It's the Heart that Matters

June 21 Day 172

It's the Heart that Matters

Paul Swala was in prison in Zambia. He was charged with treason. He was accused of being involved in a coup to overthrow the government. While in prison, he did Alpha. He encountered Jesus and cried out for God to save him. He said, ‘The smile came on my face and my heart was filled with peace.’

Extraordinarily, he was the only one of the group of sixty-nine accused who was acquitted. He told his story, at our Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall. His face radiated the joy of the Lord. He has now been into every prison in Zambia sharing the good news about Jesus Christ and how, even in the direst of situations, Jesus can bring hope and change hearts. He said, ‘I’ve never seen a friend like Jesus.’ God really has filled his heart with joy.

Photograph of Nicky Gumbel interviewing Paul Swala at the Leadership Conference 2015

The word ‘heart’ appears at least seventeen times in the passages for today. The Hebrew understanding of ‘the heart’ included the emotions, but it also involved the mind, the conscience and the will. It means everything that is going on inside of you.

All the men and women whom God chose to use greatly had weaknesses and made mistakes. But God saw that their hearts were turned towards him. It is your heart that matters. Your heart lies ‘open before the Lord’ (Proverbs 15:11). Only God sees and knows the heart of every human being (1 Kings 8:39).

Your face reflects your heart

Proverbs 15:11-20

Some people’s faces radiate love and joy. Their smile puts us at ease and cheers us up. Others may have a rather more sour expression on their face and can make us feel very uncomfortable.

Your face often reflects your heart. ‘A happy heart makes the face cheerful’ (v.13). I remember a preacher saying that the life we have lived eventually shows on our face and, therefore, everybody over forty is responsible for their face!

Even where you manage to hide your heart from those around you, God can still see it: ‘Even hell holds no secrets from God – do you think he can’t read human hearts?’ (v.11, MSG).

God is interested in your heart. This passage gives some wise advice on how you can feed your heart: ‘The discerning heart seeks knowledge’ (v.14); ‘A cheerful heart fills the day with song’ (v.15b, MSG).

The writer gives an example of how the inside is so much more important than the outside: ‘Better a bread crust shared in love than a slab of prime rib served in hate’ (v.17, MSG). Love and friendship are what make an evening fun.

Thank you, Lord, that you see beyond the outward appearance into my heart. May my face reflect the love and joy you put in my heart and bring encouragement and confidence to everyone I encounter.

Your heart can be full of joy in spite of outward circumstances

Acts 14:8-28

Paul faced huge difficulties but was filled with joy because his heart was right, and he was making a massive difference to the world.

Joy comes from the heart and is not necessarily connected with your outward circumstances. God loves you. He approves of you. Of course, we all have weaknesses and make mistakes but God sees your heart.

Paul was conducting the first deliberate evangelistic campaign into the Gentile world. It was this that led to Christianity becoming not just a Jewish sect, but the faith with the greatest number of followers in the world today. God ‘used them to throw the door of faith wide open so people of all nations could come streaming in’ (v.27, MSG).

Paul speaks of ‘all that God had done through them’ (v.27). Yet outwardly the odds were stacked against him. He appeared very unimpressive (2 Corinthians 10:10). One description of Paul’s physical appearance at this time (in a second-century document called ‘The Acts of Paul and Thecla’) describes him as ‘a man little of stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining, and nose somewhat hooked, full of grace: for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel’.

He not only looked unimpressive but he suffered from some physical illness (Galatians 4:13). In addition to all this, his body must have been battered and bruised by all the physical persecution he had suffered. On this occasion, the crowd beat him unconscious and left him for dead (Acts 14:19).

Like so many who have followed in Paul’s footsteps, in spite of all his physical suffering, his heart was full of joy, and God worked through him. God used Paul in his weakness. This encourages us to believe that God can also work through us in our weakness.

This heartfelt joy is one of a variety of different kinds of hearts we see in this passage:

1.        Faith-filled hearts

Paul followed the Lord’s example and looked at the heart. He saw ‘a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked’ (v.8). As Paul looked at him he saw his heart and ‘saw that he had faith to be healed’ (v.9).

Sometimes God enables us to see into people’s hearts – to see that they have the faith to be healed, to be filled with the Spirit or to receive some gift. Later we read of how God ‘opened the door of faith to the Gentiles’ (v.27). Faith is the key to salvation.

2.        Fickle hearts

When the crowd saw the man healed they began treating Paul and Barnabas as gods. They pointed out, ‘We’re not gods!’ and that they were only human beings, bringing good news of ‘the living God’ to whom the crowd needed to turn (v.15). However, the hearts of the crowd were fickle. They were soon won over by Paul’s opponents and almost in an instant they went from trying to offer sacrifices to Paul to stoning him (vv.18–19).

3.        Full-of-joy hearts

This was just one of the many ‘hardships’ (v.22) that Paul and his companions went through. Yet Paul can speak of how God ‘fills your hearts with joy’ (v.17). Again, he is saying that the inside is so much more important than the outside.

Paul ‘strengthened’ and ‘encouraged’ the disciples in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch (vv.21–22). The way he encouraged and strengthened them was not by saying that the Christian life was easy. Paul tells them that although their sins were behind them, their troubles were ahead of them. He says, ‘Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times’ (v.22, MSG). Jesus did not come to make life easy; he came to make people great.

Lord, thank you so much for the inspiring example of those like the apostle Paul. Whatever the outward appearance or circumstance, may my heart be full of joy. May I not judge people or situations by how they look from the outside, but like you, always look to the heart.

Your heart should be fully committed to the Lord

1 Kings 8:22-9:9

As Solomon dedicates the temple, he prays to the Lord, ‘There is no God like you… You who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way’ (8:23).

God’s own heart is for his people and he sees and knows the hearts of all people: ‘You alone know every human heart’ (v.39).

Solomon’s prayer recognises the fact that we fail. We sin. He does not say ‘if’ they sin. Rather he says, ‘When they sin against you – for there is no one who does not sin’ (v.46, see also Romans 3:23).

Thankfully, there is still hope. It is possible to have ‘changed hearts’ (1 Kings 8:47, MSG). It is possible for our hearts to turn back to God (v.48). He prays that God will ‘turn our hearts to him’ (v.58). God is full of mercy and forgiveness (vv.28,30,34,36,39,50). He relentlessly loves and he keeps his word (v.23, MSG).

The better you get to know God – his heart, his character and his love for you – the easier it becomes to obey him with all your heart.

Never settle for second best. As Solomon puts it, ‘Your hearts must be fully committed to the Lord our God’ (v.61). God wants you to walk before him with ‘integrity of heart and uprightness’ (9:4). The people determined to live like that and went home ‘joyful and glad in heart’ (8:66). Like the disciples, their hearts were full of joy.

We all have weaknesses and make mistakes. But God sees your heart. He loves you and approves of you. Be filled with his joy today.

Lord, my heart is turned towards you. Yet, you know how often I fail. Please forgive and have mercy on me. Thank you that you enable me to turn back to you each day. Thank you that you fill my heart with joy. Help me to follow you wholeheartedly today.

Pippa Adds

Proverbs 15:13

‘A happy heart makes the face cheerful…’

A smile does transform a face. It is hard to smile if life is tough. One thing that has always struck me when we have visited townships in Africa is the smiles on the children’s faces. They often have nothing, but still have the most beautiful smiles.

Verse of the Day

‘Better a bread crust shared in love than a slab of prime rib served in hate’ (Proverbs 15:17, MSG).


Acts of Paul 3, ‘The Acts of Paul and Thecia’, Paragraph 2, in J.K.Elliot, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), p.364.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.