Take Heart: It’s at the Center of Things!
Hey, ho, marathoners in and for Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1; 2 Timothy 4:7) Exhausted, depleted from running the Godly, good, and being-a-blessing-to-others race? Welcome. Sit. Relax. Let’s feast.
Feast of the Heart exists to help bring about Christ-centered “reformation, revival, and constructive revolution” (Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City) so that God will be glorified and people blessed.
Reformation… we seek to abide by and serve up the true truth, pure doctrine of the Bible
Revival… we seek to model biblical Christians living in word and deed
Constructive Revolution… we seek to spread the true gospel right where God has planted us with urgency, compassion, and radical self-abandonment
God Loves Our Heart: Put all your heart into knowing what’s known! [from the book by John Dozier]
“Biblically speaking—which is all that really matters—Take Heart reminds us that the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. It’s vitally important we take time to see how the Bible defines the, our heart. I promise you, we’re going to get into some practical application about how best to handle any and all hurts, but doing so devoid of the “big-picture” truths will not simply make the details more elusive and ineffective: it will leave them greatly diluted and diminished of the healing power God, you, so desperately want and need.
Getting to the Heart of the Heart
‘No secrets of the heart and mind remained hidden when Jonathan Edwards called for self-scrutiny, this meant the relentless need to distinguish between the true and false affections; between those affections having to do with a redeemed heart, and those darkened by sin. To clarify these distinctions was Edwards’ purpose in his life and in seeing the Great Awakening come to pass.’ (Harold Simonson, Jonathan Edwards biographer)
Scripture calls King David ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (1 Sam. 13:13–14), though he faced the same temptations you and I face each day. When confronted with his most grievous sin of adultery, he dropped to his knees and confessed, ‘Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight’ (Ps. 51:4). David’s weeping and penitential prayer serves as a powerful example for us. He recognized the internal cause of his external sins, the ‘sin beneath the sins,’ that had dethroned God and had made adultery and murder first possible, then attractive, and finally consummated.
God Created and Loves Your Heart!
The word heart and its various synonyms show up in the Bible over 2,500 times. Does that tell you something about the high priority God places on your heart? Does it compel you to consider how high a priority you place on the true nature and condition of your own heart? When I first came to realize and understand this emphasis in Scripture and began to discern the distinction between the heart and the spirit, it radically transformed my perspective. How important it is that we give our hearts the kind of focused attention God gives them, the kind of scrutiny Jonathan Edwards recommended in the quote above.
Seen yet another way, when in the Bible Jesus says, ‘Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength’ (Luke 10:27), he’s placing three times the emphasis on our ‘soul, heart, mind’ [synonyms for the same center of our being] than he is on our ‘strength,’ or the free will we’re imbued with to carry out life. The Bible repeatedly tells us if our heart is in the right place, our actions will follow. (And the opposite is also true.) You see, ‘soul, heart, mind’ have so much overlap in the Bible that simply saying, ‘…guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life’ (Prov. 4:23) will do.
What the Bible calls the “heart”—which, as we have and will see, in biblical usage—does not mean feelings or emotions, as we often use the word heart today. But rather, it is the heart that encompasses the entire feeling, thinking, and soulful being. It’s the animating center of the human being that drives all we do—it was created by God very good (Gen. 1:21) and then went very bad (Gen. 3; Rom. 1:18-32). God’s plan of redemption is all about remaking and redeeming the heart—and all else in the universe—very good, even better than it was in the beginning, again.
The Heart of the Matter: Good News to Everyone Who Believes
In God’s realm, the heart is the seat of the entire self. It includes our worldview, our core values and commitments, our idealized image of how the world should be, and our non-negotiables. This is why the Bible exhorts us, ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life’ (Prov. 4:23, emphasis added).
What matters to God is the human heart (soul, mind)—the body too is important, will be raised but is secondary—as it reflects the state of the heart. As the revivalist preacher, philosopher, and Congregational Protestant theologian—and master of diagnosing humanity’s makeup by how God created mankind and we image bearers are designed to glorify him—Jonathan Edwards wisely said of the soul/heart, ‘The soul/heart is what is united to Christ. It is the soul/heart that is regenerated. It is the soul/heart that has its very nature changed. It is the soul/heart that is renewed and conformed into the image of Christ. It is the soul/heart that rejoices and grieves. The soul/heart does not choose one or the other philosophical, moral paths from a state of neutrality; the soul/heart actively chooses one path or another based upon what it loves, and cannot do otherwise.’ (Dane Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life, WJE, 13:219-20; 14:295; Ibid; 17:135; 2:98; 22:363-62, emphasis added).
As we will see, this should get under why God’s sovereign and loving use of suffering is focused on a change of heart: a change for choosing based upon God’s true truth and love and not the falsehoods of the world, the flesh, or the devil; a change for the betterment or—if suffering is suppressed, compartmentalized, and unused—a change for the embitterment of our heart.
What is your heart’s default mode? What, who does your heart love? What do you think about when you are experiencing no pressure to think about anything else? Of what do your daydreams consist? What ideas, hopes, and ambitions most regularly compete for ascendancy in your heart? What do you most hope to accomplish? For what would you practically die to achieve/get?
Pause for a moment right now. Before you go on, think it through. In your heart of hearts, on what do you focus? In the margin of this book, finish this sentence “If only I…” Though the actual words may vary, most answers may sound strikingly similar to yours.
Aspirations, Affections, and Exponential Complications
When God is not seated squarely in the center of our hearts, then just like a black hole in outer space, all else besides God will rush into the vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum. Chaos, pain, guilt, fear, internal conflict, shame, anxiety, and all the other fruit of misplaced priorities result. Always. Where the God of the Bible does not reign, all forms of lesser gods will rush in to take God’s place of preeminence within our heart. Seated in God’s stead, idols will demand as much as God does but not offer any of God’s mercy when we fail to worship the idol(s)—and fail over and over we will.
St. Augustine once defined sin as ‘making a good thing, the only or ultimate thing.’
Satan cleverly uses “good things made ultimate things” to tempt us into worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. Since Satan the Deceiver has no original creative power in himself whatsoever, he must borrow God’s good things to do what he does best: deceive, distract, delude, and eventually destroy any who might worship God.
The heart is meant to be the throne room of God only. God made your heart; his preeminence there is well deserved, and God knows we can only live a joyous and fulfilled life with him on the throne. If we get this even halfway right, we will come to see our pain as God painstakingly reminding us (not creating the pain, or pointing pain at us, but sovereignly using the pain of a broken world) of exactly who our hearts were made to worship. He is passionate about revealing to us the true nature of our hearts so that we might know ourselves well, and in knowing our need, we might throw ourselves on the salvation Jesus won for us on his cross and the sanctification faithfully following him provides.
The Heart-Emotion [Spirit] Connection
Now we come to the word spirit, also linked to our hearts. In the Old Testament, the word spirit (Hebrew, ruwach) is equivalent to “wind.” In the New Testament, the word spirit refers to our emotions or affections. Please get a hold of this: our emotions are linked directly to those things we treasure as most important to our well-being; they link directly to the things of the heart—our worldview, hopes, dreams, core beliefs, values, non-negotiables, and deepest desires. If our heart is, according to God’s standards, “in the right place,” our emotional homeostasis, stability, “fruit” will be good as well (Gal. 5:22–23). But if our heart has wandered away from, or is in conflict with God’s will and standards for our life, our emotional makeup will reflect it in a host of negative and destructive ways (Gal. 5:19–21). Or, put another way, look up the antonyms, opposites of each of the Fruit of the Spirit.” (John O. Dozier, Jr., Take Heart)
What’s at the center of the born-again and right-minded heart? “Of all the knowledge that we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves, are the most important.” (Jonathan Edwards)
The blessed, joyous yet radically difficult and organic journey of the Christian life must have its origins in the reality of, a) the heart of how God first made things, b) the heart of what went wrong, and, c) how God is rectifying things leading to making all things new… beginning in YOU: The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart (Deuteronomy 6:5; Psalm 37:4; Proverbs 4:23; Ezekiel 11:19; Romans 2:29).
Thank you! And hope to see you next week at The Training Table,
Knowing the Heart, by Jonathan Edwards
Shepherding a Child’s Heart, by Tedd Tripp
Search: The Heart, by Ligonier Ministries
The Gospel and the Heart Conference, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC