(To listen to the podcast version of this post, please click here.)
“The human heart is a finely-tuned instrument that serves the whole body.”1 It is, in essence, the core of our physical bodies, and without it, we cannot live. Generally speaking, our hearts beat over 100,000 times a day, pumping around 8 liters of blood containing oxygen and nutrients throughout our bodies. Most of us know by now that it is crucial to keep our hearts healthy! As with many things, though, it is frequently easier said than done.
Your Spiritual Heart
In the Bible, the heart is mentioned over 800 times. We can be assured that the vast majority of these mentions are not referencing our physical, blood-pumping heart. What then is meant by “heart?” It’s a word we frequently use, and most of us have a general understanding of what we mean, though it’s hard to describe. I would say that the when we reference the heart in anything other than a physical way, we are speaking of the core of our being. Our spiritual heart is the seat of our emotions, our deepest thoughts, desires, and feelings; some might even call it the “spirit” of a person. I believe it’s the essence of who we really are, and it seems natural to call this place the “heart” since the physical heart is so central to our physical bodies.
Here are some things that the Bible has to say about the heart:
- Trust in the Lord with all your heart…(Proverbs 3:5)
- The Lord examines the heart…(Proverbs 21:2)
- The words you speak come from the heart…(Matthew 15:18)
- From the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery… (Matthew 15:19)
- Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be…(Luke 12:34)
- We are to store up God’s Word in our heart, so that we won’t sin… (Psalm 119:11)
- We are to not let our hearts be troubled or afraid… (John 14:27)
- As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person… (Proverbs 27:19)
- When we delight in the Lord, He gives us the desires of the heart… (Psalm 37:4)
- The meditation of our heart should be pleasing to the Lord…(Psalm 19:14)
- A joyful heart is good medicine…(Proverbs 17:22)
- God is the strength of our heart…(Psalm 73:26)
- Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life…(Proverbs 4:23)
With so many important things entering and exiting our heart and otherwise affected by it, it’s no wonder that Proverbs instructs us to guard our hearts above all else! An ignored and unprotected heart is a prime target for an attack from the enemy of our souls.
How Do I Guard My Heart?
The Bible, in all of its radiant wisdom, gives an unexpected answer to how to guard the heart: righteous living. Ephesians 6:14 exhorts us to put on the “breastplate” or “body armor” of righteousness. Maybe this seems logical to you, but as I really pondered this, it seemed like a surprising choice for a weapon.
Maybe I thought that the heart would be better guarded by something that seemed, I don’t know, a bit more aggressive? Something sharp and heavy!? After all, this is my heart we’re talking about! Maybe the breastplate of understanding or discernment?? That way, I’m able to correctly decide what enters into my core being. Or, what about the breastplate of spiritual gifts? Something truly supernatural or extraordinary to defend my all-important soul-center.
But, no. It turns out, that it’s just the day-in, day-out, choices to follow God’s commands for how I should live that builds an impenetrable force-field around my heart. Daily decisions. The more I learn about my God, the more I realize that He is so interested in our faithful, diligent, seemingly unimportant daily decisions. He is just looking for someone to be truly loyal and faithful for the long game, not spurts of spiritual mountaintops and highs. His Word declares it’s the ones who endure to the end that will be saved (Matthew 24:13).
Right-living protects our hearts because it keeps the consequences of sin out of our lives. It keeps us close to the Father. The Lord has outlined the way to live in His Word; these rules aren’t for keeping us controlled and on a short leash – quite the opposite. These “rules” for righteous living actually are the means of the greatest joy, peace, and satisfaction that we can have on this earth. The ultimate reward for our obedience and righteous living is keeping our “wellspring of life,” our hearts, unpolluted, pure and tender before God.
Consequences of an Unguarded Heart
Unfortunately, most all of us have experienced one of the most dire consequences of neglecting to protect our innermost being: a hardened heart. When our heart becomes hardened, we become unyielding and stubborn. Perhaps it began with a wound, but instead of seeking restoration, we distance ourselves from the only One who can heal. We become laden with sin and the slavish demands of our carnal nature.
Interestingly, having a “hard heart” according to the Bible seems to be associated with a lack of understanding. In the same book where we find the details about the armor of God, Ephesians, we also see in 4:18: Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. A dangerous place. We more easily succumb to deception when our hearts are hard. That’s why we are desperately urged to guard, fervently GUARD the heart!
God Gives Us a New Heart
In God’s stories, though, there is always a place for redemption. To me, one of the most beautiful illustrative scriptures is found in Ezekiel 36:26: And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. Isn’t that what we all, as children of God, truly want? We know that our lives are so much better when our hearts are tender and responsive to God; we really don’t want that ol’ stony, stubborn heart! Yet, when we find that we have gone astray, He is so faithful to restore us when we come to Him in sincere faith.
Our daily, God-pleasing decisions to live faithfully according to God’s plan is the surest way to keep ourselves protected. No, our righteousness can never be perfect in this flesh, but as we diligently pursue a right relationship with God, our protected heart remains tender and responsive. And that’s all the Lord truly needs! He is able to work wonders beyond compare when we are whole-hearted in our desire for Him. Friend, if you sense there are a few tough spots in your heart or that you haven’t been faithful to protect it, start today! Don’t wait another moment. Our loving Father is waiting with open arms to restore you, and if needed, to give you a new heart.