“The heart of the human problem is the human heart.” I wrote that a few years ago, and had probably picked up the language from somewhere else along the way. Jesus pointed to the heart as the source of all sorts of evils (Mark 7:21-23). Earlier, Jeremiah lamented the state of the human heart, calling it deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9).
Our hearts control us, for we will do what we love, but we cannot control our hearts. The desires within our hearts are influential, but we don’t generate those desires. They are responses rather than our responsibility. And we all know that our desires are often in conflict with each other.
In terms of our salvation, our hard and stony hearts are dead toward God and require the miracle of a Spirit-given new heart for us to start living for God. The New Covenant is a wonderful blessing, for in it God not only forgives our sins, but also gives us a new heart and puts His Spirit within us so that we can live in responsive fellowship with Him.
So now, as we live for God, what are we to do with our hearts? After all, we have these new hearts given by God, but still we feel the raging battle of desire versus desire within ourselves – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the new heart are definitely at odds with each other. Two little instructions that can really help us:
1. Guard your heart. At your core you are a responder, and so what gets into you will shape you. If you spend hours each week feasting on the poison of pornography, then that will shape the desires inside you. If you binge watch violent television, or open up your heart toward the values of this world, then you will be influenced. None of us are as neutral or objective as we like to think we are.
The wisest man who ever lived (apart from Christ), was Solomon. He had God-given wisdom and wrote thousands of proverbs. But in Proverbs 4:23 he writes, “Above all else…” That should get our attention. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” All of life flows from your heart, so guard it.
That means that while you cannot shut the door on your heart and refuse all influence from the outside, you can be careful what you allow in. How is your heart? Are you being poisoned by a sewage pipe of unhelpful input through your phone, through the internet, through what you read or what you watch? If a sewage pipe was pouring into your home so that every meal was poisoned, you would do something about it. But how easily we leave the sewage pipe to pour into our lives as we sit in front of a screen and swallow the poison that is there.
2. Incline your heart. In Joshua 24, Joshua urges the people to choose to follow God. They say they will, but he challenges them that they are not able to do it. Again, they declare that they will, so he tells them two things in verse 23. First, get rid of the foreign gods (effectively, guard your hearts from guaranteed damage). Second, he tells them to incline their hearts to the Lord.
It is interesting that he doesn’t tell them to determine, to follow, or to always obey, or to be perfectly faithful. Rather, he tells them to lean their hearts in God’s direction. That is, just as we guard our hearts from dangerous input, so we can lean our hearts toward God in order to live in response to Him.
What might that look like today? There are probably many ways we can incline our hearts toward God. First, by giving thanks in every circumstance, we incline our hearts to God. When things are going well, our thankfulness reminds our hearts that we are recipients of God’s grace. When things seem to be going wrong, our thankfulness reminds our hearts that we have a God with a good plan, even if we can’t see it.
Second, by reminding our hearts of truth, we incline our hearts toward God. Lloyd-Jones wrote that “most of our unhappiness comes from the fact that we listen to ourselves instead of talking to ourselves.” We need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. Remind your heart that you are a sinner deserving nothing but wrath and judgment from God. Remind your heart that God’s love was demonstrated for you in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Remind your heart of who you now are because of the redemptive rescue and transformation by God’s amazing grace.
Third, by speaking to God in prayer, we incline our heart to God. As we learn to speak to Him in every moment of every day, we are only leaning into the fellowship that He wants to have with us. As we set apart time to really pour out our hearts to Him, we open ourselves up to all that He has for us. Just like giving thanks, or speaking God’s Word to ourselves, so in prayer we simply lean our hearts in God’s direction.
There are other ways in which we can incline our hearts to God. But maybe we should start right there. Get rid of any foreign gods, or anything you already know is leading you astray from Him. Guard your heart. And then incline it. Lean it toward God. Look to Him and how He wants to stir righteous desires in your heart.