”
The term heart, then, generally speaks of the inner person and the spiritual life in all its various aspects. This multiple use of “heart” along with the way it is used strongly focuses our attention on the importance of the spiritual life. Like the human heart, it is central and vital to our existence.
Because of vast number of passages using the word “heart,” I have focused primarily, though not exclusively, on the Psalms and Proverbs. It is here we find the greatest concentration of uses in this one section of the Bible.
The Purpose and Goal
Enlightenment: First, one goal of this study is designed to show how we can use a concordance to get God’s perspective on a particular subject. A second goal is to help us see afresh how important our inner world really is in terms of our ideas about God, ourselves, and others, and in terms of our motives, goals, and aspirations.
Exhortation: The design here is an appeal for the personal application that we might each deal with the inner life in the light of God’s Word in practical and personal ways.
Encouragement: Another goal is encouragement. We all need to be encouraged to seek God Himself and His resources as we struggle with the various pulls of our sinful natures in the ups and downs of life.
Importance of the Heart in Scripture
As evidenced by the many recurrences, the term “heart” is a very important word because God is so deeply concerned about the inner man or the condition of the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Jeremiah 17:9-10 The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? 10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.
These passages teach us that the Lord looks at and searches the heart, the inner person. Why is the heart so important? Because the issues of life—our actions, works, pursuits, etc.—all proceed from the heart (Pr. 4:23; Matt. 6:21; 12:34; 15:18). What we do in word and deed is first of all a product of what we are on the inside.
In His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus spoke strongly against the mere external, performance-oriented hypocrisy of the religious Pharisees. In Matthew 5:17-48, no less than six times He contrasted the mere external approach to the Old Testament Scripture, as it was taught by the Pharisees, with His own teaching which, of course, was accorded with the true design of God’s Word. He did this by the following statements:
“You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 21-22)
“You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 27-28)
“It was said … but I say to you …” (vss. 31-32)
“You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 33-34)
“You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 38-39)
“You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 43-44)
What was the Lord showing the people? He was calling their attention to the moral precepts they had been taught by their religious leaders for years, precepts which had their source in the Old Testament Scriptures. But then, with the words, “but I say to you,” He readdressed those same issues as, first and foremost, matters of the heart. This and only this is authentic Christianity. Biblical Christianity centers in an inward, intimate walk with God by faith. Anything else is nothing more than religious hypocrisy.
For instance, Jesus teaches us that adultery and murder begin in the heart. You may not have literally committed adultery, but if you look at a woman or a man with that in view, you have already committed adultery. Where? In your heart! (Matt. 5:28). Our walk with God is always a matter of the heart.
However, as one of the consequences of the fall, people look on the outward appearance. God, however, is always concerned with the heart, with the reality and condition of what is on the inside. Why? Because if the inside of the cup is clean, so will be the outside.
1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (RSV)
One of the goals of the Christian life is the formation of Christlike character, the character of Christ formed in our lives through the various life changing tools that God has chosen to use:
· The ministry of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26)
· The ministry of others as iron sharpens iron (Prov. 27:17)
For these tools to be truly effective, we need personal diligence in honestly dealing with the heart.
Open Heart Surgery
Since the heart is so important to what we think, say, and do, we each need to regularly do open heart surgery with the scalpel of the Word under the guiding hand of the great physician, the Lord Jesus. We accomplish this through the teaching, guiding, convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. Like a sharp two-edged sword, the Word divides the inner man asunder to reveal the true condition and needs of our hearts (Heb. 4:12).
Most people today want to be successful according to their own idea of success. However, as you listen to the success propaganda of today, again and again the focus of attention is on one of two things. First, the vast majority of thinking, writing, and talk focuses on the outer self—on how smart I can appear, what kind of impression I make, how much applause I register on the applause meter, how much I make, how much I own, how fast I climb the ladder of success in my company, and on the list goes. Very little that you read places any emphasis on the inner man, on the heart, the wellspring of our thoughts, motives, ambitions, values, and decisions. And second, when what you read or hear does place an emphasis on the heart, it generally does so in a completely self-centered way, even in a lot of Christian literature.
Against the present anthropocentric (man-centered) kind of spirituality so common today is the biblical theocentric (God-centered) spirituality which sees the glory of God and the advancement of the kingdom of God as the priority pursuit and reason for life. Scripture’s goal is not material or even spiritual gain for oneself, nor self-realization or promotion, but the realization of our calling as heralds and ambassadors of Jesus Christ. “Franz Kafka once observed: ‘The Fathers of the Church were not afraid to go out into the desert because they had a richness in their hearts. But we, with richness all around us, are afraid, because the desert is in our hearts.’”1
Bloesch also writes:
In our society today, the humanist ideal of happiness or interior well-being was incorporated into Christian faith without any drastic modification so that religion was given a decidedly anthropocentric orientation. It is generally acknowledged that much popular religion (both conservative and liberal) is narcissistic (egocentric), focusing on inner feelings and on purely personal hopes and goals. God is deemed necessary to help his people attain the desires of their hearts or to find perfect happiness. Some even make the object of religion sound like capitalist consumerism—acquiring the goods of this life. But is prosperity an inevitable concomitant of true faith?2
Importantly and interestingly, the Bible says very little about success, especially that kind of success, but as seen, it says a tremendous amount about the heart because the heart is the wellspring of true success. Little wonder, then, the word “heart” is found literally hundreds of times in the Bible. So, when it comes to describing man and his needs, heart is one of the most commonly used terms of the Bible and, again, most of these occurrences are used metaphorically of the inner man, either of the mind, the emotions, the will, the sinful nature, or inclusively of the total inner person.
Is it any wonder then, that Solomon challenges us:
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23, NIV)
Swindoll writes: “How important is the heart? It is there that character is formed. It alone holds the secrets of true success. Its treasures are priceless—but they can be stolen.”3
We must all ask ourselves this question: How well am I guarding (keeping) my heart? Is the condition of my heart my greatest concern? It should be because it is so determinative of every aspect of life. It ultimately determines our love for God and for others. It determines who we are and what we do.
Needs of the Heart
The Heart Needs Guarding
The heart needs guarding because of its natural bent as a part of our fallenness. And this is true even of those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God through faith in Jesus Christ. While believers possess the new nature and the capacity to know God and discern spiritual things, and while they have received the enlightening and empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit, they still possess the old nature or the wretched capacity for evil and selfish pursuits by which they can independently strive to handle life on their own apart from God.
To use biblical analogies or illustrations, we can be:
(1) People committed to building our own cisterns, but these always turn out to be broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13).
(2) People who are always prone to turn to the arm of the flesh rather than to the arm of God and His resources (Jer. 2:13; 17:5f).
(3) People who seek to walk by the light of our own man-made firebrands (Isa. 50:11).
To use the words of Isaiah, we can become filled with influences from the east, i.e., man’s substitutes for life for God’s plan for life (Isa. 2:5-6). Obviously, then, as Proverbs 28:26 warns us, the heart of man is not a safe haven, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.” (See also Prov. 20:9 and Jer. 17:9.)
Isaiah 55:8-11 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
Jeremiah 10:23 I know, O LORD, that a man’s way is not in himself; Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.
Here are sine reasons the heart needs guarding:
(1) The heart needs guarding because we do not naturally think and look at life like God does. We are inherently ignorant of His mind and His ways. We desperately need the wisdom and direction of the Lord to know His ways and to know our own heart and its wicked ways. Proverbs 19:3 warns us that our foolishness subverts or perverts our way. “Perverts” is the Hebrew word, salaph, “to twist, pervert, overturn.”
(2) The heart needs guarding because, like sheep, we are prone to wander from God in our hearts (Isa. 53:6a). We want to live independently to control and direct our own affairs. We want to be in charge of our own destinies. Oh yes, some of us want to trust God with getting us into heaven, but we would too often prefer to direct our own affairs down here on earth partly because we are so committed to our own desires. To completely follow His directions means we may be called on to give up something that we think we must have in order to be secure or happy. Thus it is much safer to be in charge ourselves, so we think. Man is inherently rebellious by nature as a result of the fall.
(3) The heart needs guarding because the heart is not just deceitful, it is more deceitful than all else (Jer. 17:9a). We can’t trust it because of its natural selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-protective ways and devices (Ps. 81:12-14; Jer. 17:9; 2:13). But to experience God’s way we must first repudiate our self-trust or reliance upon those devices we use to protect ourselves. Then, in the place of self-trust, we need to learn to rely completely on the Lord regardless of how things appear. Rather than lean on our own understanding, we trust the Lord to direct our path (Prov. 3:5; Ps. 37:5). But our heart, because of our fears and selfish concerns, deceives us through its vain rationalizations and we want to turn to our own solutions.
(4) The heart needs guarding because the heart is desperately sick, i.e., incurably wicked (Jer. 17:9b). The NIV translates this “beyond cure.” Remember that the word “heart” may be used for the mind, the emotions, the will, the whole inner man, or as here, of the sinful nature that is a part of the inner man.
The sinful nature cannot be eradicated, it cannot be improved, or changed for the better. Human reformation doesn’t work on the heart of man. So again, he who trusts his own heart is a fool! The pull of this old nature is always there to deceive us.
(5) The heart needs guarding because the heart cannot be understood by our own wisdom. Only God can reveal and lay bare our hearts to us (Jer. 17:10; 20:12, Pr. 17:3; Ps. 139:23). It is hard to know our own motives and reasons (1 Cor. 4:4). We are naturally skilled at deceiving ourselves.
(6) The heart needs guarding because the heart is the wellspring of life; the fountain of attitudes, values, beliefs, aspirations, and pursuits (Pr. 4:23; Matt. 13:34; 15:18; 6:21). Because of this, we must guard it or we develop those of the world and this will always lead us astray.
(7) The heart needs guarding because, as is the fountain, so must be the streams that flow from it—the eyes, the mouth, the feet, i.e., words and actions. The means for guarding the heart will come as we study some of the other needs of the heart. But to balance out character, we need to do more than guard our hearts.
The Heart Needs Giving
To balance out your character you need to do more than guard your heart. It is the flip side that makes you authentic … you also need to give your heart. To resist releasing yourself for fear of getting burned may seem safe, but in the long run it is lethal.4
(1) Giving the heart means risk, entanglements, becoming vulnerable: It means having to step out in faith, believing God rather than one’s own strategies. It means having to give up something … sometimes a lot. It can even mean having your heart broken and wrung like a towel. But to fail to give it means to lock it up safely in the casket of selfishness. And like a body laid to rest in a casket, the heart will change; though safe, dark, and motionless, it will rot and become a bag of bones.
(2) Giving the heart also means accountability: “As the maxim goes, ‘People are willing to give God credit, but not cash.’ As long as accountability is in the future and suspended in space, I will accept it. But if it actually starts interfering with my personal life, forget it.”5
To believe you can give your heart without accountability is like believing that you can raise children without discipline, run a company without rules, or lead an army without authority. Accountability is to the Great Commission what tracks are to a train. It is the means of quality control, facilitates leadership, protects the congregation, makes ministry a joy, helps people keep their commitments.6
(3) Giving the heart means involvement: Involvement with God, involvement with family, involvement with other Christians, and involvement with non-Christians. And what does involvement include? It includes: sacrificial love, walking by faith rather than sight, spontaneity rather than rigidity, the risk of vulnerability, and a willingness to become accountable. In Webster’s Dictionary, we find that being involved means “to draw in as a participant, to relate closely, to connect, to include.”
Religious striving is far too often egocentric, and though this can be purified and brought into the service of God through His Word, too often true fellowship with God and loving Him with all our heart is corrupted and nullified by craving and striving for power, security, or other selfish desires that stem from a heart that is kept from God as our source of strength, joy, and meaning in life.
Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous” (Isa. 29:13).
Obviously, withholding the heart means our inability and our unwillingness to give our hearts to either God or ministry to others. Certainly, since we never arrive at ultimate maturity in this life, there will always be room for growth in giving the heart because it is so difficult to give up our various methods of self-protection.
The Heart Needs Preparing
Psalm 78:8 And not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not prepare its heart, And whose spirit was not faithful to God.
Psalm 108:1 A Song, a Psalm of David. My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul.
The word “prepare” in Psalm 78:8 and “steadfast” in Psalm 108:1 is the Hebrew, kuwn. Its basic meaning is “to be firm, established, stable.” From this it came to mean (a) “be set up, established, fixed” and is used in the Old Testament of a house fixed on a foundation, of the establishment of a throne or kingdom, and of persons being established, secure and enduring. (b) Then it came to mean “to fix so as to prepare, be ready, arrange, set in order.” As such it was used of preparing words for wise speech, of the preparation of food, of preparing the foundation for the temple of Solomon, of prayer being prepared, arranged, and set in order before God, of preparing a road, a sacrifice, one’s steps or path (Ps. 119:133), of God’s creative activity, of what He has established as the heavens by His understanding, and of preparing the heart.
This word is used in Psalm 78:8 of preparing the heart to be firm, focused, and fixed on the Lord in the sense of trust and rest in God’s love, goodness, wisdom, grace, and power (cf. Ps. 112:7-8). The point here is that the heart can only become steadfast, stable, when it has been properly prepared in a biblical sense.
This same word is used in Psalm 108:1 of preparing the heart to worship the Lord. The KJV translates this as “My heart is fixed” while the NASB, NIV, and RSV all have “My heart is steadfast.” The Amplified Bible has “My heart is fixed—steadfast [in the confidence of faith].” But the idea here is that it is steadfast because it has been spiritually prepared. Remember, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” As the heavens were prepared, fixed, and established by God’s understanding, so our hearts are made stable by the understanding which comes from God’s Word (cf. Col. 2:1-6).
Just as the human heart needs preparation through proper diet and exercise in order to handle strenuous activity and be healthy in general, so one’s spiritual heart must be properly prepared if it is going to be able to effectively respond to God in the varied situations of life.
This is one of the ways we can guard the heart, but the emphasis here is on the need of spiritual preparation through the various biblical disciplines—honest, deep down confession of sin, fervent prayer, careful Bible study, meditation on the Word, Scripture reading and memory, and fellowship with believers. We need these disciplines to stabilize the heart so we can respond positively to God in trust for the varying situations of life.
The Heart Needs Purifying
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
(1) The heart is purified by being renewed. The mind needs renewing in its ideas, values, motives, and beliefs. The thoughts and intents of the heart need to be changed through storing and meditating on the Word. Included here is the idea of exchanging our viewpoint for God’s (Rom. 12:2; Isa. 55:8f; Ps. 51:10; 119:9-11; Pr. 3:3; 7:3; 2 Cor. 4:16; Eph. 2:23).
(2) The heart is purified by being tested (Deut. 8:2; Jer. 17:10; Ps. 139:23-24). One of the reasons for suffering and trials and the varied irritations that God either brings or allows is to reveal the condition of our hearts, to show its true colors that we might see our sin and deal with it through confession and faith in God’s provision.
(3) The heart is purified by confession or repentance (Acts 8:22). This is vital to the whole process, of course.
The Heart Needs Prostrating
Over and over again, we are told in Scripture to worship God with all the heart. This stresses the need of total involvement with God, an involvement that includes the mind, emotions, and the will. So, note the following passages of Scripture: With all our heart we are to:
· Return to the Lord (Joel 2:12).
· Rejoice and exult in the Lord (Zeph. 3:14).
· Believe God and His Word (Acts 8:37).
The Heart Needs Pouring
Psalm 62:8 Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.
We need to go to the Lord in prayer in order to pour out our hearts and burdens to the Lord. The command here is based on the promise that He cares and wants to hear from us.
The Heart Needs Centering
Proverbs 4:21 Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart.
God is never to be just a side issue. In this passage, the word “midst” is the Hebrew tawek which means “the middle, the center.” We need to keep God’s truth on center stage in our hearts. When the Word of God is not central to life, God will also get pushed aside by other cares, desires, and issues. We become like ships without a harbor, or an anchor, or rudder only to be pushed about by the varying winds and storms of life.
We need God’s truth center stage because of the importance of His truth to our relationship with God, our ambitions, our values and pursuits. When God is not center stage, we ignore Him and His purposes, principles, and promises (cf. Isa. 40:9; Heb. 2:9; 12:1-2). In fact, people often try to sanctify their self-centeredness into a kind of self-centered godliness. Concerning this problem, J. I. Packer writes:
Modern Christians tend to make satisfaction their religion. We show much more concern for self-fulfillment than for pleasing our God. Typical of Christianity today, at any rate in the English-speaking world, is its massive rash of how-to-books for believers, directing us to more successful relationships, more joy in sex, becoming more of a person, realizing our possibilities, getting more excitement each day, reducing our weight, improving our diet, managing our money, licking our families into happier shape, and whatnot. For people whose prime passion is to glorify God, these are doubtless legitimate concerns; but the how-to-books regularly explore them in a self-absorbed way that treats our enjoyment of life rather than the glory of God as the center of interest.7
The Heart Needs Exposing and Convicting
Proverbs 5:12 And you say, “How I have hated instruction! And my heart spurned reproof!”
John 16:8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment;
Jude 15 to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.
2 Timothy 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
Titus 1:13 This testimony is true. For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith,
Titus 2:15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Proverbs 28:13 He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.
1 Corinthians 4:5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
Ephesians 5:11 And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;
One of the purposes for centering our hearts on the Word is that of reproof.
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
Also, one of the purposes for testing the heart with trials is to bring about conviction with repentance that will lead to confession and changed living.
Jeremiah 17:10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.
Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.
The Heart Needs Cheering, Encouraging, Comforting
Proverbs 15:13,15 A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken. … All the days of the afflicted are bad, But a cheerful heart has a continual feast.
2 Corinthians 9:7 Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.
John 14:1 Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me …
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
Life is full of pain and disappointments which bring sorrow and discouragement, so the heart needs to be cheered, comforted, and encouraged. But our tendency is to seek to cheer and comfort our hearts with the methods of the world—through our strategies for happiness, through the details of life as with the pursuit of power, pleasure, possessions, position, and the like. God has given us all things to enjoy, but God’s plan for lasting joy and encouragement comes from a heart that has been prepared and fixed to trust the Lord (Jn. 16:27; Ps. 37:4).
The Heart Needs Strengthening
Psalm 37:31 The law of his God is in his heart; His steps do not slip.
Psalm 40:8 I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy Law is within my heart.
Psalm 119:11 Thy word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against Thee.
Psalm 19:7-9 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
(1) The absolutes of God’s Word provide a sure FOUNDATION that promotes right thinking and attitudes, direction and choices, values, priorities, and pursuits, etc. (Matt. 6:21f).
(2) Strength of heart comes through humility of heart. A humble person is one who walks in dependence on the Lord rather than in proud self-trust (Ps. 10:17; 31:23-24).
(3) Strength of heart comes through waiting on the Lord and trusting God for needs. What exactly does the Bible mean when it calls us to wait on the Lord? In essence, from the use of this challenge in Scripture, to wait on the Lord is a summary term for living by faith or living dependently on the Lord as explained for us in the Word. On the one hand, it calls us to throw ourselves on the Lord in childlike trust. On the other hand, it calls us to turn away from all forms of independent living whereby we seek to handle life by our methods and means.
In the Bible, waiting on the Lord stands opposed to running ahead and taking matters into our own hands by turning to our own human solutions. Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the LORD!” (RSV).
(4) Strength of heart comes through making God our portion. This means God is the reward or greatest possession and companion of the heart (Ps. 73:26; 119:56-57). “Portion” in Ps. 119:57 is the Hebrew cheleq. It was used of a reward or profit, but also of a chosen portion as a habitual mode of life. As a contrast, compare Psalm 50:18b, “and you associate with adulterers.” The NIV reads, “you throw in your lot with adulterers (i.e., you have chosen this as your portion, your way of life, the companionship of adulterers).”
The Heart Needs Biblical Desires and Longings
One of the most fundamental and life changing needs of the heart is to have biblical desires and longings. Please note the emphasis in the following passages:
(1) Psalm 37:4: Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart
Though this passage is filled with commands, we can summarize it into four key responsibilities:
· Look up: get your eyes off of people and circumstances and trust the Lord. Do not fret, do not be envious, but trust, delight, commit.
· Look ahead: Rest and wait on the Lord and what He is doing. Know that the way of life of evil doers is only temporal and unstable or insecure. God will bring forth your righteousness, you will one day dwell in the land, you will have eternal rewards.
· Be productive: While resting in God’s provision for our needs and committing our way and our circumstances to the Lord, ever delighting in Him, we are to do good, cultivate faithfulness, and dwell in the land.
At the core or heart of all this is verse 4 and the words, “delight yourself in the Lord.” This is the basis of trust, commitment, and rest in the Lord.
First, the Command. “Delight” is anag which means (1) “to be soft, delicate, dainty.” In Arabic, a sister language, it meant “to allure” and “to entice” and was used of the amorous gestures of women in their looks and walk. There is a certain feminine quality to this word and it fits with the nature of God’s dealings with believers. Israel was the wife of the Lord and the church is the bride of Christ. As it was with Israel, so we are to respond to the Lord as His chaste bride and to be sensitive to His love and care. Knowing Him as such should build our trust and commitment and keep us from being lured away from Him. In the Hebrew text, the verb “delight” is in a reflexive stem which came to mean, “to take exquisite delight, to delight yourself in an exquisite manner.” So the Psalmist says in effect that God is to be our most exquisite source of joy. We are to delight in His person and being. He is calling us to pursue God that we might know and revel in His divine person and being.
Second, the Promise. “Desires” is the Hebrew mishalab which may mean, “prayers, requests, petitions.” Our requests are usually based on our desires, wants, or what we see as our needs, though this is not one of the major Hebrew words for desire. “Of your heart” points us to the source of the requests, our inner person through the function of the mind, emotions, and will. “Desires of your heart” refers to the results of the function of the mind, emotions, and will in the formation of aspirations, desires, and longings.
When our delight is genuinely in the Lord, our requests, the product of our desires, will be transformed and conformed to the will of God. When we start truly delighting in the Lord and trust in Him for our needs and desires, we will then stop depending on our own devices for security or significance. It is then that our desires and requests will naturally begin to change.
Therefore, God promises to give us those requests, as the context suggest, according to His timing.
(2) Psalm 94:19: “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Thy consolations delight my soul.”
Anxious thoughts multiply when a man’s delight is off the Lord. When this occurs, his trust will also be off the Lord and on his own devices and solutions to life. So what does the Psalmist say? “Thy consolations delight my soul.” What is God’s greatest consolation or source of comfort? It is God Himself. When Christians fail to delight their heart in the Lord by seeking Him as their number one source of comfort, they will begin to unravel and they will turn to their own devices.
Note also the emphasis of the following passages:
Psalm 42:1 As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God.
Psalm 62:10 Do not trust in oppression, And do not vainly hope in robbery; If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them.
Psalm 73:25-28 Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish; Thou hast destroyed all those who are unfaithful to Thee. 28 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works.
Such Psalms do not just express the desire of a highly spiritual man, but they acknowledge man’s need as a human being created with a vacuum that only God can fill. They acknowledge the fact that nothing else can truly satisfy.
Finally, compare Psalm 86:11 with Matthew 6:21-24. The greatest indication of man’s fallenness is his capacity to try to handle life, or to seek satisfaction, significance, and security apart from clinging to the Lord.
Psalm 86:11 Teach me Thy way, O LORD; I will walk in Thy truth; Unite my heart to fear Thy name.
Matthew 6:21-24 for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 22 The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Even at his best, such a person is guilty of a divided heart trying to walk with one foot stationed on the Lord and the other one stationed on his own solutions. So what does the Psalmist say? “Unite (remove any division of trust) my heart to fear Thy name.” To fear the Lord is ultimately to trust the Lord or to turn to Him in complete trust (Ps. 40:3; 115:11).
Problems of the Heart
(1) A wrong focus or thought pattern.
· In Psalm 19:14 the Psalmist prayed for a right focus and thought pattern. He recognized the danger of a wrong focus or center.
· The heart, when dominated by the sinful nature and man’s viewpoint, gathers wickedness to itself like impure imaginations, slander, false beliefs, false aspirations and solutions, impure desires, and deceit, etc. (Psalm 41:6).
· Because the heart is the wellspring of life, and because the heart is incurably wicked, unrighteousness begins in the heart (cf. Ps. 36:1; 58:2; Matt. 15:18-19). Remember, the flaming missiles of the evil one, as with Eve, are aimed at the heart (the mind, emotions, and will) (Eph. 6:16).
(2) An unbelieving heart (Heb. 3:12). An unbelieving heart is what causes us to pursue our own solutions to life. This is what happened to Eve.
(3) Fear and anxiety (Isa. 35:4; 51:7). Fear or anxiety is removed through a believing heart or trust in God’s plan and supply regardless of the problems or how things look from our perspective (Ps. 112:7; 13:5; 27:3).
(4) Agitation, frustration of heart. The absence of peace because the heart is not truly centered on the Lord (Ps. 38:8-10).
Is it any wonder then, that Solomon challenges us: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV).
As emphasized previously, the heart is where our character is formed and maintained, the place that determines who we are, and what we do. As Scripture warns us, issues of life flow from the heart. It alone holds the secrets of true success or meaning in life. If our heart is filled with what is good, our actions and words will follow. If it is filled with what is evil, so will be our actions and words.
So then, the treasures of our hearts are priceless, but as stressed, they can be stolen. We face three thieves, the world, the flesh, and the devil, and these three stalk us always seeking ways to steal the good treasures of the heart and to replace them with what is evil and worthless, or at least, with those that are not the best.
How well am I guarding my heart? Is the condition of my heart my greatest concern? It should be because it is so determinative of every aspect of life. It ultimately determines my love for God and for others. It determines who I am and what I do.
As we have seen, God is terribly concerned about our hearts. But the thing that makes this even more difficult is the fact, as Jeremiah 17:9 warns us, the heart is deceitful above all things and incurably evil. Part of the deceitfulness comes from the self-protective nature of the heart and its commitment to trust in its own solutions. We would rather trust ourselves than someone else, even God.
Because of this, even our worship of God is suspect and needs to be cleansed or purified of selfish pursuits. Remember, God warns us in His Word that we can be very religious while we withhold our hearts from true faith and worship of the Lord (Isa. 29:23).
Since most people spend an enormous amount of time working, their time in church must be only a fraction of their involvement with God. As a result, unless we are challenged and equipped to live all of life for God from a heart fixed and prepared to trust in Him in the daily routine of life, Christianity degenerates into mere external religiosity in which people play church.
Unless we really deal with our hearts, our religious striving or our worship of God becomes egocentric. And though this can be purified and brought into the service of God through the Word, too often true religion is corrupted and nullified by cravings and striving for self-centered concerns like power, comfort, and security. The Word of God is more than a handbook of doctrine and a set of prescriptions for proper living that we can apply to make life work out the way we want. It is a God-breathed book designed to involve us passionately with the living God so that we trust Him even when life doesn’t seem to make sense. All we can do is trust God that He is in charge and a good and eternal plan continues fully in place.
What we often try to do is develop “trust in God by understanding why things happen and how to organize our lives to rule out severe misfortune. If we understood the whys and hows of life, of course, there would be no need for trust. A predictable world would require nothing other than conformity to its principles.”8
Christianity and the promises of the Bible are matters of trust, and trust is a matter of the heart.
1 Donald G. Bloesch, Faith and Its Counterfeits, InterVarsity, Downers Grove, IL, 1981, p. 14.
2 Bloesch, p. 12f.
3 Charles Swindoll, The Quest for Character, Multnomah Press, Portland, 1987, p. 28.
4 Swindoll, Quest, p. 113.
5 Bill Hull, The Disciple Making Pastor, Fleming H. Revell, Westwood, NJ, 1988, p. 162.
6 Hull, p. 159f.
7 J. I. Packer, Keeping in Step With the Spirit, Fleming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan, 1984, p. 97.
8 Larry Crabb, Who We Are and How We Relate, Navpress, Colorado Springs, 1992, p. 71.