The Importance of the Heart
The Importance of the Heart
The human heart weighs less than a pound (450g). It beats 100,000 times a day and over 2.5 billion times in the average lifetime. Your system of blood vessels – arteries, veins and capillaries – is over 60,000 miles long – enough to go around the world more than twice.
This is not just an amazing spectacle; it is the ‘heart’ of human life. Without your heart your body would quickly cease to work. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the Western world.
Jesus spoke a great deal about the heart. The heart is a metaphor for the inner life. The word Jesus used means the seat of the physical, spiritual and mental life. The heart is the centre and the source of the whole inner life – thinking, feeling, and willing.
God is concerned, primarily, about your heart. He wants you to have a healthy heart. He said to Samuel, ‘The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7).
1. Guard your heart from unfaithfulnessProverbs 6:20-29
Jesus taught that adultery starts in the heart. He said, ‘I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matthew 5:28). His teaching goes back to the book of Proverbs where the writer emphasises the importance of the heart – ‘do not lust in your heart’ (Proverbs 6:25).
He warns of the terrible dangers of adultery. We are dealing with something so powerful it is like a fire. In its right place (just like fire in the fireplace) sex within marriage is a source of great blessing.
However, if you allow your sexual desires to go in the wrong direction then it is like fire in your lap: ‘Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife’ (vv.27–29a).
Adultery does not usually just appear from nowhere. The unfaithfulness starts with the heart. This is where we have to exercise self-discipline. Take these words of wisdom and ‘bind them upon your heart’ (v.21).
Lord, help me to take your words and bind them upon my heart. When I walk, may they guide me. When I sleep, may they watch over me. When I awake, may they speak to me. May they be like a lamp and a light keeping me on the way to life. Guard my heart, Lord.
2. Love the Lord your God with all your heartMark 12:28-44
There is something delightful about the teaching of Jesus: ‘The large crowd listened to him with delight’ (v.37b). If I was asked to summarise this teaching in one word, I would use the word ‘love’.
When Jesus is asked by a lawyer which of all the commandments is the most important, he replies, ‘ “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself” ’ (vv.30–31). At the centre of the message of Jesus is a love relationship with the Lord our God, which starts with our hearts and overflows into a love relationship with our neighbours.
Who is ‘the Lord’? The question underlying all this quizzing of Jesus is, ‘Who does this man think he is?’ In the temple courts, Jesus turns the tables on them by challenging their assumptions about the coming Messiah (‘the Christ’, v.35).
He asks them a question quoting Psalm 110. He challenges the idea that the Christ will simply be a king from David’s line. He will not only be a son of David, he will be David’s Lord (Mark 12:35–37a).
We now know that Jesus is ‘the Lord’. The command to love the Lord with all your heart is a command to love Jesus with all your heart.
Jesus is concerned, not with legalistic literalism, but with the spirit of the law. He is concerned not with outward appearances but with the heart.
Lord, help me to love you with all of my heart and with all of my soul and with all of my mind and with all of my strength. Help me to make this the number one priority in my life. Help me to love my neighbour as myself. Fill my heart with love today through your Holy Spirit.
3. Focus not on the outward appearance, but on the heart
Speaking for myself, I find that hypocrisy is always a danger in my own life. It is a temptation to be concerned about position, platforms, titles and honours. And we have to be careful about praying prayers to impress, rather than from the heart.
Jesus criticises the leaders of his day because their hearts are not right. They are far more concerned about outward appearances than about their own hearts. He says, ‘They love to walk around in academic gowns, preening in the radiance of public flattery, basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function. And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. The longer their prayers, the worse they get’ (vv.38–40, MSG).
All the things mentioned indicate their love of being shown deference and of receiving honour from other people. But God is not concerned about status and ‘show’ (v.40). He is concerned about our hearts.
Lord, forgive me for the times that I have been concerned about status or show. Help me to be myself and not try to pretend that I am anything better than I am. Help me to focus not on outward appearance but on the heart.
4. Give with a generous heart
Jesus is not concerned about the size of your wallet. He is concerned about the size of your heart.
Jesus challenges the conventional assumption that large gifts are worth more to God than small ones. He encourages us that it is not only the rich who can please God through their giving – the poor can do so as well. He challenges the rich that it is not enough simply to give sums that greatly surpass that of the poor. Jesus was looking for generous and sacrificial hearts.
What we give, and the way in which we give, reflects our hearts. Jesus does not actually criticise the rich people who throw in large amounts of money. But he does say that the poor widow who gives ‘two very small copper coins, worth only a few pence’ (v.42) has put in more than all the others.
Jesus sees her heart and the fact that ‘this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford – she gave her all’ (vv.43–44, MSG). Others look at the outward appearance; Jesus looks at the heart. It is not the amount, but the attitude of the heart that matters to God.
Lord, deliver us from complacency over our giving. Thank you for the challenge of the widow’s offering. Help me to be generous and sacrificial in my giving. Give me a generous heart.
5. Keep your heart holy and healthyLeviticus 13:1-59
The Old Testament laws covered every aspect of life, including cleanliness, health and hygiene. As a result, we read a great deal in the Old Testament about the kinds of regulations set out in this chapter, in addition to all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. These rules and regulations were all concerned with holiness though, and their motivation was supposed to stem from a desire to please and emulate God (Leviticus 11:44). In other words, the outward rituals were supposed to reflect the inner attitudes of the heart.
At the time of Jesus, many of the teachers were putting the emphasis in the wrong place. They thought that holiness could be attained simply by obeying a whole lot of rules that concerned outward behaviour and actions, rather than heartfelt obedience towards God.
Jesus pointed out that there is something far more important than all of this. As we see in today’s New Testament passage, ‘To love [God] with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices’ (Mark 12:33). Holiness is not a matter of outward appearance. It is a matter of the heart.
Merciful Lord, you know our struggle to serve you: when sin spoils our lives and overshadows our hearts, come to our aid and turn us back to you again; through Jesus Christ our Lord (prayer from the Anglican collect for Ash Wednesday).
Jesus said ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31).
How do I look after myself? I think pretty well!