The Proper Care of the Heart
By: Dr. Steven C. Riser
|By: Dr. Steven Riser; ©2003|
|Dr. Riser says we need to guard our spiritual hearts just as we take care of our physical hearts. Living to please ourselves is a certain prescription for heart failure—both physical and spiritual!|
Some years ago, during an annual convention of the American Medical Association, a small group of doctors were listening to a lecture on a highly specialized facet of their task as “heart men” or cardiologists. The lecturer asked, “How many of you have had a heart examination in the last 12 months?” No one lifted his hand.
Tens of thousands of Americans have tired worn-out hearts. Worn-out to the extent that walking up the stairs puts them at risk of a heart attack. Abuse or neglect causes most heart problems. Cigarette smoke, lack of physical activity, being overweight—are things we do that put ourselves at risk. The American Heart Association tells us that an overwhelming majority of heart attacks could be prevented if we would just take proper care of our hearts.
It’s the same way with our “spiritual” hearts of believers. We need to guard our “spiritual” hearts closely. There are so many things vying for our heart’s affection—the desire for money, prestige, lust, envy, self-promotion, and on and on. If we are not careful, the basic desire of our heart will switch from pleasing God to pleasing ourselves. And living to please ourselves is a certain prescription for heart failure—both physically and spiritually.
In the 17th century William Harvey discovered the importance of the physical heart in the circulation of blood. Long before Harvey’s day, God spoke of the spiritual heart of people: What is the “heart” in the biblical sense? The heart is, “the citadel of man” —the seat of our dearest treasure, the center of our personality, character and will. Before regeneration our hearts are exceedingly wicked, deceitful and beyond cure (Jer. 17:9; Matt. 15:19). No one seeks God until or unless He regenerates the heart (John 6:44, 65; Rom. 3:10-12). Why? Because we are spiritually dead or unresponsive to God. Apart from being regenerated, we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). It has been said that, “The loneliest place in the universe is the human heart when love (God) is absent.”
Following the new birth or regeneration, a struggle begins between the godly desires of the believer’s new heart (nature) and the ungodly desires of the sin nature, which remains in him. Sooner or later, we discover that only by giving our heart over to Christ and submitting to the control of the Spirit can we have any success at all. (Rom. 7:20-24; 1 Pet. 4:19; Phil. 4:13)
The truth is that we all need to take a heart examine:
The Psalmist said, “Search me O God and know my heart….” In Jeremiah 17:10, God said, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind…to reward each man according to his conduct…” Why is it so important to take proper care for our hearts? Solomon, in Proverbs 4:23, gives us the answer. Reflect on the various translations of Proverbs 4:23:
Above all else, guard your heart…, for it is the wellspring of life.
Above all else, guard your affections. For they influence everything else in your life. Above all else, guard your heart… for it affects everything that you do.
Above all that you guard, watch over your heart, for out of it are the sources of life.
Keep your heart with all vigilance;… for from it flows the springs of life. Keep your heart with all diligence;… for out of it are the issues of life.
Keep your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life.
In the same way that we avoid second hand smoke and fatty foods, we need to avoid those thoughts, attitudes and actions that corrupt the heart. “For as a man thinks in his heart so is he” (Prov. 23:7). A follower of Christ should begin each new day by giving his heart to Jesus all over again, asking him to cleanse it, purify it, and keep it strong. Take care of your heart for it is the wellspring of a dynamic spiritual life and of an effective Christian ministry. Place it in God’s hands and don’t let anything else in the world compete for its affection.
Practically and biblically speaking, how can we guard or take proper care of our “spiritual” hearts?
- 1. Learn to love God with all your heart
Matthew 22:37—“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” We guard our heart by seeing to it that God is the focus of our affections—that we love Him first and foremost. Is it any wonder that Jesus said that loving God with all our hearts was the greatest commandment? I think not! We guard our heart by keeping Christ the focus of our faith! A Christ-centered faith is good for your spiritual health. We learn to love and please God by learning to give Him His rightful place on the throne of our hearts and by learning to obey God’s truth (John 14:21) from the heart (1 Pet. 1:22).
- 2. Guard especially your weak links or besetting sins
Be aware of the weak links or the besetting sins in your life. Since the chain is only as strong as the weakest link, every inlet of sin and every opportunity for temptation must be strongly guarded: the heart, the mouth, the eyes, and the feet. Deuteronomy 4:9 says, “Give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently.” We must know and guard against the sin that so easily entangles us (Heb. 12:1). We need to place a high value on a dependent, humble spirit because pride comes before the fall (1 Cor. 10:12). Live in an atmosphere of the Word of God. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…” (Col. 3:16)!
If the fortress is taken, the whole town must surrender. If the heart is captured, the whole
man—the affections, desires, motives, pursuits—all will be given up. The most important
part of the body is the heart. A wound here is sure death. So, spiritually as well as naturally,
out of the heart are the issues of life. The way the fountain is, is the way the streams will be.
Guard the source! The way the heart is, is the way the mouth, the eyes, the hands and the
feet will be. Above all watching, watch your heart. Guard the fountain so the waters won’t be
poisoned. If the heart isn’t watched, all watching is in vain.1
- 3. Be careful what your heart thinks
Why? “For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). Sow a thought, reap an attitude, sow an attitude, reap an action, sow an action, reap a habit, sow a habit, reap a character, sow a character, reap a destiny! (Gal. 6:7-9)
In Philippians 4:8, Paul was clear in sharing with us what should occupy our thoughts: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
One important way in which we guard our heart is by being mentally disciplined: Paul says in Romans 8:6, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Tim. 1:7; Phil. 2:5; 1 Cor. 2:16)
- 4. Hide God’s Word in your heart
Psalm 119:11: “I’ve hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” It has been said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Hiding God’s Word in your heart can actually prevent sin. It is a necessary prerequisite for meditation and as well as sin prevention. Hiding God’s Word in our hearts is not simply a matter of Scripture memory (although it does include that); it extends to holy living in devotion to the Lord (Deut. 6:4-9; 30:14; Jer. 31:33). This inner devotion finds its expression in a teachable spirit with a proper regard or respect for God. It also finds expression in a spirit of worship and inner contentment. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. (Psalm 119: 105)
- 5. Have a contrite, humble, repentant and forgiving heart
Matthew 18: 35—“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” How often have you heard someone say, “I forgive you,” but they didn’t really mean it? How often have we done the same? Jesus said that we are to forgive “from the heart”! (18:35) Forgiveness can’t be from the lips only (15:8) or with conditions. It must be sincere and genuine. Forgiveness keeps the channel of God’s love and grace open (Psa. 51:17). “The sacrifices acceptable to God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” How do you know if you have forgiven someone? Have you given up the right to get even? Can you honestly say to God, “I’m not going to allow the way in which another has hurt me to adversely affect the way I relate to him? If so, you have forgiven.
- 6. Pray for an enlightened heart
Ephesians 1:18—“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” The heart in Scripture is the seat of thought and moral judgment as well as feeling. When our hearts are enlightened, we become aware of all the divine resources that God has made available to us. We understand what it means when Peter says that God “has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). This includes, but is not limited to, the hope of our calling (the blessed hope—Titus 2:13), our heavenly inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4; Col. 3:24) and power from God (Eph. 5:18; Phil. 4:13). Just as we cannot see the physical world without physical light, so we cannot discern spiritual truth apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:12-16).
- 7. Invest where you want your heart to be
Matthew 6:21—Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We can influence our hearts by learning to store up treasure in heaven as well as by hiding God’s Word in our hearts. How do we do this? We do this by investing in time for eternity. By doing God’s will God’s way. By suffering for Christ’s sake. By forgiving from the heart and doing deeds of kindness. By being good stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us, including a willingness to share our faith. The principle is: whatever we most highly treasured, whatever we love first and foremost, whatever we “worship” occupies our “heart” —the center of the personality (embracing the mind, will and emotions) and it will, in turn, control a person’s direction, values and priorities.
- If honor is our highest good,… then ambition will take complete charge of a man.
- If money is the greatest value,… then greed will take complete charge of a man.
- If pleasure is our highest value, then we will degenerate into sheer hedonism.
- If self-esteem is our highest value, then we will degenerate into hopeless narcissism.
- If happiness is our highest value rather than holiness, we will never find it.
Conversely, those who set their minds on things above (Col. 3:1-2), determining to live under kingdom norms or godly values, discover at last that their labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58) and their deeds do, in fact, follow them. (Rev. 14:13) Since the proper care of your heart can make all the difference in the world, I implore you, guard your heart (Prov. 4: 23)!
- 8. Be wholehearted (not half-hearted)
A double-minded person is unstable in all his ways (James 1:6-8). Beware of divided allegiances—Jesus said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Beware of having one foot in the kingdom and one foot in the world! God says, in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Do you enjoy worshipping and serving God? People who are effective and consequently successful at what they do enjoy what they do! We don’t fully invest ourselves in things we don’t consider to be worthwhile. That’s why the writer of Hebrews says that if we would come to God we must believe not only that God exists but that it is worth a man’s while to seek after God. If we would properly care for our hearts, we would be whole-hearted!
Specifically, what does God say we should do with all our heart?
- Fear Him—deeply respect Him—Deut. 10:12
- Seek Him—hunger and thirst for Him—Deut. 4:29; Jer. 28:13
- Trust Him—take Him at His Word—Prov. 3:5
- Love Him—first and foremost—Deut. 6:5
- Lay hold of His Words—know His Word—Prov. 4:4
- Follow Him—walk in His ways—develop a godly lifestyle—Deut. 10:12
- Be glad and rejoice—worship Him—Zeph. 3:14
- Serve Him—be faithful in ministry—Deut. 11:13; 1 Sam. 12:24
- Turn/Return to Him—in repentance and faith—Deut. 30:10b; 1 Sam. 12:20; Joel 2:12
- Obey Him—Deut. 30:2, 10; 26:16
Ecclesiastes 9:10a says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” — with all your heart! Above all else, guard your affections for they influence everything else in your life. “May God help you to: keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4: 23—Living Bible).